Note: This story has been edited to clarify the death toll in the West Texas shooting. The gunman killed seven and was then killed by police.
The gunman who killed seven people in a West Texas rampage Saturday had a documented history of violence in McLennan County and once broke a plate glass window at a Waco mental facility where he was under evaluation, a source close to the case said Tuesday.
Seth Aaron Ator, who dropped out of Lorena High School in 2000, was arrested on felony criminal mischief charges on July 8, 2001 for the incident, which the source said took place at DePaul Center, a psychiatric and drug abuse facility at Ascension Providence in Waco. He later served probation on unrelated charges and was ordered to attend Narcotics Anonymous, county records show.
A month after the DePaul incident, he was arrested on misdemeanor charges of evading arrest and criminal trespass, charges for which he received deferred probation. As recently as 2012, he was arrested in Woodway on a public intoxication charge stemming from a fight.
The Associated Press reported this week, citing law enforcement officials, that a federal background check blocked Ator from buying a gun in January 2014 because of a “mental health issue.” It is unclear whether that issue was connected to the Waco incidents.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is precluded by law from disclosing the reason for blocking a gun purchase. The killer bought the gun through private channels, the AP reported, citing unnamed law enforcement sources. Police killed Ator, 36, at a busy Odessa movie theater after a spate of violence that lasted more than an hour and spread over 10 miles in the Midland-Odessa area. He fired indiscriminately out his window, leaving about two dozen people injured in addition to the deaths, and killed a postal worker in a carjacking.
The killer, an oilfield worker who lived outside Odessa, had Waco-area ties dating back to at least 1995, when he started school in Lorena Independent School District. He moved several times between Canyon ISD in Amarillo and Lorena during this time, and he dropped out of school in November 2000, missing his class’ graduation in 2001, according to a statement from Superintendent Joe Kucera.
Kucera said school records show Ator withdrew from Lorena High School in November 2000 to enroll in a GED program. McLennan Community College spokeswoman Lisa Elliott said Ator took a single macroeconomics class in fall 2000, possibly on a dual credit basis.
A Texas State Technical College spokeswoman said Ator attended classes at Waco’s TSTC campus in the fall of 2005 but he did not complete a full semester. She declined to say what he was studying.
Ator ran into trouble in 2001, first with the state jail felony charge of criminal mischief stemming from breaking the window at the mental facility. McLennan County records indicate that Ator paid restitution and was not prosecuted at the wishes of DePaul officials.
Court records also show that former McLennan County Court-at-Law Judge David Hodges ordered Ator to undergo drug and alcohol screening in 2001, when he was placed on deferred adjudication probation after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor evading arrest and criminal trespass charges.
Two years later, former McLennan County Court-at-Law Judge Tom Ragland amended the terms and conditions of Ator’s probation to require him to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, court records indicate. Court records show he successfully completed probation in both cases in 24 months.
Waco attorney Phil Frederick represented Ator on the dismissed criminal mischief charge, while his law partner, Rob Swanton, represented him on the two misdemeanor cases, records indicate. Both Frederick and Swanton declined comment on Tuesday.
Ator’s misdemeanor arrests in McLennan County in 2001 would not have prevented him from legally purchasing firearms in Texas, but his time at the DePaul Center could have been a factor. Federal law defines nine categories that would legally prevent a person from owning a gun, which include being convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, being adjudicated as a “mental defect” or committed to a mental institution, the subject of a restraining order or having an active warrant. Authorities have said Ator had no active warrants at the time of the shooting.
Ator had been fired from his oil services job the morning he killed eight people, calling 911 both before and after the shooting began, authorities said Monday.
FBI special agent Christopher Combs said Monday that Ator called the agency’s tip line as well as local police dispatch on Saturday after being fired from Journey Oilfield Services, making “rambling statements about some of the atrocities that he felt that he had gone through.”
“He was on a long spiral of going down,” Combs said. “He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and walk into his company and then it happened. He went to that company in trouble.”
Fifteen minutes after the call to the FBI, Combs said, a Texas state trooper unaware of the calls to authorities tried pulling over Ator for failing to signal a lane change. That was when Ator pointed an AR-style rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired on the trooper, starting a terrifying police chase as Ator sprayed bullets into passing cars, shopping plazas and killed a U.S. Postal Service employee while hijacking her mail truck.
Combs said Ator “showed up to work enraged” but did not point to any specific source of his anger. Ator’s home on the outskirts of Odessa was a corrugated metal shack along a dirt road surrounded by trailers, mobile homes and oil pump jacks. On Monday, a green car without a rear windshield was parked out front, the entire residence cordoned off by police tape.
Combs described it as a “strange residence” that reflected “what his mental state was going into this.” Combs said he did not know whether Ator had been diagnosed with any prior mental health problems.
A neighbor, Rocio Gutierrez, told the Associated Press that Ator was “a violent, aggressive person” that would shoot at animals, mostly rabbits, at all hours of the night.
“We were afraid of him because you could tell what kind of person he was just by looking at him,” Gutierrez said. “He was not nice, he was not friendly, he was not polite.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Monday that “we must keep guns out of criminals’ hands” — words similar to his remarks that followed the El Paso shooting on Aug. 3, when he said firearms must be kept from “deranged killers.” But Abbott, a Republican and avid gun rights supporter, has been noncommittal about tightening Texas gun laws.
Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said Ator’s company also called 911 on Saturday after Ator was fired but that Ator had already taken off by the time police showed up.
“Basically, they were complaining on each other because they had a disagreement over the firing,” Gerke said.
Gerke said he believes Ator had also been recently fired from a different job but did not have any details.
Ator was arrested by Woodway Department of Public Safety officers in June 2012 for a fight he got into with friends at a Woodway apartment complex in the 1500 block of Western Oaks Drive, Public Safety Director Bret Crook said. Officers found Ator, who had been “drinking all day” was fighting with others, causing Ator to suffer a broken nose and superficial injuries, police records state.
Crook said police took Ator to a local hospital for medical clearance due to his intoxication level. He refused to be seen by doctors, but he was evaluated for head injuries before he was transferred to McLennan County Jail on a Class C misdemeanor charge of public intoxication.
His 2012 arrest was the last time he was in custody in McLennan County, jail records show.
The weekend shooting brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, matching the number in all of 2018, according to The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. The number of people killed this year has already reached 142, surpassing the 140 people who were killed all of last year. The database tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.
Tribune-Herald staff writer Kristin Hoppa and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
More than 60 sellers of food and drinks, all locally owned and many freshly minted, will introduce special menus during Waco Restaurant Week, which starts Friday and runs through Sept. 14, raising money for Caritas along the way.
Special events, tastings and entertainment will complement the eight-day celebration of Waco food and drink options that Start Up Waco spokesperson Carole Fergusson has organized and publicized. Participants include sandwich, coffee, sweet and novelty shops, burger joints, breweries, bars, barbecue pits and locales selling dishes with a Brazilian, Puerto Rican, Japanese or Greek flavor.
“Waco has a growing restaurant community, and I love that we are highlighting those entrepreneurs,” said Jonathan Garza, an agent with Turner-Behringer Real Estate.
He has been signing agreements with foodies poised to open in stalls in the Union Hall food hall at Eighth Street and Franklin Avenue. It is scheduled to open sometime this summer, though Garza said the unveiling is not scheduled to take place during Waco Restaurant Week.
“We are excited to see a number of our tenants are participating in Waco Restaurant Week,” Garza said in an email message to the Tribune-Herald. “Carole and her team have done a great job marketing the event, and Union Hall is looking forward to participating more next year.”
Among the new concepts taking space in Union Hall and scheduled to partake in Waco Restaurant Week is Unshakeable Milkshakes, Garza said.
Opened by local businesswoman Summer Shine, Unshakeable Milkshakes appears on a list titled “new spots and gems launching during Waco Restaurant Week” on the event website. Included there are other new or nearly new arrivals, including Lemy’s Soft Frozen Lemonade, Bittersweet Waco, Sabor, Around the World at Union Hall and Waffle Chic.
“We’re very excited about the exposure,” Sabor owner Lais Loewen said.
She owns a home remodeling business with her husband, Jacob Loewen, and is bringing Brazilian cheese bread to Waco at Sabor, which means “flavor” in Portuguese.
During Waco Restaurant Week, she will serve from space at WacoWork, the co-working venue at Sixth Street and Columbus Avenue, around the corner from the McLennan County Courthouse. She has broken her specialty bread many times at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market and is having a food trailer built, possibly for delivery later this week or early next week.
Originally from Brazil, Loewen’s parents traveled to Boston as missionaries for The Evangelical Church. She made her way to “good old Texas,” then to Waco, where she encountered a dearth of Brazilian food, a shortcoming she has tried to address with her bread, produced with locally sourced ingredients.
Shamica Evans, likewise a budding restaurateur, is following the tradition, and recipes, of her mother and grandmother in opening Waffle Chic, a purveyor of chicken and waffles that will officially hatch Friday in the 1500 block of Columbus Avenue, at the Jesus Said Love ministry headquarters. Her teenage daughter and son will assist her in running Waffle Chic.
“I’m using recipes that have been in my family for years and adding my own little twist,” Evans said. “Everybody wants to eat a little healthier, so I’m using coconut flour, gluten-free ingredients when possible and all organic seasoning. I’ll toss in some regular all-purpose flour, but it will still be good for you.”
She, like all Waco Restaurant Week participants, will donate 10% of her weeklong special-menu proceeds to Caritas. Longer term, she hopes to have a food truck at her disposal. Longer still, she would like to have a brick-and-mortar address all her own.
“And if the Lord is willing, I’d like to franchise someday,” Evans said.
Evans praised those who have assisted her along the way. Start Up Waco helped her prepare a business plan. The Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored her ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce welcomed her participation in its recent Floating Mercado, showcasing products in different neighborhoods.
Adilene Camarena will apply her worldly baking skills to a sweet shop called Around The World when Union Hall opens, probably later this month.
Meantime, the 23-year-old employed at her family’s Tex-Mex restaurant in Hillsboro, El Taco Jalisco, will make the rounds during Waco’s tribute to dining and drinking. She will sell Turkish baklava, French macarons, Japanese mochi ice cream and keto New York cheese cake during stops at Balcones Distilling, White Elephant, Lovely Enterprises, Black Daisy Boutique and Eastside Market.
“I’m excited to be putting my products out there the whole week,” Camarena said.
Besides newcomers to the local dining scene, standbys including La Fiesta, Magnolia Table, Pokey-O’s, Lula Jane’s, Moroso Wood Fired Pizzeria, Guess Family Barbecue, Butter My Biscuit, Abuelita’s, Dichotomy and Sergio’s, among others, also are listed as participants.
Opening-day festivities include the Brotherwell Brewing Kick-Off Party, featuring Keep Waco Loud, QuetzalCo Taco and T-shirt printing courtesy of Hole In The Roof, a local marketing firm serving as an event sponsor. It will last from 5 to 10 p.m. at the Brotherwell, 400 Bridge St.
The Dr Pepper Museum will have a Frosty Friday event from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Festivities will conclude with Balcones BourbonFest on Sept. 14.
Seminars for a closer look at recipes and trade secrets are scattered throughout the week, including a three-day “From Idea to Table,” workshop on starting a food-oriented business.
Apex Coffee Roasters and Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits will collaborate on a “behind the scenes look into the world of coffee,” including tastings.
Details about registering, a full list of participants and more information are available at wacorestaurantweek.com.
The Waco City Council approved almost $10 million in downtown Tax Increment Financing grants Tuesday, including $50,000 to establish a prohibition on using groundwater in TIF Zone One for potable purposes.
The goal is to ease environmental requirements related to contaminated groundwater in the area for incoming developments, said Melett Harrison, the city’s executive director for economic development. The $50,000 will go to a consultant who will work with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish a Municipal Setting Designation.
The bulk of the other $10 million in TIF grants approved Tuesday will go to a hotel planned on Mary Avenue, and $1 million will go to Magnolia Market at the Silos’ expansion, part of which is ongoing.
The Municipal Setting Designation process is in response to experiences seen in recent projects, Harrison said.
“In the last few years, we’ve been seeing an increasing number of projects having to deal not just with … lead abatement or asbestos abatement on an existing building,” Harrison said.
The move “certifies that designated groundwater at the property is not used as potable water, and is prohibited from future use as potable water because that groundwater is contaminated in excess of the applicable potable-water protective concentration level,” according to the TCEQ.
Covered properties would include TIF Zone One and nearby areas, which includes downtown and the Elm Avenue corridor. The process is expected to be complete next year.
“This is really the legacy of what the environmental folks tell me was farmland for many of years,” Harrison said. “Different chemicals have existed in the soil over many years.”
Councilman Dillon Meek asked if it would be possible to add 18th Street to the area.
“I think it’s something to look at,” Meek said. “I think it’s very smart that we included those additional areas in East Waco.”
The council approved an $8.7 million TIF grant for an AC Hotel by Marriott planned at Mary Avenue and Sixth Street. Two other hotel projects planned on Mary Avenue have received TIF backing, and a portion of all three TIF grants will go to parking garages with public sections.
The Marriott is slated for completion in 2021 and will include 182 rooms, meeting and conference spaces and retail space. The council approved $3.8 million of the overall grant for a parking garage with 145 public spaces and an additional $500,000 for a decorative facade with metal panels for the structure.
Harrison said if the city establishes a downtown parking district at some point in the future, the spots may become paid parking.
“It’s not intended to be paid all the time, but we do know that there is a point in time in the future where they could become a possibility,” Harrison said.
The council approved $1 million to help Magnolia Market enact its “master plan” project, slated for completion by the first quarter of 2021 or sooner. The plan includes almost doubling the size of the complex, with new retail spaces, a new main entrance, more shaded spots and, if all goes well, a relocated Second Presbyterian Church building.
The abandoned church now sits at 13th Street and Jefferson Avenue and would be used as the site’s second focal point.
“That is a local landmark, so it’s got to get a certificate of appropriateness,” Harrison said.
After 27 years of experience in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Paul Cain started a new role Tuesday as an assistant city manager in Waco.
The city of Waco filled the open spot on its roster for a third assistant city manager, hiring Cain to oversee general services, Waco-McLennan County Library, public works, solid waste, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, capital projects and water utilities. City Manager Wiley Stem III introduced Cain during a city council meeting Tuesday.
“In Burleson, he’s been fortunate to serve at a time of rapid growth and has seen the population more than double and the tax base more than triple,” Stem said. “During his tenure, he’s had the opportunity to manage every operational department.”
Cain attended Abilene Christian University before earning an MBA from the University of North Texas in 1991. He served as a budget analyst and worked in economic development, then in public works with the city of Fort Worth.
“That was a great time to be in economic development,” Cain said. “That was back when Texas Motor Speedway was built and the FedEx hub, things like that. I was really fortunate to be part of those teams. I was certainly a junior member of the team back then, but I was fortunate to be working with that team.”
After Fort Worth, Cain worked in economic development for the city of Grand Prairie, then started at the city of Burleson as deputy city manager in 2002, where he remained until his move to Waco.
“For about 17 years, I think I worked just about every department with the city,” Cain said.
Cain said he decided to come to Waco in part because he worked with Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford in Burleson. He also said former City Manager Dale Fisseler, who held the same position in Fort Worth, is a friend from his time there.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity,” Cain said. “Essentially, Waco is what I like to call the central city in the region. It leads Central Texas in terms of city government, amenities and tourism, those kinds of things. It’s just an attractive central city for me.”
At 134,436, Waco’s population is much higher than Burleson’s, 46,145, and much lower than Fort Worth’s, 874,168. But Cain said he sees similarities between the three cities in the rapid growth they have each experienced and the strain on infrastructure that follows.
Waco is an older city dealing with new growth, he said.
“But it also has what Fort Worth had, which is the challenges dealing with older infrastructure in the city and how to keep improving it and maintaining it properly,” he said.
Waco, like Fort Worth, is a regional leader in government and politics, its policies and services influencing surrounding municipalities. The city’s management of the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System, with surrounding cities now becoming customers of Waco rather than ownership partners, is a prime example, he said.
“I’ve been on both sides of that, in Burleson and Fort Worth,” Cain said. “Burleson was kind of a customer city of Fort Worth. So I’m interested in being a part of that change, it’s going to be a good, positive change for Waco and the surrounding communities.”