U.S. NEWS

Texas Gunman Failed Background Check, Was On Downward 'Spiral’ Before Attack: Officials

It remains unclear how the suspect, who killed seven people and injured 23 others, obtained the AR-style rifle used in the rampage.

The assailant who went on a shooting rampage across West Texas over Labor Day weekend, killing seven people and injuring almost two dozen others, had previously failed a background check to own a firearm, law enforcement and state officials said Monday.

The gunman, identified by police as 36-year-old Seth Ator, had been fired from his job on the morning of the attack and had been on a long downward “spiral” leading up to the massacre, officials added.

The gunman obtained the AR-style rifle he used through a private sale, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. A law enforcement official told AP that the private purchase allowed the gunman to avoid a federal background check that would have prevented him from obtaining a gun. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ― who recently signed a slew of new laws loosening gun restrictions in Texas ― previously said in a tweet that the suspect had not gone through a background check for the weapon.

In Texas, private sales of guns, including some sales at gun shows, don’t require a criminal background check. 

The gunman began his shooting spree after a traffic stop on Saturday afternoon, police said. He fired at people in multiple locations in the sister cities of Odessa and Midland, killing a 15-year-old girl, a U.S. Army veteran, a postal worker and four others. He also wounded 23 people in the attack, including three law enforcement officers and a 17-month-old child.

Officials said Monday that the suspect had been fired by his employer, Journey Oil Field Services, on Saturday morning. He called 911 and the FBI’s national tip line after his dismissal and made “rambling” statements “about some of the atrocities that he felt he had gone through,” Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of FBI’s San Antonio division, said at a press conference.

Combs said the suspect did not make any threats during those calls.

While officials did not suggest a motive for the attacks, they said there was evidence to suggest the suspect had been struggling for a prolonged period.

“He was a long spiral of going down,” Combs told reporters of Ator, according to NBC News. “He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and walk into his company and then it happened. He went to that company in trouble, probably been in trouble for a while. ... We really need the public’s help to reach out to us when they see people in that downward spiral that may be on that road to violence.” 

John Wester of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Ator had previously been refused the sale of a gun after his name was run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Wester did not specify, however, when or why he’d failed the background check, Reuters reported.

The outlet, citing online court records, noted that Ator, an Odessa resident, had been convicted in 2002 for criminal trespass and evading arrest ― but local police said the man’s past interactions with law enforcement had not been serious enough to warrant him being legally barred from owning a gun. 

In the wake of Saturday’s gun rampage ― and the recent back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio ― Democratic lawmakers urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans to take action on legislation that would expand federal background checks on gun purchases, including a bill that would close loopholes allowing private or online sales of guns and sales at gun shows without background checks. 

President Donald Trump said Sunday, however, that while he’d be working closely with lawmakers on gun legislation when Congress returns from its summer recess next week, there was no need for enhanced background checks.

“Over the last five, six, or seven years, no matter how strong you need the background checks, it wouldn’t have stopped any of it,” Trump said, referring to earlier gun atrocities. 

The story has been updated with further detail on how the Odessa gunman obtained a firearm.

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