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Aug. 4, 2019, 10:08 a.m. EDT

El Paso native Beto O’Rourke at fore as Democrats call for gun control after mall shooting

As death count hits 20, police investigate possibility the shooting was a hate crime; 21-year-old suspect Patrick Crusius had reportedly referenced racial ‘replacement theory’

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By Associated Press

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Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is from El Paso and was at a candidate forum Saturday in Las Vegas, appeared shaken after receiving news of the shooting in his hometown.

He said he heard early reports that the shooter might have had a military-style weapon, saying we need to “keep that [expletive] on the battlefield. Do not bring it into our communities.”

Later, in a tweet that also followed news of the Ohio shooting, O’Rourke said it’s “on each and every one of us to end this [gun violence] crisis”:

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said police were investigating whether a document posted online shortly before the shooting was written by Crusius. In it, the writer expresses concern that an influx of Hispanics into the United States will replace aging white voters, potentially turning Texas blue in upcoming elections and swinging the White House to the Democrats.

The writer also is critical of Republicans for what he described as close ties to corporations and degradation of the environment. Though a Twitter account that appears to belong to Crusius included pro-Trump posts praising the plan to build more border wall, the writer of the online document says his views on race predated Trump’s campaign and that any attempt to blame the president for his actions was “fake news,” adopting a phrase that Trump long ago appropriated to describe media coverage with which he disagrees.

Though the writer denied he was a white supremacist, the document says “race mixing” is destroying the nation and recommends dividing the United States into territorial enclaves determined by race. The first sentence of the four-page document expresses support for the man accused of killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in March after posting his own screed with a conspiracy theory about nonwhite migrants replacing whites.

Margo said he knew the El Paso shooter was not from the city.

“It’s not what we’re about,” the mayor said at the news conference with Gov. Greg Abbott and the police chief.

In the hours after the shooting, authorities blocked streets near a home in Allen associated with the suspect. Officers appeared to speak briefly with a woman who answered the door of the gray stone house and later entered the residence.

El Paso County is more than 80% Latino, according to the latest census data, and the city, where the mayor said tens of thousands of Mexicans legally cross the border each day to work and shop, has become a focal point of the immigration debate. Trump visited in February to argue that walling off the southern border would make the U.S. safer, while city residents and O’Rourke led thousands on a protest march past the barrier of barbed wire-topped fencing and towering metal slats.

O’Rourke stressed that border walls haven’t made his hometown safer. The city’s murder rate was less than half the national average in 2005, the year before the start of its border fence. Before the wall project started, El Paso had been rated one of the three safest major U.S. cities going back to 1997.

Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said the El Paso shooting suspect wasn’t on her group’s radar before the shooting. “We had nothing in our files on him,” Beirich wrote in an email.

The shooting was the 21st mass killing in the United States in 2019, and the fifth public mass shooting. Before Saturday, 96 people had died in mass killings in 2019 — 26 of them in public mass shootings.

The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database tracks all U.S. homicides since 2006 involving four or more people killed, not including the offender, over a short period of time regardless of weapon, location, victim-offender relationship or motive. The database shows that the median age of a public mass shooter is 28, significantly lower than the median age of a person who commits a mass shooting of his family.

Since 2006, 11 mass shootings — not including Saturday’s — have been committed by men who are 21 or younger.

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