Federal investigators may have tracked down where the West Texas shooter got his gun.
It’s been widely reported that the shooter in the Odessa attack tried to buy a gun in January of 2014 but was prohibited from doing so after being flagged due to a mental health issue.
Federal agents think they’re close to pinpointing how Seth Ator was able to eventually get his hands on the AR-style rifle he used in the deadly rampage.
The Wall Street Journal reported law enforcement officials have identified a person of interest who may have illegally made and then sold the weapon to Ator.
The official familiar with the investigation spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, citing a reluctance to publicly discuss the details of the search. The official said federal agents are investigating whether the Lubbock man has been manufacturing firearms but that there have been no arrests.
Spokespeople for the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed the agencies conducted "law enforcement operations" Wednesday in a residential part of Lubbock but declined to elaborate.
Ator killed seven people and wounded 22 more during a rolling shootout with officers Saturday. He was eventually shot and killed by police.
Law enforcement sources told the Journal they believe the Lubbock man sold the gun to Ator privately. Private sales do not require background checks.
But according to the report, authorities believe the seller bought parts on the internet, then built the gun and sold it, which is illegal without a license.
The Odessa mass shooting and another at a Walmart in El Paso just weeks earlier bookended a violent August in Texas that left 29 people dead and injured dozens more.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday issued eight executive orders that he said would help prevent other mass shootings. None of them put new restrictions on access to firearms or ammunition, which are at the forefront of calls by Democrats and gun-control groups in the wake of the two Texas shootings.
Topping Abbott's list of orders is one that establishes a list of questions for law enforcement agencies to ask when receiving calls about people who might pose a threat.
"Sometimes, they get calls and people don't fully explain because call takers don't know all the questions to ask,” explained Catherin Smit-Torrez, former Cockrell Hill police chief. “So that's what this training is: to train the call takers to make sure they're asking a complete battery of questions because the person who calls in may not know what they need to say."
In noting the governor’s mandates do not involve restricting access to guns as many have called for, Smit-Torrez says there will likely be critics. But she believes the executive orders were meant as a first step. Some others say new orders overburden law enforcement agencies.
“Yes, law enforcement has to be the one to respond. The duty is on them. But I think the governor is helping the personal responsibility of Texans to understand this is an important thing. I need to speak up and I need to know this is where I go to report this,” Smit-Torrez said. “I don't think this is the end all. I think the governor is trying to get step one out here. This is where we need to start.”
The mother of the suspected El Paso gunman called police weeks before the Aug. 3 attack to express concern about her son buying an "AK" style rifle.
Ator was "recently reported to law enforcement for confronting a neighbor while brandishing a semiautomatic rifle," the orders state. It is unclear what came of this report or to whom it was made.
Abbott's office referred questions about the incident to DPS. A department spokeswoman and Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Rocio Gutierrez, whose home is near Ator's sheet-metal shack west of Odessa in Ector County, said her family often heard him shooting in the night. Ator had menaced another neighbor over how that woman was disposing of trash, Gutierrez told the AP Monday.
Abbott on Wednesday rejected calls from Democrats who want him to haul lawmakers back to the Texas Capitol and begin taking votes on new gun control measures. The Texas Legislature doesn't meet again until 2021, meaning any new laws in response to the Odessa and El Paso shootings are at least two years away unless the governor calls an emergency legislative session.
Abbott, an avid gun-rights supporter, has shown no appetite for a special session but says he will release legislative proposals in the coming days.
It’s unclear whether the man knew Ator was a prohibited person when he allegedly sold him the rifle. But if he did have prior knowledge of that, the alleged seller could face federal charges stemming from the transaction.