Children among 8 killed by gunman at Allen shopping center
By Josh Campbell, Ed Lavandera, Holly Yan, Sara Smart and Michelle Watson, CNN
Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions of the shooting's aftermath.
(CNN) — The gunman behind the second-deadliest US mass shooting of the year was terminated from the Army due to health concerns and may have been driven by right-wing extremism, sources told CNN.
Eight people — including two elementary school students — were killed after Saturday's deadly attack at Allen Premium Outlets, a bustling mall in the affluent Dallas suburb of Allen, 35 miles south of Sherman.
Authorities say Mauricio Garcia used an AR-15-style weapon to carry out the massacre before he was gunned down by a police officer. The gunman's rifle and other guns were purchased legally, a law enforcement source said Monday.
Most of the weapons were purchased from private sellers, which means Garcia didn't have to go through a federal background check.
The shooter obtained the firearms "over time," the source said, adding "this was not an instance where he rushed to buy weapons prior to the attack."
The indiscriminate slaughter marks yet another mass tragedy at a public place where many Americans had felt safe -- such as schools, supermarkets, parks and Fourth of July parades.
A US defense official told CNN on Monday that Garcia was separated from the Army about 15 years ago because of a mental health condition after an evaluation. Under Army regulations at the time, a commander could approve the separation of a service member for physical or mental health conditions that interfere with an assignment or performance of duty.
Army spokesperson Heather Hagan said Garcia was terminated in June 2008 after three months in the service and did not complete basic training.
While no official motive has been released, the gunman was wearing an insignia that authorities believe may be associated with extremist groups, a senior law enforcement source familiar with the investigation told CNN.
The insignia appears to be shown in a photo on an account on the Russian social media website Odnoklassniki that a law enforcement source said investigators believe belongs to the shooter.
The user posted writings approving of Nazi ideology, shared images of his firearms and uploaded a photo of the mall in the weeks before the shooting.
Posts included photos of a man's shirtless torso with a large swastika tattoo over the heart, firearms, and a ballistic vest with a patch with the abbreviation for Right-Wing Death Squad. It is unclear whether the person in the shirtless photo is the gunman.
In some posts, the user identifies as an incel and in others, expresses anger toward women. Another post describes people making jokes or awkward comments about the user's likelihood of committing mass murder.
The account also uploaded a screenshot from Google Maps a few weeks before the shooting showing what times of day the outlet mall was busiest.
According to the first law enforcement source, investigators do not feel they have a complete picture of the suspect's past and are continuing to dig into his background.
The lives inexplicably lost
Two elementary school students from the Wylie Independent School District were among the eight killed.
Sisters Daniela Mendoza, a fourth-grader, and Sofia Mendoza, a second-grader, were killed in the mass shooting, according to a letter sent to district parents and obtained by CNN.
The girls' mother, Ilda Mendoza, is hospitalized in critical condition, the letter said.
"Words cannot express the sadness we feel as we grieve the loss of our students," the letter read in part.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mendoza family, the families of the victims, and all those affected by this senseless tragedy."
Counseling services are being offered for students, staff and families, the letter said.
Another victim, Aishwarya Thatikonda, was visiting the mall with a friend, CNN affiliate WFAA reported.
Thatikonda was an engineer who lived in nearby McKinney, but her family is mourning her loss from their home in India, a family representative told WFAA. The family plans to have her body sent to India, the representative said. CNN has reached out to the consulate general of India in Houston for more information.
Christian LaCour, a 20-year-old mall security guard, was also killed in the massacre. LaCour was "a sweet, caring young man who was loved greatly by our family," his sister Brianna Smith said.
LaCour was "the kind of person who would just walk into the store and everyone in the room would light up because he was there," said Max Weiss, a mall store employee.
The massacre in Allen is the second-deadliest so far this year, behind the January mass shooting in Monterey Park, California, that left 11 people dead.
Across the country, the US has suffered at least 202 mass shootings within the first five months of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The nonprofit and CNN define mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, excluding the shooter.
Witness and Army vet demands change, not thoughts and prayers
Steven Spainhouer rushed to the gruesome scene after receiving a call from his son, who works at the mall's H&M store and was hiding in a break room.
When Spainhouer arrived, he "started counting the bodies on the ground ... one, two, three, five, six, seven bodies," he told CNN.
"The first girl I walked up to ... I felt for a pulse, pulled her head to the side, and she had no face," Spainhouer told CNN affiliate KTVT.
He said one child survived after his mother shielded him from the bullets. But the mother was struck and killed.
"When I rolled the mother over, he came out," Spainhouer told KTVT. "He was covered from head to toe, like somebody had poured blood on him."
Spainhouer, a former police officer and Army veteran, said the degree of carnage at the mall was "unfathomable."
"It's tough when you see a family that's out shopping, having fun, get wiped off the face of the Earth," he told KTVT.
Now, he's calling for gun reform -- not just thoughts and prayers.
"If you don't change our gun laws, put red flag laws in place and take the high capacity weapons of the street, it's going to happen again," Spainhouer told CNN.
"If we don't do something other than giving prayers and best wishes when tragedy happens it will happen again. It could happen to you."
'You don't expect to go to the mall and lose your life'
The deadly rampage started when Garcia got out of his car and started firing into the parking lot near the mall's H&M store, according to video obtained by CNN.
A witness video shows shoppers -- some with small children -- screaming, running and ducking behind rows of cars as bullets flew.
Geoffrey Keaton was eating at the mall's Fatburger restaurant Saturday with his daughter when they heard gunshots approaching. They were rushed to a corridor and then outside, where Keaton said he saw people down on the sidewalk.
"It was fast. It was definitely not anything that you expect or (are) prepared for," Keaton told CNN.
"You don't expect to go to the mall and lose your life."
After a police officer killed Garcia, a photo obtained by CNN shows the gunman -- clad in black and tactical gear -- lying on the ground after being shot outside the Fatburger restaurant.
In addition to an AR-15 style firearm and another weapon found with Garcia, police discovered several more weapons in his car, the law enforcement source told CNN.
Garcia had worked for at least three security companies and had undergone hours of firearms proficiency training in recent years, according to a database maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The gunman was approved to work as a security guard in Texas from April 2016 until April 2020, when his license expired, according to his profile in the Texas Online Private Security database.
Help for the grieving and ailing
GoFundMe has established a verified fundraising hub to support the families of those killed and wounded in the attack.
In addition to the eight killed victims, seven people were hospitalized as of Sunday afternoon, Allen police said:
• Three patients were in critical condition and one was in fair condition at Medical City McKinney.
• One patient was in fair condition at Medical City Children's Hospital. That child's age has not been released.
• One patient was in fair condition at Medical City Plano.
• The seventh surviving patient was treated at a different area hospital, Allen police said.
The National Disaster Distress Helpline is ready to help those impacted by the mass tragedy in Allen, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which sponsors the hotline.
"Mass shootings can have an enormous impact on people, including survivors, first responders, eyewitnesses, and even those who watch related media reports on television," SAMHSA said.
"The Disaster Distress Helpline, at 1-800-985-5990, can provide immediate counseling to anyone who has been affected by the mass shooting at a mall in Allen."
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.