Heartbreak in Odessa: Multiple people dead, injured by gunman who was also killed

A man prays outside of the Medical Center Hospital Emergency room in Odessa, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, following a shooting at random in the area of Odessa and Midland. Several people were dead after a gunman who hijacked a postal service vehicle in West Texas shot more than 20 people, authorities said Saturday. The gunman was killed and a few law enforcement officers were among the injured. (Mark Rogers | Odessa American)

Updated: 12:30 p.m.

City of Odessa director of communications Devin Sanchez that there are eight confirmed deaths (three in Midland and five in Odessa), which includes the shooter.


Updated: 9:16 a.m.

The Associated Press is citing Odessa police in reporting that the death toll has risen to seven, with the gunman also killed.


BY ROYAL McGREGOR | ODESSA AMERICAN

Five people are dead and 21 others are injured following a traffic stop on Interstate 20 near Midland where a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper was shot by a gunman who then went on a shooting spree before being shot to death by law enforcement at Odessa’s Cinergy Theatre.

A Midland police officer and an OPD officer were also shot as was the driver of a mail truck that the gunman hijacked. Names of those who were killed and injured were not immediately released. The postal worker, co-workers said via social media, was killed.

As of press time, the conditions of the three law enforcement officers shot were not released. A procession of law enforcement vehicles about 7 p.m. drove north down the Andrews Highway with lights and sirens and then back up to Grant and down Eighth Street. Questions about that procession were not answered by press time.

The gunman, Gerke confirmed, is dead. His name was not released but he was described as a white male in his 30s.

The shootout followed a tense afternoon of panic around Odessa and Midland as businesses around the cities shut down and police warned people to stay indoors.

A press release from the Department of Public Safety indicated that at 3:13 p.m., troopers attempted to conduct a traffic stop on a gold passenger vehicle on Interstate 20 westbound near mile marker 131. The male driver pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots toward the DPS patrol unit. The patrol unit was occupied by two troopers, and one was hit by the gunfire. The suspect fled the scene and continued shooting people, including a Midland police officer and an Odessa police officer.

During an OPD press conference Gerke, with Sheriff Mike Griffis and Odessa Fire Rescue Fire Chief John Alvarez by his side, answered questions but indicated he did not yet have a motive for the violence. Gerke said he believed the threat was over. Earlier social meeting postings seemed to indicate that there were multiple gunmen. Businesses across town locked their doors and the streets were all but empty as police searched for the gunman Saturday afternoon.

Interstate 20 westbound is closed between West Loop 250 in Midland and Grandview in Odessa. Texas Department of Transportation officials are being told it won’t reopen before 4 a.m. Sunday. TXDOT crews are manning the closures.

Authorities cordon off a part of the sidewalk in the 5100 block of E. 42nd Street in Odessa, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Several people were dead after a gunman who hijacked a postal service vehicle in West Texas shot more than 20 people, authorities said Saturday. The gunman was killed and a few law enforcement officers were among the injured. (Mark Rogers | Odessa American)

New Medical Center Hospital CEO Russell Tippin said during a press conference on Saturday that the hospital is handling a number of the victims.

Tippin and other officials said seven were critical, two were serious, one was deceased and one was transferred. Two others were treated and released.

Tippin said eight total patients from the shootings had been in surgery at MCH. He said blood supplies were good at the hospital but called for prayers for the victims, staff members and the community.

GoFundMe page was started for a 17-month-old girl named Anderson Davis by Haylee Wilkerson. By press time the page had raised nearly $70,000. The post stated Anderson was hit by a bullet fragment that hit her right chest and left a hole in her bottom lip and tongue and knocked out her front teeth. She was airlifted to Lubbock.

A second GoFundMe page was started for Midland Police Officer Zack Owens. The post details he was shot multiple times in the arm and hand as well as suffering from glass shards in his eye.

The gunman was initially in a gold sedan but later hijacked a United States Postal Service truck and shot the driver.

An Odessa grandmother, her daughter and grandchildren witnessed the gunman in the hijacked postal truck open fire on an SUV near the VA center off Highway 191.

The woman, Rebecca Black, said they heard the warning about an active shooter and followed a mail truck that ran a red light thinking they were following it to safety. The mail truck pulled up near the VA and Black said the driver opened fire on a black SUV. “My daughter threw it into reverse and then we saw him head south and the cops were everywhere. We went to the 191 service road near Cinergy and my daughter saw the man get out of the mail truck and the cops were in a foot pursuit.”

Black said there was an exchange of gunfire as she huddled with her two young grandchildren in the backseat. “I am so thankful that we are all OK,” she said, shaken.

President Donald Trump early in the afternoon was briefed and tweeted that the White House was monitoring the situation. ATF agents from Dallas and Lubbock are responding. Gov. Greg Abbott is scheduled to be in Odessa Sunday to meet with family members and first responders.

At Medical Center Hospital, the staff went into crisis mode and called in emergency personnel. Family members rushed to the ER looking for information about the shooting.

Mike Barrett arrived at MCH around 6:45 p.m. because he said he received a call from his shop foreman that his boss was involved in the shooting.

The 63-year-old said his boss was reportedly traveling home when he was shot.

“I kept saying ‘What? What?” Barrett said. “He’s a good man and he doesn’t deserve this to happen to him. None of these people deserve this. I pray for all the families and all the people in (MCH) to strive and pray for the ones that had been killed and their families.”

Barrett talked about how his boss saved his life on Feb. 18 when he went into cardiac arrest while at work. Barrett said his boss performed CPR on him for 12 minutes before emergency services arrived. Barrett was transported to MCH and then later moved to a hospital in Fort Worth.

“I would trade my life for his right now,” Barrett said. “I’m just blown away by this. I never thought this would happen.”

The hospital was ready, Tippin said. He couldn’t give an exact number, but said a number of doctors, nurses and additional personnel were called in.

“The hospital has staged an area for the families,” CEO Tippin said. “We have counselors and grief counselors and social workers with the families right now. We are trying to find them support.”

Rey Chapa, a mortician at La Paz Perches Funeral Homes, said anyone who was a victim during Saturday’s shooting can receive free funeral services. La Paz Perches Funeral Homes is based out of El Paso and Chapa said offering free funeral services can ease the pressure on already grieving family members.

The Odessa Ministerial Alliance will host a prayer vigil at Memorial Park (Buffalo Wallow) at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Royal McGregor is a staff writer for the Odessa American, an AIM Media Texas publication and sister paper of The Monitor, the Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star.