Suspect in El Paso Shooting Indicted on Capital Murder Charge

September 12, 2019
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by Marcia Robiou Abrams Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowship

People pray and pay their respects at the makeshift memorial for victims of the shooting that left a total of 22 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall Walmart in El Paso, Texas. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

The suspect in the mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart that left 22 dead and dozens wounded was indicted on a capital murder charge Thursday.  

Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old white male, is facing the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole if found guilty. He is on suicide watch and is being held without bond in the El Paso County Detention Center. Jaime Esparza, the district attorney for El Paso, said he will seek the death penalty.

The grand jury decision comes more than a month after a gunman entered a busy Walmart on a Saturday morning carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. After he was arrested, the defendant told authorities he was targeting Mexicans, according to an affidavit, and wanted to shoot as many as possible. FRONTLINE reporters were in El Paso in the aftermath of the shooting for an upcoming documentary.

Authorities are investigating whether a hate-filled manifesto, posted online minutes before the first shots were fired in the Walmart, is linked to the suspect. The 2,300-word screed states the attack was spurred by the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and warned that whites will be replaced by foreigners.

The Department of Justice is treating the massacre as a domestic terrorism case and is weighing a possible hate crime connection. Prosecution under domestic terrorism may be onerous — there is no specific domestic terrorism law in the federal criminal code. 

The charge comes on the heels of a series of sweeping laws that loosen gun restrictions in Texas. Starting Sept. 1, Texas school districts can no longer prohibit licensed gun owners from storing firearms or ammunition in vehicles on a school parking lot. In addition, landlords and homeowners cannot prohibit residents from lawfully carrying firearms or ammunition on the property. A total of nine firearm laws were passed in the state this month.  

A total of 29 people died in mass shootings in Texas in August. Shortly after the El Paso massacre, a gunman in Odessa started indiscriminately shooting at cars, killing seven. It was the 38th mass shooting in the United States this year.

Last month, the Texas Tribune reported that the Walmart suspect bought his assault weapon online from Romania and a thousand rounds of ammunition from Russia. El Paso police had previously said that the alleged gunman purchased the AK-47 used in the massacre legally. The details come from an internal Texas Department of Public Safety report obtained by the Tribune.

The report also notes that the suspect “was surprised no one challenged him or shot him” when he walked into the Walmart openly carrying an assault weapon.

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