One person was killed and three people injured in a shooting at the Cielo Vista Mall food court, police said Wednesday.
Two victims, both men, were in critical condition at University Medical Center of El Paso, spokesperson Ryan Mielke said. One wounded person was taken to Del Sol Medical Center and is in fair condition, a hospital spokesperson said. No other information was available about the Del Sol patient.
Interim Police Chief Pete Pacillas said at a media briefing Wednesday night that off-duty police officers working in security in the mall responded to the shooting at 5:08 p.m., three minutes after the first reports of shots fired. An off-duty officer took the gunman into custody and a second person also was in custody, Pacillas said.
He said the off-duty officer did not fire his weapon before taking the gunman into custody. He didn’t say where the second suspect was taken into custody.
A source familiar with the details of the shooting, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly, told El Paso Matters that a private citizen pulled his gun and may have fired as he helped detain a suspect. A police spokesperson said after the media briefing that officials can’t confirm if a civilian fired a weapon while trying to stop the shooting.
“Those details are part of the ongoing investigation. At this point, were are not able to confirm any facts other than what was said in the press conference last night,” Sgt. Robert Gomez said.
“In any case, with such a large crime scene and large number of potential witnesses these investigations take time,” he said.
The FBI asked that anyone with photos or videos from the mall on Wednesday night to share them online with the federal agency.
Officials haven’t identified the two men taken into custody or the men killed or injured. They also did not say what charges the suspects were facing.
Emergency officials set up a family reception center at Burges High School, where people can reconnect with loved ones who were in the mall at the time of the shooting.
The shooting was less than half a mile from the Walmart where 23 people were killed and 22 injured in a mass shooting on Aug. 3, 2019.
Responding agencies include El Paso police, county sheriff, state troopers, Border Patrol, firefighters and Emergency Medical Services, as well as the FBI.
Some families who drove to the mall to check on their loved ones were turned away crying as police directed them to the family reunification area.
Hundreds of people were in the mall at the time of the shooting, including at least one person who also was in the Walmart during the 2019 shooting
Nicole Moreno, 19, was in the mall with three friends when they heard three loud noises.
“We didn’t think anything until we saw a crowd running,” she said, adding they were near the entrance of the Forever 21 store. “We saw a whole crowd and we ran because it just clicked what it was and everyone was screaming like shots fired.”
Deveiah Vargas, who works at Victoria’s Secret in the mall, said she didn’t hear the gunshots, but saw people running.
“The manager told us to grab the keys and close all the doors. We were confused at first, but they explained the situation,” Vargas, 19, said, adding they helped secure the customers who were also in the store.
Mikaela Perez, an assistant manager at the Build-A-Bear Workshop on the first floor of the mall, said she, two co-workers and three customers huddled in the store’s bathroom for more than two hours as the mall was locked down.
One of the customers said she worked for a corrections office and took out her folding knife. She stayed closest to the door in case someone tried to enter.
Authorities eventually escorted them out of the building to the waiting buses that took them to Burges, where she met her husband, Thomas, who asked her, “Are you ready to go home?”
The couple went home briefly before heading to Butter Smith Kitchen & Pies on Hondo Pass where she ordered a breakfast skillet and tea.
“I haven’t fully processed what happened,” she said after her meal. “I think of the mall as a friendly place that is full of life. Looking around the mall as we were escorted to the food court (area), it all looked lifeless. You see things like this on TV, but now it was all so real. I was glad that we (the employees) were able to keep our customers safe. I was happy to get out without anybody getting hurt.”
El Paso Matters reporters Daniel Perez, Priscilla Totiyapungprasert and Christian Betancourt contributed to this story.