By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, KEN RITTER and MORGAN LEE (Associated Press)
FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — An 18-year-old man armed with at least three guns roamed through a northwestern New Mexico community firing randomly at cars and houses Monday, killing three people and injuring six others including two police officers before he was killed, authorities said.
The shootings occurred around 11 a.m. in Farmington, a city of about 50,000 people near the Four Corners — where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado meet — that is a supply line and bedroom community to the region’s oil and natural gas industry.
Officers responding to reports of shots being fired encountered the attacker within minutes and killed him with at least one shot, Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said in a video released Monday night. He said the gunman fired at least three weapons, including an “AR-style rifle.”
The shooting was “honestly one of the most horrific and difficult days that Farmington has ever had as a community,” he said.
The identities of the gunman and the victims weren’t immediately released.
Investigators were still struggling to determine a motive for the attack, including talking to the shooter’s family.
“But at this point it appears to be purely random, that there was no schools, no churches and no individuals targeted,” Hebbe said. “During the course of the event, the suspect roamed throughout the neighborhood up to a quarter of a mile. At least six houses and three cars were shot in the course of the event, as the suspect randomly fired at whatever entered his head to shoot at.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement that she was praying for the families of the victims and that the incident “serves at yet another reminder of how gun violence destroys lives in our state and our country every single day.”
Mayor Nate Duckett said in a statement that the shooting “has left us reeling in anguish and disbelief.”
At Hills Church, just a few miles away from the attack scene, dozens of people gathered around a tall metal cross as the sun set Monday to pray. Some wrapped their arms around each other as they listened. The mayor and law enforcement officers were among those in the crowd.
Lead pastor Matt Mizell talked about living in a “dark and broken world” but told the crowd that there was still hope and asked God to provide them strength.
Officers began receiving reports of gunshots at about 10:57 a.m. The first officer arrived at 11:02 a.m. and three minutes later the gunman had been killed, Hebbe said.
At first officers thought there might be a second suspect and schools were locked down “because we didn’t know where any other suspects could be,” the chief said. However, it now appears that the 18-year-old acted alone, he said.
One Farmington officer was shot and taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released, while a state police officer also was shot and drove himself to the hospital where he remained and is doing well, Hebbe said. That officer was reported to be in stable condition.
Joseph Robledo, a 32-year-old tree trimmer, said he rushed home after learning that his wife and 1-year-old daughter had sought shelter in the laundry room when gunshots rang out. A bullet went through his daughter’s window and room, without hitting anyone.
Robledo jumped a fence to get in through the back door. Out front he found an older woman in the street who had been wounded while driving by. She appeared to have fallen out of her car, which kept rolling without her, he said.
“I went out to see because the lady was just lying in the road, and to figure just what the heck was going on,” Robledo said. He and others began to administer first aid.
Neighbors directed an arriving police officer toward the suspect.
“We were telling (the officer), ‘He’s down there.’ … The cop just went straight into action,” Robledo said.
Robledo’s own family car was perforated with bullets.
“We’ve been doing yard work all last week. I just thank God that nobody was outside in front,” he said.
“Obviously, elderly people — he didn’t have no sympathy for them. Who’s to say he would have sympathy for a little kid,” he said.
Middle school teacher Nick Akins, whose home is on a street that police locked down, described the neighborhood as a mostly great place to live, with a mix of homes, short-term rental apartments and churches.
“It’s not like the roughest area in town, but it can be,” he said. “We have great neighbors and rentals, people who come and go. We don’t always know everyone.”
Seeing Farmington in the national spotlight for yet another mass shooting, particularly one that occurred on his street, was surreal for him.
“You never think it’s going to happen here and all of a sudden, in a tiny little town it comes here,” Akins said.
Hebbe said he was “unbelievably proud” of officers’ response given the threat of the suspect, who was moving around, and the chaotic scene. Authorities received at least nine calls to dispatch “putting the information all over the place, where the suspect was,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office, the Farmington Police Department and state police all responded. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tweeted that agents from Phoenix were headed to Farmington to assist in the investigation.
Farmington police planned to hold a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“Today, gun violence took the lives of our elders, wounded two police officers, and paralyzed Farmington’s small community in fear,” U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat, whose district includes the area, said on Facebook. “I praise the heroes who drove to danger to stop the violence. I pray for the quick recovery of the wounded and for the families of those we lost.”
“Our beautiful Nuevo Mexico is not immune to the mass shootings that occur across the country — Every. Single. Day,” the message said.
In recent years, cafes and breweries have cropped up downtown Farmington alongside decades-old businesses that trade in Native American crafts from silver jewelry to wool weavings.
Last month Farmington police shot and killed a man at his front door after they went to the wrong address while responding to a domestic violence call.
Ritter reported from Las Vegas, Nevada, and Lee from Santa Fe. Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed.
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