Odessa gunman called 911, FBI tip line before shootings

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)

A man who killed 7 people and injured 23 others in a wild shooting spree across Odessa on Saturday called both 911 and the FBI national tip line prior to the shootings.

Odessa Police Department Chief Mike Gerke during a Monday news conference at UTPB said Seth Ator, 36, had a dispute with his employer, Journey Oilfield Services, and that both Ator and someone from the company called 911. Company officials said he had items that belonged to them while Ator said they were trying to detain him. Gerke said Ator went to work on Saturday and was terminated.

This information is the first glimpse into what happened before Ator shot DPS Trooper Chuck Pryor on Interstate 20 Saturday afternoon after he stopped Ator for failure to signal. Pryor, Gerke said, had no knowledge of the 911 or FBI calls made by Ator.

Ator shot the trooper, who is recovering, and then drove around Odessa shooting victims at random. It all ended near Odessa’s Cinergy Theatre when Ator was shot to death by multiple law enforcement officers.

FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs and Gerke both said Ator rambled during the 911 call and the FBI tip line call but made no threats to his employer or anyone else.

Combs said the ramblings may have reflected his mental state, but no threats were made during the call.

“(He made) rambling statements about some of the atrocities he felt he had gone through,” Combs said. This was about 15 minutes prior to Ator shooting Trooper Pryor.

Prior to Saturday’s gun violence, Ator had only minor contact with Odessa police, which included a public intoxication arrest.

Numerous 911 calls were made during Ator’s shooting spree that caused the system to nearly crash, Odessa Public Information Officer Devin Sanchez said following the news conference. Dozens of calls came in as Ator drove around town shooting people. He gunned down postal carrier Mary Granados and hijacked her postal mini-van.

Reports of multiple gunmen on Saturday, Gerke said, came because Ator switched vehicles. Gerke and Sanchez said a state alert system was not activated during the shooting spree. The police chief added that reports of a blue truck involved had nothing to do with Ator and that it was a separate incident.

Gerke said all but two crime scenes have been worked and said teams of one FBI agent, one Texas Ranger and one Odessa detective had been clearing scenes since Saturday. He said they do not yet have a number on how many rounds Ator fired during his shooting spree, but that he used an AR 15 and possibly fired hundreds of rounds.

Gerke said the investigation could take months with multiple crime scenes to piece together..

This mass shooting was called “unique or rare” by Gerke as Ator didn’t target a specific place, but instead drove around mostly northeast Odessa and shot what appeared to be random people.

He also clarified that Odessa police officer James “Tom” Santana was not shot during the final shootout at Cinergy, but during Ator’s shooting spree across town. He is recovering at Medical Center Hospital and may be released today.

Gerke said officers did not encounter Ator until the final gun battle near Cinergy.

The FBI completed the search of Ator’s West Odessa property on Saturday. Combs said he could not say if there were additional firearms at the property, adding it was “a very strange residence … the conditions reflect what his mental state was.”

Police also said another victim, a 70-year-old Odessa woman, drove herself to the hospital with fragment or glass injuries. She was treated and released, he said.

Little is known about Ator. Multiple calls to family members in Amarillo and other cities were not answered on Monday.

Odessans and Texans have rallied around the victims as GoFundMe pages were posted.

At Medical Center Hospital, one patient is in critical condition; one in serious; and eight in fair condition, the hospital stated in a news release.

At Odessa Regional Medical Center, two patients remain in the hospital. One is in critical care, but is showing signs of improvement and is stable.

The other is on the fourth-floor telemetry unit, a spokeswoman said via text message.

At Midland Memorial Hospital, four patients are in stable condition and one is in critical but stable condition, a spokeswoman said via text message.