West Texas gunman who killed 7 was violent at in-patient psychiatric facility in 2001

This undated photo provided by the City of Odessa via FBI shows Seth Aaron Ator. The gunman in a West Texas rampage "was on a long spiral of going down" and had been fired from his oil services job the morning he killed seven people, calling 911 both before and after the shooting began, authorities said Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (City of Odessa/FBI via AP)

By JAKE BLEIBERG, Associated Press  DALLAS (AP) 09/11 — The gunman who killed seven people in West Texas over Labor Day weekend was hospitalized nearly two decades ago at a psychiatric facility, where he punched a hole in a wall and menaced security staff with a piece of pipe pried from a toilet before being arrested, according to police.

Seth Ator was being treated in July 2001 at an in-patient facility in Waco, about 105 miles south of Dallas, when he became so violent that staff called the police, Assistant Chief Robert Lanning said Wednesday.

The next month, Ator, then 18, tried to break into a woman’s bedroom after threatening to kill her brother, according to arrest reports obtained by The Associated Press. A day after the attempted break-in, he jumped from a second-floor window to evade authorities but was eventually taken into custody and back to the hospital, where staff determined he had “suicidal tendencies,” the documents show.

In this Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, file photo, law enforcement officials process the crime scene from Saturday’s shooting which ended with the shooter, Seth Ator, being shot dead by police in a stolen mail van, right, in Odessa, Texas. The mass shooting in West Texas spread terror over more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) as Ator, fired from behind the wheel of a car. Ator zigzagged through Midland and Odessa, two closely intertwined cities now brought closer by tragedy. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

 

It is unclear whether the events nearly two decades ago in Waco and the suburb of Lorena have any bearing on the Aug. 31 mass shooting that stretched from Midland to Odessa, some 350 miles away. It also is unknown whether the hospitalization affected a federal background check that a law enforcement official said blocked Ator from buying a gun in 2014 because of a “mental health issue.”

But an interview with Waco police and reports from the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office portray a young man who was deeply troubled 18 years before authorities say he opened fire in a rolling rampage that spanned 10 miles. They emphasize a long history of alarming and threatening behavior that did not, ultimately, prevent Ator from obtaining an assault-style rifle.

Officers killed Ator, 36, outside a busy Odessa movie theater after shootings that lasted more than an hour and injured around two dozen people in addition to the dead.

Asked about Ator’s 2001 arrest, the FBI declined to comment on its investigation into the shooting.

A man visits Memorial Gardens Park in Odessa, Texas, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, walking by the seven Texas flags that represent the seven killed in a recent shooting in the Odessa and Midland area. (Ben Powell/Odessa American via AP)

 

Investigators are looking into how Ator obtained the rifle he used despite failing a background check. Last week, they searched the home of a man in Lubbock, who they believe was involved in the “transfer” of the weapon, a federal law enforcement official previously told the AP. The official said federal agents are investigating whether the Lubbock man has been manufacturing firearms but that there have been no arrests.

Through high school, Ator moved between schools in the Texas Panhandle city of Amarillo and Lorena. He was set to graduate in 2001 but dropped out the preceding November to enroll in a GED program, Lorena Independent School District Superintendent Joe Kucera said in a statement.

The following summer, a family in Lorena, a community with a population of about 1,700 people, had a “series of problems” with Ator based on his “relationship” with their daughter, according to the sheriff’s reports obtained through a public records request. The AP is not naming the family because attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

In July 2001, the mother of the family told a deputy that Ator threatened to kill her son. Two days later, Waco police were called to the psychiatric facility after Ator became so combative and destructive that some staff locked themselves in a nursing station out of fear, Lanning, the assistant chief, said after reviewing reports from the incident. The AP has filed a public records request for the documents.

Lanning said Ator was charged with criminal mischief, but the police records don’t indicate why he was initially taken to the psychiatric facility or if he had been committed. Officials with Ascension Providence hospital, where Ator was arrested, have not responded to questions.

“I don’t know that he was admitted or diagnosed,” Lanning said. “In this particular instance, it appears, that before they really had a chance to do anything, he became destructive and so they sent him to jail.”

Crime scene tape surrounds the home of Seth Aaron Ator, the alleged gunman in a West Texas rampage Saturday, on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, near Odessa, Texas. Officers killed 36-year-old Ator on Saturday outside a busy Odessa movie theater after a spate of violence that spanned 10 miles (16 kilometers), killing multiple people and injuring around two dozen others. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

 

Federal law stipulates a limited number of reasons why someone would be prohibited from buying or having a gun. Among them are if the person has been convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, has a substance abuse addiction, was dishonorably discharged from the military, was convicted of domestic violence or was the subject of a restraining order, or if they have been involuntarily committed for a mental health issue.

FBI records show that in 2018 more than 26 million background checks were conducted, and fewer than 100,000 people failed. The vast majority of those denied were for a criminal conviction. Just over 6,000 were rejected for a mental health issue.

In August of 2001, Ator tried to break into the bedroom of the family’s daughter around 3:30 a.m., removing a window screen “in an attempt to contact her,” according to the reports. The daughter told Detective Mylie Hudson that she woke up and then saw Ator driving away in his father’s vehicle.

The AP’s attempts to reach Ator’s parents were unsuccessful.

The next day, officers found Ator locked inside a bedroom at a Waco apartment where his friends lived. As the officers knocked on the door and tried to get Ator to unlock it, he opened a bedroom window and jumped to the ground two stories below, the reports state. Hudson wrote that he and other officers searched the apartment complex’s grounds but could not find Ator.

The following day, the reports state, officers arrested Ator at another building for criminal trespass and a “suicide threat.” He was then taken to a local emergency room.

Staff at the hospital’s psychiatric facility evaluated Ator, and an officer at the county jail was informed of his “suicidal tendencies” when he was moved to the jail that day, according to the reports. Ator’s parents also told deputies their son had threatened and tried to take his own life, the reports say.

Ator eventually pleaded guilty to evading arrest and criminal trespass. Court records indicate he was ordered to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings as part of his probation. It is unclear what became of the criminal mischief charge.

A prosecutor and the attorneys who represented Ator did not respond to requests for comment. The misdemeanors themselves would not have prevented Ator from legally purchasing firearms in Texas.

Hudson, the now-retired sheriff’s deputy who investigated Ator, told the AP he remembers few specifics about dealing with the man in 2001.

“He just came across as being a nut who didn’t want to take no for an answer,” said Hudson, 74. “Obviously he had problems back at that time.”

https://www.apnews.com/9d7c63d41f9f46e2b566ddb0beb69a31

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Crime & Criminals, Criminal Threatening, Deaths, Drugs/Drug Trafficking, Firearms, Homicide, Investigations, Mass Casualty Attacks, Mental Illness, Murder/Attempted Murder, Police Officers Shot, Prohibited Person/Felon in Possession, Shootings, Shootouts, Victims of Crime

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