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2 die as at least 12 people shot at Texas party, authorities say

A police car. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Two people died after at least 12 were shot about midnight Saturday at an off-campus Texas A&M University-Commerce party near Greenville.

Four other people were injured, but Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks did not detail their injuries. He did say some people were hurt by broken glass as they tried to escape through The Party Venue’s windows.

Authorities said they were looking for a single gunman but had not identified a suspect and had not received a detailed description of the person from witnesses. Meeks said he did not believe the public was in any danger.

The party had been attended by about 750 people, mostly in their teens and early 20s, and the sheriff said more than 20 of them already had been questioned about what they saw.

Initial reports had indicated the gunman was armed with a semiautomatic rifle, but Meeks confirmed he had used a handgun after coming in a back entrance of the venue. The first person the gunman shot may have been his intended target and the rest of the victims may have been randomly fired upon, the sheriff said.

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“The amount of people that were there, the overcrowdedness of it — it gave the opportunity for this shooter to be able to accomplish whatever he wanted to be able to accomplish,” Meeks said. “When you have this many people in one place, it’s an easy target for somebody.”

The conditions of all the wounded were not released, but reports indicated some of them were critically wounded. Both of the people killed were men, Meeks said, and at least four or five of the wounded were Texas A&M Commerce students.

The shooting took place about midnight Saturday about 15 miles southwest of the Commerce campus.

Hunt County deputies had been outside the party because of complaints about illegal parking. They were questioning a person outside the front of the venue who they believed was intoxicated when the shooting began about 20 minutes after they arrived. One off-duty Farmersville ISD police officer also was on the scene, working security at the party.

The shooting occurred as the university 60 miles northeast of Dallas celebrated homecoming weekend. The event was a homecoming party but wasn’t a school-sanctioned event, the sheriff’s office and university officials said.

Deputies heard gunshots coming from the back of the building but could not tell at first whether the shots were fired from inside or outside, Chief Deputy Buddy Oxford of the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office said.

Authorities found two men who had been killed inside the building, the sheriff’s office said.

Meeks said that the venue became “complete chaos” as people tried to flee the shooter, with some breaking through windows and others trying to squeeze through the venue’s front door four abreast.

Halloween masks dotted the ground outside the venue, and authorities found a number of fake bullets inside that appeared to be part of a costume.

The gunman was able to flee during the commotion, and witnesses had not given authorities a detailed description of him or any suspect vehicle.

“It appalls me that, as many folks that were there, [they] have not been able to give us a better description of the shooter,” Meeks said.

Medical City Plano Hospital spokeswoman Melissa Sauvage told The Associated Press that the hospital — about 50 miles west of Greenville — had received three victims of the shooting, all of whom were in critical condition.

According to Meeks, a sheriff’s sergeant quickly determined that one person who had been shot had life-threatening injuries and rushed that victim to a hospital in his patrol vehicle. Another deputy at the scene performed triage, the sheriff said.

“I believe their actions may have saved lives,” he said.

Graphic video posted online showed seriously wounded victims, with at least one receiving CPR as many people screamed in the background.

Meeks said that in his 44 years of law-enforcement experience, this is the first time he’s encountered “something of this magnitude.”

“I think anything like this is gonna be something very hard to deal with; it’s not something that we deal with every day,” he said.

The scanner traffic, posted at heavy.com, indicated that multiple victims had been shot at a location on U.S. Highway 380 that matches the address of The Party Venue. A “Twerk or Treat” costume party had been promoted for Saturday night at the venue, which is described as an 8,000-square-foot facility.

The scanner reports indicated one of the victims had been shot in the neck.

The first official response to the incident came about 3:15 a.m. from Texas A&M Commerce police, who made it clear the mass shooting did not occur in Commerce.

“There was an event outside Greenville, TX, that may or not have involved students at this time,” the department posted on Twitter. “Further information will be posted when known.”

Ethan Derek Preas, director of campus operations and safety at Texas A&M Commerce, said in an email that the event where the shooting was reported was not sponsored by the university.

WFAA-TV (Channel 8) said school spokesman Michael Johnson said, “We have not confirmed that any students were injured in the shooting.”

The shooting took place just minutes before Houston-based hip-hop artist BeatKing was scheduled to perform at Saturday’s party.

The rapper tweeted early Sunday that seeing video of the shooting “makes my heart drop.”

The FBI and the Texas Rangers are assisting local authorities with the investigation.

“This is a pretty big case, and we’re a small law-enforcement agency,” Meeks said.

The sheriff pleaded with party attendees to provide any information they might have about the gunman.

“We need to get him off the street as soon as possible, and we have very, very little to go on right now,” he said.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office at 903-453-6800 or Crime Stoppers at 903-457-2929.

Staff writers Eva-Marie Ayala and Cassandra Jaramillo contributed to this report.

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©2019 The Dallas Morning News

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