The El Paso police chief has said authorities are investigating possible hate crime charges for the suspect taken into custody in connection with a mass shooting in the city that killed 22 people and injured 26 others.
El Paso police chief Greg Allen said authorities are looking into a manifesto that indicates the shooting was a hate crime during a press conference on Sunday.
“We have to attribute that information directly to him,” Allen told reporters. “It’s beginning to look more likely that’s the case.”
The shooting is also being investigated as a case of domestic terrorism, U.S. Attorney John Bash said Sunday.
“We are treating this as a domestic terrorist case,” Bash said. “And we are going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is deliver swift and certain justice.”
Allen said on Satruday that investigators are working to “validate for certainty that this was the manifesto” of the man they have in custody.
That man is 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, who is not from El Paso, but from the Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas.
Twenty two people were killed and 26 others wounded in the shooting at a Walmart packed with up to 3,000 people just after 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. The shooting at the border city, which has one of the lowest murder rates in the country, sparked an outpouring of condolences from across the United States and Mexico––including from President Donald Trump and presidential candidate and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke.
Shortly after the shooting, a four-page manifesto expressing hatred of Hispanic immigrants and detailing a plan for an attack began to circulate online. It had been posted on an online message board that is popular with followers of conspiracy theories, including QAnon. Officials have not yet confirmed whether it is the same manifesto they are investigating.
During the press conference where Allen announced the possible hate-crime motive for the shooting, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott talked instead about mental health and his actions in response to the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston that left 10 dead and 13 hurt.
Abbott later addressed the hate crime allegations directly Saturday night, telling El Paso TV station KVIA, “This is disgusting. Intolerable. And it’s not Texan. And we are going to aggressively prosecute it both as capital murder but also as a hate crime. Which is exactly what it appears to be, without having seen all the evidence yet, I don’t want to get ahead of the evidence.
“But we have to be very very clear that conduct like this, thoughts like this, actions like this, crimes like this are not who or what Texas is and will not be accepted here.”
Allen’s announcement about the hate crime investigation also drew a moment of apparent tension at Saturday’s press conference with FBI Special Agent Emmerson Buie.
In responding to a question about Allen’s assertion that the FBI was investigating a hate crime motive, Buie responded: “First and foremost I did not call it a hate crime, I said we’re looking at other aspects… before we can label any type of investigation, we have to ensure the evidence and the precursors are there and they have to be reviewed.”
Allen responded by reiterating that police are investigating a possible manifesto indicating the attack could be motivated by hate.
“Didn’t mean to step on the FBI’s toes on that, but we are taking this down the road of simply a murder investigation with numerous casualties,” he said. “The state of Texas will be the lead prosecuting agency in this.”
El Paso officials, including Rep. Veronica Escobar, have emphasized that the perpetrator is not a member of their community, but someone whose values are not representative of El Paso.
Allen, where the suspect is from, is more than 750 miles from El Paso––10-hours by car.
Escobar said that she couldn’t comment directly on the shooting because the investigation is ongoing, but condemned the “manifesto narrative” as “fueled by hate and it’s fueled by racism and bigotry and division.”
“El Paso has historically been a very safe community. We’ve been safe for decades, we will continue to be safe. This is someone who came from outside our community to do us harm. A community that has done nothing but shown generosity and kindness to the least among us––those people arriving at America’s front door,” Escobar said. She added that she and her colleagues will come together to make “very strong statements” after the investigation is completed.
Trump expressed his condolences on Twitter in the hours after the shooting happened. He later condemned the shooting as “an act of cowardice” and a “hateful act.”
“Today’s shooting in El Paso, Texas was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people,” Trump wrote. “.Melania and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the great people of Texas.”
On Monday on Twitter, Trump suggested marrying background check legislation with “desperately needed immigration reform.” At a later Monday press conference, Trump condemned racism and white supremacy, and called on issuing the death penalty for people convicted of hate crimes.
O’Rourke, a former Congressman from El Paso, flew home from the campaign trail after the shooting. He said that beyond supporting the community and passing new laws, people must also consider how to combat the hatred that may have motivated the gunman.
“I think we also have to ask ourselves about the level of hatred and racism that we’re seeing in this country right now that could lead to an event like we saw here today,” O’Rourke said. He added that El Paso could be “an example of how we just don’t just respect one another, we embrace our difference as the very source of our strength.”