A shattering weekend in which two mass shootings left at least 29 people dead and injured dozens put Donald Trump at the center of a storm of outrage over racism and the failure on gun control in America.
Even as the president said “hate has no place in our country” and blamed the shootings on mental illness, investigators in El Paso confirmed that a massacre at a Walmart superstore on Saturday that left at least 20 people dead in the Texas border city had been preceded by the suspected gunman publishing an anti-immigration screed via the darker recesses of the internet.
And in a mass shooting in the early hours of Sunday, just 13 hours later, a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, was wearing body armor and carrying 100-bullet magazines to arm his high-powered rifle, with law enforcement warning he could have killed many dozens of people if he hadn’t been shot by police within 30 seconds of opening fire.
The shootings were carried out just a week after a 19-year-old, also armed with a high-caliber rifle, opened fire at a popular annual food festival in Gilroy, northern California, killing three and wounding others.
Led by those running for president, senior Democrats, including the local former congressman of El Paso, Beto O’Rourke, condemned the president as a nakedly white nationalist and racist leader.
They pointed at Trump’s escalating attacks on migrants at the border and on members of Congress of color, including inflammatory comments and posturing that sparked a crowd at a rally last month to chant “send her back” about Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Tragedy in El Paso
The suspect in the El Paso shooting on Saturday was from the town of Allen, on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, 650 miles from the border city in the far south-west corner of the state. He was arrested and is being held in custody after rampaging into an El Paso Walmart, opening fire and ultimately killing 20.
Local prosecutors charged a 21-year-old white man, Patrick Crusius, with murder and said they would pursue the death penalty and federal authorities are investigating it as a hate crime.
Police in El Paso were examining a hate-riddled message on the website 8chan, posted around 20 minutes before Saturday’s attack, in which the author expressed sympathy for a white nationalist massacre at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, a few months ago, and which stated: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Among the dead were Jordan and Andre Anchando, who died while protecting their young child.
Outside the Del Sol medical center in El Paso on Sunday, mourners had erected signs saying: “No hate can ruin our great city” and “Our city is pure love.”
A 21-year-old, Daisy Fuentes, told the Guardian that her grandparents went to the Walmart to shop for curtains, and that both of them got shot during the massacre.
Her 66-year-old grandmother, Nicolasa Velasquez, called the family right after.
“We were scared. We were crying. We didn’t know what to do,” said Fuentes. “My mom was trying to tell her to stay calm and breathe. My grandma … was saying it hurt, and told my mom to call the ambulance, because they weren’t coming fast enough.”
The Republican mayor of El Paso, Dee Margo, said on Sunday that El Paso’s binational culture – as a majority Latinx city with a sister city directly across the border in Mexico – was what made it a “special, special place” and called the gunman “deranged” for not knowing that “this is what makes our country great”.
Mourning in Ohio
The gunman in Dayton, Ohio, opened fire in the city’s downtown area around 1am on Sunday, killing nine people. He was armed with a high-powered rifle and a 100-round magazine before police shot him dead within 30 seconds of his beginning a rampage.
Law enforcement named the Dayton shooter as 24-year-old Connor Betts. Betts’s 22-year-old sister Megan was among the victims. The incident was still in the early stages of investigation and it was too early to assign a motive, the Dayton police chief, Richard Biehl, said on Sunday. But Biehl said the shooting did not appear linked to a “bias motive”.
Early reports suggest there may have been red flags in the gunman’s history. High school classmates, speaking to the Associated Press, said that Betts had been suspended from school for creating a list of people he wanted to harm.
By Sunday evening, the popular entertainment district where the attack occurred had been cleared of crime-scene tape and opened to a somber crowd for a vigil.
Hundreds of people gathered, some leaving bouquets in front of the bars or tucking flowers into bullet holes. More holes were visible in the window at Ned Peppers bar, where police killed the shooter just outside the doorstep to save those inside.
At the event, a speech by Ohio’s Republican governor was interrupted with shouts of “make a change”. As the governor, Mike DeWine, told the crowd that the families’ pain can’t be erased, many started chanting: “Do something!”
Trump faces criticism
Donald Trump faced criticism on Saturday for hardly mentioning the Texas shooting, having sent just a few short tweets and issuing a presidential proclamation to lower flags to half mast.
As the US president travelled back to the White House from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Sunday, Trump said: “I want to extend our condolences from El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. They’re incredible people, they’ve been through a lot.”
Trump made no reference to the nature of the alleged hate crime in El Paso and did not speak about gun control, but added: “Hate has no place in our country. We’re going to take care of it.”
The president also suggested both shootings should be viewed in the context of mental health. “This is also a mental illness problem, if you look at both these cases … both these people are very ill,” Trump said, adding he would address the public again on Monday morning.
Local authorities in both El Paso and Dayton have made no definitive statements about the mental health of either suspect.
His daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, had earlier tweeted: “White supremacy, like all other forms of terrorism, is an evil that must be destroyed.”
But leading Democrats were incandescent.
Beto O’Rourke said: “We have to acknowledge the hatred, the open racism that we’re seeing.” He told CNN: “There is an environment of it in the United States.” He also decried the wide availability of high-powered firearms.
Meanwhile, the US senator from New Jersey and rival Democratic 2020 presidential candidate, Cory Booker, told the news channel: “He [Trump] is responsible for what is going on and is doing nothing to stop the carnage and chaos.” Booker added: “This is a moral moment and he is failing this nation.”
The presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, said: “Mental illness rates [in the US] are similar to other countries across the world but we have these shootings in extraordinary numbers, and that’s because of the weapons [available].”
The conservative New York Post called for a ban on assault weapons.
Last month the FBI director, Christopher Wray, told Congress that the majority of domestic terror related arrests since last October had been linked to white supremacist violence. While the Southern Poverty Law Center, a not-for-profit group tracking hate in America, reported a surge in white nationalist groups last year.
By Sunday, the shooting in Ohio marked the 31st deadly mass shooting in America this year, defined as those where at least three people are killed by gun violence in a single episode.
Agencies contributed reporting