Updated Sep 3, 2019

West Texas shooter reportedly purchased firearm through private sale

Police cars and tape block off a crime scene near to where a gunman was shot and killed at Cinergy Odessa movie theater in Odessa, Texas, following a mass shooting in the area. Photo: Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

Authorities tell ABC News and other media outlets that the gunman who killed 7 people and injured 22 others in a drive-by mass shooting in the West Texas sister cities of Odessa and Midland on Saturday afternoon obtained his firearm through a private sale.

Why it matters: The suspect, 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator of Odessa, had tried to buy a firearm in January 2014 but was denied, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement Tuesday. The agency said it could not legally disclose why, but a law enforcement official told AP it was due to a "mental health issue." The revelation is sure to drive the political debate over closing background check loopholes like the one that allows private vendors to sell weapons without asking about the buyer's legal status.

What we know: Ator acted alone and randomly shot at people with an "AR-15 type" rifle as he drove on Interstate 20 and Highway 191, which connects the oil towns of Midland and Odessa, FBI special agent Christopher Combs said. The shooting began after Ator's gold Honda was pulled over for a routine traffic stop and ended after he hijacked a U.S. Postal Service van and was killed in a shootout with officers.

  • The suspect killed 1 man outside his parents’ home and fatally shot a teenager as she left a car dealership with her family, authorities said.
  • Nearby venues went into lockdown during the rampage.
  • Odessa Police Chief Mike Gerke told a news conference on Sunday that the gunman had a criminal record, but there were no open warrants for his arrest, per the New York Times.
  • According to AP, Ator had been fired from his job Saturday morning and made "rambling calls" to police and the FBI.
  • “This did not happen because he was fired. He showed up to work enraged,” Combs said.

The victims:

  • The names of the victims have not officially been released, but authorities said those killed were aged between 15 and 57 years old.
  • The youngest injured shooting victim was a 17-month-old girl, who was wounded in the face and chest, AP reports.
  • Medical Center Health System CEO Russell Tippin said the hospital in Odessa was treating 13 people for injuries.

What they're saying: Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told ABC’s "This Week" on Sunday that the DHS officials would be "following up aggressively" on the "extraordinarily concerning" case. McAleenan said he did not want to jump to any conclusions about the causes or motive.

  • President Trump tweeted that he had been briefed by Attorney General Bill Barr about the shootings and that the FBI and law enforcement was "fully engaged."
  • Vice President Mike Pence told reporters he and the president "remain absolutely determined to work with leaders in both parties and the Congress to take such steps so that we can address and confront this scourge of mass atrocities."

The big picture: This is the second mass shooting in Texas this month. On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire near a Walmart store in El Paso, killing 22 people. Police believe the suspect was targeting Latinos after investigations linked him to a racist screed speaking of a "Hispanic invasion" was posted online before the attack.

  • The NYT notes that the Odessa shooting has rekindled a debate over gun control that had been prompted by the El Paso attack but which faded when Trump appeared to defer to Congress, which went into recess.
  • Several Democratic presidential candidates called for tighter gun control measures, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the Senate to vote on gun control legislation that has already passed in the House when Congress reconvenes.
  • The shooting occurred the day before 10 bills to ease some gun restrictions, passed by the Texas Legislature, came into effect.

The bottom line: 53 people died from mass shootings in August.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details, including comment from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

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