POLITICS

Houston Shooter Fired 212 Rounds, Outgunned Police With America's Favorite Rifle

Dionisio Garza III used an AR-15 military-style rifle to carry out a bloody attack -- which could have been even more tragic.
Bullet holes in the windshield of a Houston Police Department patrol car on May 29, 2016. The shooting left two people d
Bullet holes in the windshield of a Houston Police Department patrol car on May 29, 2016. The shooting left two people dead, including the gunman, and another six wounded.

The Army veteran suspected of going on a shooting rampage Sunday in west Houston was able to fire off 212 shots before a SWAT sniper killed him, authorities said Tuesday.

Dionisio Garza III, 26, fatally shot his first victim, 56-year-old Eugene Linscomb, with a pistol, before picking up an AR-15 assault-style rifle and spraying bullets into responding police cruisers and a Houston Police Department helicopter, officials said at a press conference.

By the time the mayhem ended, Garza had shot and injured six people, including two officers. All six are expected to survive.

The tragedy was among the more than 150 mass shootings that have occurred in the U.S. so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people -- not including the shooter -- are shot and/or killed in a single event, at the same general time and location. Other media outlets use a stricter definition of mass shooting, only counting higher profile, less common episodes in which three or more victims are fatally shot in a public space.

Regardless of how we characterize this outburst of gun violence, the incident again highlights problems in our mental health care system and easy access to the military-style firearms used in a number of recent deadly massacres.

It's still unclear what led Garza to travel from his home in California to Texas, but authorities say he arrived in Houston on Saturday with plans to meet friends. Police believe he may have camped out overnight at Memorial Auto and Tire before ambushing Linscomb shortly after he arrived at the shop.

Houston Police Lt. John McGalin said at a press conference Tuesday that he thought Garza had chosen his specific location because it offered a tactical advantage to shoot at responding officers.

"He had access to three corners. He was backed up against a fence, so he didn't have to worry about anyone getting behind him," said McGalin.

Garza opened fire on the first responding officer, forcing him to retreat and call for backup.

"Our primary responding officer is lucky to be alive and ... unhurt," the Houston Police Department wrote in a Facebook post.

In the nearly hour-long firefight that ensued, Garza shot two constables, hitting one's bulletproof vest and the other in the hand. Another bullet struck a gas pump at a nearby station, starting a fire.

A civilian later identified as John Wilson, 30, also reportedly attempted to stop the shooter with his own firearm, but, like police, appeared to be overpowered by Garza.

“What he did was very brave, but officers are trained in these active shooter situations, and obviously he wasn’t able to engage,” said acting Houston Police Chief Martha Montalvo. “He was outgunned and probably outmaneuvered, and as far as his tactical training, wasn’t at the same speed as our suspect. Just call the police and let us do what we have to do, and [do] not put yourself in a situation where you become a victim.”

Wilson was shot in the leg but survived.

A SWAT sniper was able to get a clear shot at Garza after a local resident let officers enter a house that overlooked the location.

Garza's family members believe he suffered from PTSD after returning from active duty in 2013, and say that something in him "snapped" in the weeks before the shooting.

"He did two tours in Afghanistan. I think he was proud to be in the military, but I know he went through a lot," Garza's stepmother told ABC 7. "I think he was always haunted by everything that happened, what he saw."

When Garza returned from duty, he began posting anti-Islamic comments on social media, his cousin, Ahmad Alkuteifani, told ABC 13. In recent months, Garza had tweeted comments condemning Muslims, touted conspiracy theories about the end of the world and expressed support for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Alkuteifani also suggested his cousin may have chosen to carry out his attack in Texas because of its loose gun laws, which allow people to openly carry firearms like the AR-15 he used. 

Authorities have not yet said how Garza obtained his guns. But semi-automatic weapons like the ones used by mass shooters in San Bernardino, California, Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, are widely available across the U.S., except in a few states that have passed legislation restricting certain types of assault weapons.

AR-15s are modeled off the standard-issue U.S. military rifle that's been in use since the Vietnam War. Their magazines typically hold 30 rounds, but can be legally outfitted with high-capacity magazines in most states. They're accurate at a range of hundreds of yards, making them a preferred firearm for sport shooters and hunters. In fact, they're the "most popular rifle" in the U.S., according to the National Rifle Association.

With millions of AR-15s in civilian hands and hundreds of thousands of new military-style rifles flooding the market each year, according to recent manufacturer reports, the overwhelming majority of these weapons will never be used in a crime. But when they are, it's clear that their firepower can make the results especially devastating. 

If more bullets had found their targets in Houston on Sunday, that reality would be even more tragically evident.

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