The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Sept. 1 condemned the “horrific onslaughts” in its ninth response to gun violence this year in the aftermath of a mass shooting, this time following a shooting spree in West Texas that left seven people dead and more than 20 injured.
The violence in Texas was the first of 10 shooting incidents that occurred during Labor Day weekend across the country, according to the Gun Violence Archive. There were also shootings in Illinois, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“Once again, these horrific onslaughts demonstrate unequivocally the undeniable existence of evil in our society,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, USCCB’s president, who’s the archbishop of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese.
“I am deeply saddened to witness yet again scenes of violence and contempt for human life being repeated in our nation’s streets,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
On Aug. 31 in Texas, a gunman opened fire at random while being chased by police on a busy stretch of Interstate 20 between Midland and Odessa.
“My prayers are for those who have lost their lives, who have been seriously injured, and for their families,” said Bishop Michael Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo (Texas), which includes Odessa, in a statement. “My prayers are also for the great people of those communities directly impacted by this senseless act of violence, especially the courageous first responders and the local medical teams.
“There are no easy answers as to how to end this epidemic of gun violence in our state and our country. I ask the Lord to enlighten all of our hearts and minds, especially our government leaders, so that we can have the insight and the courage to move from a culture of death to a culture of life,” Bishop Sis said.
According to CNN, the gunman, Seth Ator, 36, was “in a distressed mental state,” and had been fired from his trucking job hours before the shootings.
Multiple reports said that Ator had gotten into an argument with his employer. The shootings “did not happen because he was fired. When [Ator] showed up to work, he was already enraged,” FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs said at a press conference on Sept. 1.
“There are no definite answers as to motive or reasons at this point, but we are fairly certain that the subject did act alone,” Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said, according to the New York Times. Ator had also applied to purchase a gun, but reportedly failed a background check, according to an official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
During the on-road shooting spree, which began after he was pulled over for a traffic violation, Ator also reportedly made calls to 911, telling the dispatcher that “he’s the guy doing it,” Combs said.
Authorities said that Ator abandoned his car and hijacked a USPS mail carrier’s vehicle, and then drove toward a movie theater parking lot and shot at bystanders, before he was surrounded by officers who shot and killed him.
The investigation is ongoing. Gerke said the youngest fatal victim was 15 years old. One of the injured victims was a 17-month-old girl who is now in stable condition at the University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, officials said.
The Odessa shooting was at least the 18th deadly mass shooting in the U.S. this year, according to Catholic News Agency. Cardinal DiNardo called on Catholic leaders and the faithful to “work tirelessly to root out the causes of such crimes.”
“As people of faith, we must continue to pray for all the victims, and for healing in all these shattered communities that now extend across the length and breadth of our land,” he said.