Two men died after someone opened fire at a crowded party about midnight Saturday near Greenville as nearby Texas A&M University Commerce celebrated homecoming weekend.
Sgt. Jeff Haines of the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday afternoon that eight people were shot — two of them fatally — and six suffered injuries while they tried to escape. Four of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition, and another victim’s condition was described as good.
Earlier in the day, Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks had indicated 12 people had been shot.
Authorities said they were looking for a single gunman but hadn’t identified a suspect or received a detailed description of the person from witnesses at The Party Venue facility along U.S. Highway 380 just west of Greenville.
Meeks said he did not believe the public was in any danger.
The party, which had been promoted as a homecoming event but wasn’t school-sanctioned, was attended by about 750 people, mostly in their teens and early 20s. The sheriff said more than 20 of them had been questioned by early Sunday about what they saw.
Texas A&M Commerce confirmed that four of its students had been treated and released from hospitals.
Initial reports had suggested the gunman was armed with a semiautomatic rifle, but Meeks confirmed the weapon was a handgun. The first person the gunman shot may have been his intended target and the rest of the victims may have been fired upon randomly, the sheriff said.
“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 shooting took place about 15 miles southwest of the Commerce campus, which is about 65 miles from Dallas.
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 with a capacity of 500 — well below the estimated attendance at the event.
Hunt County deputies who were investigating complaints about illegal parking at the venue arrived about 20 minutes before the gunman opened fire began.
They were questioning a person outside the front of the venue who they believed was intoxicated when they heard gunshots coming from the back of the building.
At first, they could not tell whether the shots were fired inside or outside but found the two men who had been killed when they entered the building, authorities said.
An off-duty Farmersville ISD police officer also had been at the venue working security at the party.
The sheriff said the party became “complete chaos” as people tried to flee the gunman, with some breaking through windows and others trying to squeeze through the venue’s front door four abreast.
The gunman fled 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.
The sheriff pleaded with partygoers to provide any information they could 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.
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.
“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.
Halloween masks and blue medical gloves dotted the ground outside the venue. Authorities found fake bullets inside that appeared to be part of a costume.
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.
Medical City Plano Hospital spokeswoman Melissa Sauvage told The Associated Press that the hospital had received three victims of the shooting, all of whom were in critical condition.
Sunday afternoon, police tape blocked off the venue, which is just west of Greenville’s city limits. The Hunt County Sheriff’s Office had set up a mobile command post, and several media crews were at the scene with authorities from local, state and federal agencies.
The FBI and the Texas Rangers are helping with the investigation.
“This is a pretty big case, and we’re a small law-enforcement agency,” Meeks said.
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.
The shooting took place just minutes before Houston-based hip-hop artist BeatKing was scheduled to perform at the party.
The rapper tweeted early Sunday that seeing video of the shooting “makes my heart drop.”
This Texas A&M Commerce shooting happened 10 mins right before I got there to perform. Seeing that video makes my heart drop 💔 Prayers to all the families of the victims 🙏🏽
— BEATKING | CLUBGOD (@BEATKINGKONG) October 27, 2019
On Sunday afternoon, Kimberly Wilson stopped by the venue to pick up her 19-year-old daughter’s car, which had been abandoned overnight.
Wilson’s daughter doesn’t attend Texas A&M Commerce but knows students there, which is how she heard about the party. Her daughter was unharmed, and Wilson picked her up after the teenager’s car got stuck in mud near the venue.
“I think that youth, young people don’t have a fair chance in starting their lives,” Wilson said when asked about her reaction to the shooting.
She said she had been to parties growing up where people would shoot into the air to send people running, but this is different.
“This is ‘I’m coming in, aiming at somebody to take somebody out’ …,” she said. “You’ve got all this mayhem going on. This is ridiculous.”
Other people were reluctant to speak at the venue Sunday — a problem law-enforcement officials say has impeded the investigation.
Haines, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said he’s not sure whether witnesses are afraid to cooperate but he pleaded for people with information to come forward and help bring the gunman to justice.
“We need your help,” he said. “We don’t know what the motive of this individual was. We don’t know why this individual did what they did and we don’t know if they plan on doing it again.”
He urged people to speak up, even if they have an aversion to working with law enforcement.
“Have some dignity and respect for those that lost their lives just coming to a party last night,” he said.
Anyone with information about the shooting may call the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office at 903-453-6800 or Crime Stoppers at 903-457-2929.
Staff writers LaVendrick Smith, Dana Branham, Cassandra Jaramillo and Eva-Marie Ayala contributed to this report.