‘It was a war zone.’ East Idaho native describes chaotic scene after mass shooting in Texas
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ODESSA, Texas — A war zone.
That’s how Shelley native Isaac Eaton described the aftermath of the latest mass shooting in the United States.
Eaton, an employee at Eaton Towing and Recovery of Texas, had his crew working on State Highway 191 near Odessa, Texas on Saturday afternoon when they got a call from police to help with an emergency.
“As we were driving down you could see where (the shooter) had shot multiple cars, and there were a few bodies on the side of the road that had been pulled out of vehicles and covered up,” he said. “It’s not something we’ve ever seen before, especially me being from smalltown Shelley, Idaho.”
Not long before they got the call, and on nearby Interstate 20 near Midland, Texas, 36-year-old Seth Ator was being stopped by police for failing to signal.
Instead of complying, the driver grabbed a rifle and fired at the troopers’ patrol car, wounding one of them, Lt. Elizabeth Carter of Texas DPS said. The shooter then headed west to Odessa, shooting randomly at residents and other motorists, Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke reportedly said.
Ator sped down I-20 and SH-191, and at some point, abandoned his car and hijacked a USPS mail carrier’s vehicle, Gerke said. He continued shooting at bystanders before making his way to a local movie theater.
Eaton’s crew was about a mile away from the movie theater at the time. They observed the scene, and its consequences, first hand.
“There were cars and pickup trucks everywhere. Multiple accidents from people braking or running into each other,” Eaton said. “They came flying in from everywhere and people weren’t paying attention to nearby vehicles.”
The police asked Eaton’s crew and another towing company to stop traffic and start cleaning up the road so ambulances and law enforcement could get through.
“We went from wreck to wreck making sure people were OK and doing what we could to help,” Eaton said.
At the time, Eaton said the police were being tightlipped. They indicated that there were possibly multiple shooters in the area, but not much else. It was later determined to be only one shooter, although he had used two vehicles.
Eaton said his team was nervous about the situation, but they all did their jobs well.
Not far off, authorities were finally able to bring Ator to a standstill by orchestrating an intentional crash, according to bystander video and Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf.
The gunman was slammed by a police vehicle and spun into a group of cars in the movie theater’s parking lot. At that point, he was surrounded by authorities and ultimately killed.
The gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others, including a 17-month-old girl and three law enforcement officers. The names of the victims have not been released, but the dead ranged in age from 15 to 57.
A motive for the shootings has not been determined.
As a tribute to those that died, on Saturday night Eaton and his crew parked their trucks along the highway and hoisted a large American and Texas flag into the air at half-mast. The flags are still flying to honor the dead.
“We just felt the need to tell the community that we’re here for them and we shouldn’t be scared of this guy,” Eaton said.
Eaton says his crew feels awful about what happened and they are planning to do some fundraising to help victims of the shooting. They say the experience is something they’ll never forget.
“It was one of those surreal moments. You always think it’s going to be somewhere else, but for us, it was real and right there,” Eaton said.
CNN writer Dakin Andone contributed to this article.