May 7, 2023 - 3:08 pm
Updated May 7, 2023 - 8:33 pm
ALLEN, Texas — Federal officials are looking into whether the gunman who killed eight people at a Dallas-area mall expressed an interest in white supremacist ideology as they work to try to discern a motive for the attack, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official cautioned the investigation is in its early stages.
Federal agents have been reviewing social media accounts they believe Mauricio Garcia, 33, used and posts that expressed interest in white supremacist and neo-Nazi views, said the official, who could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Garcia also had a patch on his chest when he was killed by police that read “RWDS,” an acronym for the phrase “Right Wing Death Squad,” which is popular among right-wing extremists and white supremacy groups, the official said.
In addition to reviewing social media posts, federal agents have interviewed family members and associates of Garcia to ask about his ideological beliefs, the official said. Investigators are also reviewing financial records, other online posts they believe Garcia made and other electronic media, according to the official.
Authorities identified Garcia as suspected of killing eight people at a Texas outlet mall, but his motive was a mystery Sunday, a day after the attack turned an afternoon of shopping into a massacre.
Three law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press named Garcia, 33, as the gunman after he was fatally shot Saturday by a police officer who happened to be near the suburban Dallas mall. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of an ongoing investigation.
One of the officials said investigators have been searching the motel where Garcia had stayed nearby, and two of the officials said investigators searched a home in the Dallas area connected to the suspect. The official said police also found multiple weapons at the scene after Garcia was killed, including an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun.
Authorities released few details in the aftermath of the assault. They offered no information about those who were killed, including their names.
The shooting was the latest attack to contribute to the unprecedented pace of mass killings this year in the U.S. Barely a week before, five people were fatally shot in Cleveland, Texas, after a neighbor asked a man to stop firing his weapon while a baby slept, authorities said.
No names of victims released yet
The name of the gunman in Allen emerged as the community mourned for the dead and awaited word on the seven people who were wounded.
John Mark Caton, senior pastor at Cottonwood Creek Church, about two miles from the mall, offered prayers during his weekly service for victims, first responders and the shoppers and employees who “walked out past things they never should have seen.”
“Some of our people were there. Some perhaps in this room. Some of our students were working in those stores and will be changed forever by this,” Caton said.
Recalling phone conversations with police officers, he said: “There wasn’t an officer that I talked to yesterday that at some point in the call didn’t cry.”
The attack unfolded at Allen Premium Outlets, a sprawling outdoor shopping center. Witnesses reported seeing children among the victims. Some said they also saw what appeared to be a police officer and a mall security guard unconscious on the ground.
Andria Gaither, the assistant manager at the Tommy Hilfiger clothing store, said she was at the back of the store Saturday afternoon when she saw two young girls trying to hide in a dressing room. At first, she thought they were playing. Then she heard one say shots were being fired.
Gaither looked around to see customers and the store manager running to the back of the business. Eventually, Gaither and the others ran out a back door.
“As soon as I got outside the back of the store, you could hear the shooting,” Gaither said Sunday. “It was so loud. I’d never ever heard anything like that in my life. It was deafening.”
She started running the length of the mall and eventually got in the vehicle of another worker who was leaving.
Video shows suspect
Dashcam video circulating online showed the gunman getting out of a car and shooting at people on the sidewalk. More than three dozen shots could be heard as the vehicle that was recording the video drove off.
Allen Fire Chief Jonathan Boyd said seven people, including the shooter, died at the scene. Two other people died at hospitals.
The wounded remained hospitalized Sunday — three in critical condition and four in fair condition, the Allen Police Department said in a statement.
An Allen police officer was in the area on an unrelated call when he heard shots at 3:36 p.m., the department wrote on Facebook.
“The officer engaged the suspect and neutralized the threat. He then called for emergency personnel,” the post said.
Mass killings have happened with staggering frequency in the United States this year, with an average of about one per week, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.
Man wore tactical gear, says Biden
In a statement, President Joe Biden said the assailant wore tactical gear and fired an AR-15-style weapon. He urged Congress to enact tighter restrictions on firearms and ammunition.
“Such an attack is too shocking to be so familiar. And yet, American communities have suffered roughly 200 mass shootings already this year, according to leading counts,” said Biden, who ordered flags lowered to half-staff.
Republicans in Congress, he said, “cannot continue to meet this epidemic with a shrug.”
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has signed laws easing firearms restrictions following past mass shootings, called the mall attack an “unspeakable tragedy.”
Video shared on social media showed people running through a parking lot amid the sound of gunshots.
Fontayne Payton, 35, was at H&M when he heard gunshots through his headphones.
“It was so loud, it sounded like it was right outside,” Payton said.
People in the store scattered before employees ushered the group into the fitting rooms and then a lockable back room, he said. When they were given the all-clear to leave, Payton saw the store had broken windows and a trail of blood to the door. Discarded sandals and bloodied clothes lay nearby.
Once outside, Payton saw bodies.
“I pray it wasn’t kids, but it looked like kids,” he said. The bodies were covered in white towels, slumped over bags on the ground. “It broke me when I walked out to see that.”
Further away, he saw the body of a heavyset man wearing all black. He assumed it was the shooter, Payton said, because unlike the other bodies it had not been covered.
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington, Vanessa Alvarez in New York, James Vertuno in Austin, Jamie Stengle and Adam Kealoha Causey in Dallas and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.