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Multiple fatalities in El Paso shooting, suspect in custody

Authorities in El Paso, Texas, said a gunman opened fire Saturday morning inside a local Walmart, killing multiple people. A suspect is now in custody, and at least 22 people were injured during the attack. For more on the shooting, Dennis Woo, operations director at NPR affiliate KTEP, joins Hari Sreenivasan from El Paso.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Joining me now from El Paso is Dennis Woo. operations director at the NPR affiliate there K T.E. P. First, for people who don't know the area very well how central is this small? How many people are usually there on a weekend?

  • Dennis Woo:

    On a weekend, you can usually count on at the Wal-Mart usually for an hour maybe about 1,500 – 1,600 people in and around the store because it's also part of the complex to Sam's Club.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right. So in that area now we're talking about just a few weeks away from Back to School season or at least people might be doing that kind of shopping this weekend?

  • Dennis Woo:

    Right. Exactly as a matter of fact I think this is our tax free weekend and so you have tons of parents looking for great bargains. And so this store is going to be packed.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now I know that you have had reporters making phone calls and so forth what have you heard and seen from witnesses around there?

  • Dennis Woo:

    Well so far there are witnesses that our news partners have talked to over their period of time say that there were rapid shots fired and multiple people that were gunned down in front of the counters leading out of the store.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    OK. And in this climate where we have now almost become normalized to mass shootings, how is that community position? Meaning are people there immune to this? I mean are people shocked that this happened in their community?

  • Dennis Woo:

    Absolutely shocked here. Now El Paso is supposed to be a safe city. It's one of the safest cities in the country. It's been like that for several years. The ratings that we've had have always put El Paso at the top 10 percent. So to have this happen in our own backyard is really a shock.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what are the officials there trying to do now? I know that they've established a family relocation center to try to make sure that people who might have been evacuated and separate from their families, separated from their families can get together in the same place but are there any other plans at the cities announce so far?

  • Dennis Woo:

    So far things are in preliminary stages for the time being. Yes we do have an elementary school that's a staging area for loved ones to try to catch up with other loved ones that work in the store. You know the sale of Vista mall which has 122 stores that was also evacuated as well. So that entire complex that runs maybe about 22 acres is completely deserted except with nothing but law enforcement officials and people trying to latch up with one another. So those preliminary plans of trying to heal if you will are still in the first stages but I can tell you by day's end well wind up with some kind of candle little light vigil if not more things happening for the weekend.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You've lived there for a long time for decades you've been in the news business for a long time. How do you feel just as in El Pasoan?

  • Dennis Woo:

    Well you know after all these years of not having to do deal with anything of this magnitude not since 1961 when we had the first air hijacking at our International Airport have we ever run into something like this. And so the shock of having this in our own community is not going to wear away anytime soon. And being a journalist in this area all we can do is try to comfort by telling the right story.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And in that process we've almost got a formula now for what happens on day one, what happens on day two, day three. How do you keep from making sure that it doesn't become something impersonal?

  • Dennis Woo:

    Well that's a tough question to answer because that's such a personal thing for all the journalists that are working this story today including myself and a student that I just sent to the scene. It's one of those things where you just have to separate your personal life from your professional life. You tell the story you run into people who want to tell the story and then you comfort them and then afterwards you process it later, away from the cameras, away from the microphones and hopefully we'll all be good at the end.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know some of the initial images saw basically very heavily armed officers approaching the scene almost maybe maybe they were SWAT teams that were going in. It seemed that there were quite a few different law enforcement agencies converging in a very short period of time for this tragedy.

  • Dennis Woo:

    You know that's one of the things that we're very proud of here in in our communities that the law enforcement agencies are quick to respond. No matter where they are. And since this was in the central part of El Paso, everyone converged because of the proximity. It was easy to get through from Central Command for PD for sheriffs that's out in the perimeter of the county. And quite frankly, the Texas Rangers are always in this area anyway watching out for motorists and whatnot that might break the law.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Dennis Woo operations director at the NPR affiliate K T. E. P. joining us via Skype tonight thanks so much.

  • Dennis Woo:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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