Two parents protecting their baby from gunfire. A 60-year-old veteran shopping for groceries with his now-widowed wife. The gunman’s sister. These were just a few of the numerous lives claimed throughout a particularly violent and emotionally taxing weekend.
With the horror of last weekend’s Gilroy Garlic festival deaths still fresh on civilian minds, two new mass shootings have rocked the US. The first wave of a total 31 confirmed fatalities arrived Saturday evening, where 22 people had been gunned down at a Walmart superstore in El Paso, Texas. Barely half a day later, the residents of Dayton, Ohio also experienced horrific bloodshed after a mere 30-second street rampage killed 9 and injured 27 others.
The El Paso shooter, speculated to be 21-year-old white male Patrick Crusius, was arrested in the Walmart parking lot without confrontation or struggle. He is believed to have carried out the massacre out of racialized intent, with public prosecutors now examining the link between him and a manifesto-like passage posted on the website 8chan, a website frequently dubbed a safe haven for extremist content.
The four-page document was published 20 minutes prior to the shooting. It alluded to the white-nationalist Christchurch Mosque shooting in New Zealand and stated that the immediately succeeding attack would be “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Aside from likely authoring the post, Crusius has also been vocal about support for President Trump on social media, even though his ideologies allegedly precede Trump’s bid for the presidency.
Xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments were also laden throughout the post and technology giants such as Facebook and Twitter are now cooperating with law enforcement to remove duplicates from their platforms. The case is officially being treated as one concerning domestic terrorism and authorities have said they intend to pursue the death penalty.
Much less is known about the perpetrator of the Ohio shooting, who was gunned down by police, for the investigation is in its primitive stages. No motive has yet been posthumously designated to 24-year-old gunman Connor Betts, although Dayton police chief Richard Biehl negated the likelihood of bias being a key motivator.
An initial probe into Betts’ personal life has divulged several contentious issues that might suggest a certain pattern of behaviour. The Associated Press reported that the gunman’s high school classmates confirmed his formulation of a “hit list” and “rape list” in addition to “having an obsession with guns,” indicating violent tendencies and a troubling track record. However, there are also personal accounts of Betts being “the nicest kid you could imagine.”
Separate vigils were held for each of the two fatal tragedies. Families and neighbours alike in two states across America echoed similar emotions of grief, shock and also indignation. Heated chants broke out in Dayton Sunday night calling for gun control and direct action. Demonstrators also gathered in Washington in the wake of the El Paso mass shooting, showing solidarity by echoing a chant that exclaimed ‘not one more.’
Politicians also manufactured a plethora of varying reactions. President Trump resorted to his modus operandi and responded to the calamity on Twitter. He also asserted in a statement that both shooters were facing “mental illness problem[s],” seemingly to deflect the blame away from weak gun control measures, which his voter base is adamant on maintaining.
President Trump’s assertions were immediately met with pushback from Democrats. Congressman Beto O’Rourke spoke out emotionally about the tragedy which struck his hometown El Paso, denouncing the permissive standards surrounding assault weapons — one of which was legally procured and used by the shooter.
Other presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar sang a similar tune, attributing the violence to inadequate legislation on gun ownership and urging immediate action against the ostensibly unending cycle of mass shootings.
The news out of El Paso is devastating. I'm heartbroken for the victims and their families. Far too many communities have suffered through tragedies like this already. We must act now to end our country's gun violence epidemic.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 3, 2019
President Trump was also caught in the crossfire after the racist manifesto’s circulation, given that stoking racial tensions has been a recurring theme in his campaign and Trump’s divisive rhetoric is accused to be an inspiration to white nationalists. The founder of 8chan, where the manifesto was publicized, called for the online messaging board to shut down as he revealed qualms about the platform providing a “receptive audience for domestic terrorists.”
As the end of these two death-ridden days officially mark America’s 32nd deadly mass shooting of the year, emotions are running high while spirits stay understandably low. Regardless of what outcomes the separate investigations produce, this weekend’s unsettling events will undoubtedly intensify ongoing debates over both gun control and racial polarization in America.