Gun­man lost job, called FBI be­fore ram­page

Shooter had been ‘on a long spi­ral down,’ of­fi­cials say

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Paul J. We­ber and Jake Bleiberg

ODESSA, Texas — The gun­man in a West Texas ram­page had been “on a long spi­ral down” and was fired from his oil ser­vices job the morn­ing he killed seven peo­ple, call­ing 911 both be­fore and af­ter the shoot­ing be­gan, au­thor­i­ties said Mon­day.

Of­fi­cers killed 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator on Satur­day out­side a busy Odessa movie the­ater af­ter a spate of vi­o­lence that spanned 10 miles, in­jur­ing at least 25 peo­ple in ad­di­tion to the dead, au­thor­i­ties said.

FBI spe­cial agent Christophe­r Combs said Ator called the agency’s tip line as well as lo­cal po­lice dis­patch on Satur­day af­ter being fired from Jour­ney Oil­field Ser­vices, mak­ing “ram­bling state­ments about some of the atrocities that he felt that he had gone through.”

“He was on a long spi­ral of go­ing down,” Combs said. “He didn’t wake up Satur­day morn­ing and walk into his com­pany and then it hap­pened. He went to that com­pany in trou­ble.”

Fifteen min­utes later, Combs said, a Texas state trooper un­aware of those calls tried pulling over Ator for fail­ing to sig­nal a lane change. That was when Ator pointed an AR-style ri­fle to­ward the rear win­dow of his car and fired on the trooper, start­ing a ter­ri­fy­ing po­lice chase as Ator sprayed bul­lets into pass­ing cars, shop­ping plazas and killed a U.S. Postal Ser­vice em­ployee while hi­jack­ing her mail truck.

Combs said Ator “showed up to work en­raged” but did not point to any spe­cific source of his anger. But Combs de­scribed the Ator’s home on the out­skirts of Odessa as a “strange res­i­dence” that re­flected “what his men­tal state was go­ing into this.” Combs said he did not know whether Ator had been di­ag­nosed with any prior men­tal health prob­lems.

More than 20 peo­ple were in­jured in the day­light at­tack over the La­bor Day hol­i­day week­end, which came just weeks af­ter an­other mass shoot­ing killed 22 peo­ple in the Texas border city of El Paso. Au­thor­i­ties have not said how Ator ob­tained the gun used in the shoot­ing, but Ator had pre­vi­ously failed a fed­eral back­ground check for a firearm, said John Wester, an agent with the fed­eral Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives. Wester did not say when Ator failed the back­ground check or why.

On­line court records show Ator was ar­rested in 2001 for a mis­de­meanor of­fense that would not have pre­vented him from legally pur­chas­ing firearms in Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott tweeted Mon­day that “we must keep guns out of crim­i­nals’ hands” — words sim­i­lar to his re­marks that fol­lowed the El Paso shoot­ing on Aug. 3, when he said firearms must be kept from “de­ranged killers.” But Ab­bott, a Repub­li­can and avid gun rights sup­porter, has been non­com­mit­tal about tight­en­ing Texas gun laws.

Ab­bott tweeted that Ator didn’t go through a back­ground check for the weapon he used in Odessa. He did not elab­o­rate, and a spokesman re­ferred ques­tions to the Texas Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety, which didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond for com­ment.

Odessa Po­lice Chief Michael Gerke said Ator’s com­pany also called 911 on Satur­day af­ter Ator was fired but that Ator had al­ready taken off by the time po­lice showed up.

“Ba­si­cally, they were com­plain­ing on each other be­cause they had a dis­agree­ment over the fir­ing,” Gerke said.

Au­thor­i­ties said those killed were be­tween 15 and 57 years old but did not im­me­di­ately pro­vide a list of names.

Fam­ily and em­ploy­ers, how­ever, said that among the dead were Ed­win Pere­grino, 25, who ran out of his par­ents’ home to see what the com­mo­tion was; mail car­rier Mary Grana­dos, 29, slain in her U.S. Postal Ser­vice truck; and 15-year-old high school stu­dent Leilah Her­nan­dez, who was walk­ing out of an auto deal­er­ship.

Ator fired at ran­dom as he drove in the area of Odessa and Mid­land, two cities more than 300 miles west of Dal­las. Po­lice used a marked SUV to ram the mail truck out­side the Cin­ergy Movie The­ater in Odessa, dis­abling the ve­hi­cle. The gun­man then fired at po­lice, wound­ing two of­fi­cers be­fore he was killed.

Po­lice said Ator’s ar­rest in 2001 was in the county where Waco is lo­cated, hun­dreds of miles east of Odessa. On­line court records show he was charged then with mis­de­meanor crim­i­nal tres­pass and evad­ing ar­rest.

He en­tered guilty pleas in a de­ferred prose­cu­tion agree­ment where the charge was waived af­ter he served 24 months of pro­ba­tion, ac­cord­ing to records.

SUE OGROCKI/AP PHO­TOS

Of­fi­icials work the scene Mon­day where Leilah Her­nan­dez, 15, was fa­tally shot Satur­day.

FBI Spe­cial Agent in Charge Christophe­r Combs speaks to reporters on Mon­day.

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