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Odessa Rampage Killer Showed Red Flags

His threatening behavior might not have triggered a red flag law.

There is new information about the man who committed mass murder in a shooting rampage in Midland and Odessa, Texas over the weekend. While the man apparently did not have a recent criminal record, he allegedly did commit acts that would be considered “red flags” before his killing spree.

The New York Post reports that two of 36-year-old Seth Ator’s neighbors reported the man’s threatening behavior. One neighbor reported Ator to police last month after he had threatened her with a rifle for leaving trash near his property. The woman said that Ator would often sit on top of his house and shoot animals at night and then retrieve the bodies. The woman reported Ator’s threatening behavior to police, but they could not find his house because it did not have an accurate address for GPS navigation.

The woman said that Ator’s house did not have electricity or running water and that he would sleep in his car with the heat on in extremely cold weather. Photos of a house believed to be Ator’s published in online news media such as Heavy show a barn-like structure with a boxy addition on the roof that resembles a hunting blind.

A second neighbor also told the Post that Ator had threatened her with his rifle. It was not clear if this incident had been reported to police, but the woman said that Ator owned at least two guns.

A third neighbor told Heavy that Ator “didn’t bother anybody.”

Ator had a criminal record, but it was almost two decades old. He had pled guilty to criminal trespass and evading arrest in 2002. Both crimes are misdemeanors in Texas. This would not have prevented him from legally buying a gun since only misdemeanors that are related to assault are disqualifying under Texas law. Even then, people convicted of misdemeanors are allowed to possess guns after five years. Rep. Tom Craddick, a Texas Republican, said that Ator had failed a background check but did not say when the check occurred. So far, there has been no confirmation of that claim except for a nonspecific tweet by Gov. Greg Abbott. The Washington Examiner also reported that Ator had received a traffic citation in 2018 for a federal motor carrier safety violation.

Additional reports say that Ator was fired from his job as a truck driver shortly before he was stopped by Texas Department of Public Safety troopers for a failure to signal a left turn in his personal auto. During the traffic stop, Ator pulled out what police describe as an “AR-style rifle” and attacked the officers. He then drove away and fired at innocent civilians as he drove through the neighboring towns of Midland and Odessa.

Unlike mass killings and serial murders years ago in which neighbors often said that the perpetrator was normal and not suspicious, in many modern rampage killings there are a number of warnings before the massacre. In the case of the Odessa murders, the killer exhibited threatening behavior on at least two occasions. Frequently shooting animals from his roof could be a red flag as well, although the report is not specific about Ator’s actions. Cruelty to animals (which does not traditional hunting) is an early warning sign for many murderers.

Even though Ator exhibited classic red flag warning signs, red flag laws may not have prevented this specific killing spree. Laws vary by state and in many cases only a close relative can petition to have guns taken from a person who shows signs of potential violence. With only two neighbors experiencing his threatening behavior and no recent criminal history, a red flag statute might not have been triggered.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said over the weekend that “Words must be met with action” but has not backed any specific new laws yet although red flag laws have gained widespread popularity among both parties. Recent polling shows about 70 percent support for the measures.

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