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'Complete chaos': 2 dead, 12 hurt after shooting at college party in Greenville

GREENVILLE — Authorities late Sunday were still seeking information that might lead them to the shooter who opened fire at a packed party just after midnight Sunday, killing two people and shooting six more before vanishing into the fleeing crowd.

“Out of nowhere just six, seven gunshots just go off boom, boom, boom,” said Markeice Ford, who was at the party. “It just kept going, like it wasn’t going to stop.”

In interviews with WFAA, Ford and other witnesses said when the shooting did stop, partygoers bolted for doors and windows to get out and away from the scene about 2.5 miles outside Greenville.

The light of day revealed a landscape dotted with discarded Halloween masks, paramedic supplies and other leftovers from a revel turned nightmare. Pools of blood could be seen on the ground.

The scene inside the venue was worse, said Sgt. Jeff Haines, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department. “Horrific,” he said of what he witnessed where eight people had been shot, including the two who died.

Four victims remained in critical condition late Sunday.

Though about 750 people were at the party during Texas A&M University-Commerce’s homecoming weekend, few have been cooperating with investigators, Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said.

“It appalls me that, as many folks that were there, (they) have not been able to give us a better description of this shooter,” he told reporters during a news conference.

Investigators believe a lone male gunman entered the venue through the back door and began firing with a handgun, Meeks said. It appeared the shooter was targeting just one person; others may have been shot at random.

The sheriff described “complete chaos” after the shots rang out, with hundreds of people fleeing, including the gunman. Authorities initially had said 14 people were injured, but later revised that figure.

The 12 injured included six people trampled in the melee or hurt by broken glass as they escaped through windows, Haines said.

The other six were injured by gunfire. Beyond the four in critical condition, one was in good condition, Haines said, and he didn’t know the condition of the sixth.

The two people killed were both males, Meeks said, but he did not know if they were A&M-Commerce students. Neither had been officially identified late Sunday, but family members identified one of the victims to local media as Kevin Berry Jr., 23, of Dallas.

After a vigil for Berry on Sunday night at a Dallas park, at least one person opened fire. Mourners and reporters on hand for the event took cover and at least one vehicle was struck by bullets, according to local media reports. Multiple gunshots can be heard in a video posted by one reporter. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Earlier, university President and CEO Mark Rudin said via social media that four students who had been at the party were treated and released from area hospitals. He did not identify them.

Rudin added that counseling services were being made available to all students at the university’s counseling center, and a community gathering was set for 4 p.m. today on campus in Commerce.

The party was at a facility called The Party Venue, which is along U.S. 380 outside Greenville. Meeks said he was not aware of any sources of surveillance video in the rural area.

Though the party about 15 miles southwest of campus had been promoted as a homecoming event, it was not officially sanctioned by A&M Commerce. Meeks said most attendees were from late teens into early 20s in age.

The Party Venue is described as an 8,000-square-foot facility with a capacity of 500 — well below the estimated attendance Saturday night.

“The amount of people that were there, the overcrowdedness of it — it gave the opportunity for this shooter to be able to accomplish whatever he wanted to accomplish,” Meeks said. “When you have this many people in one place, it’s an easy target for somebody.”

Word of the violence spread online overnight, with many sharing on social media a graphic video purported to show seriously wounded victims lying on the ground as crying and screaming could be heard in the background.

“I just briefly saw one that was a very graphic video,” Meeks said. “I don’t know that’s going to help anything at all.”

Kimberly Wilson, 46, later Sunday was waiting for a tow truck to get her daughter’s car out of a muddy field nearby. She said her 19-year-old daughter had traveled to the party from Dallas, but ran when she heard gunshots and that she called a sibling to come pick her up.

“She’s angry, hurt, upset. She’s going through that whole emotional thing,” said Wilson, who is retired from the U.S. Army and served in Afghanistan. “When you’ve not been trained to deal with something like that — it just throws you off.”

A Hunt County Sheriff’s patrol sergeant and deputy were at the venue when the shooting happened, Meeks said, having been called there for complaints about illegal parking along the highway outside the packed party. An off-duty Farmersville police officer was also there, working as security for the party.

Sheriff’s officers were at the front of the facility questioning someone who appeared to be intoxicated to the point of incapacitation when they heard gunshots from the back of the building, Meeks said.

He praised the patrol sergeant and deputy, saying the sergeant quickly determined one of the gunshot victims had life-threatening injuries and transported that person to a hospital in his patrol car, while the deputy triaged others until paramedics arrived.

“I believe their actions may have saved lives,” Meeks said.

The FBI and Texas Rangers are helping local officials with the investigation.

Texas A&M University-Commerce was founded in 1889 and was known by several names, including East Texas State University, before joining the Texas A&M system in 1996. With about 6,000 undergraduate students and 4,000 graduate students, it’s the second-largest campus in the A&M system.

‘We can only do this together’ | Some work’s finished, more’s ahead for Texan Theater

“Obviously, it’s a work in progress.”

But that progress is becoming more and more apparent at the Texan Theater, Steve Shirey said Thursday: in a new sidewalk beside the building, in a new retractable screen within, in the raw wood now exposed in the balcony, waiting for the next step.

Shirey, executive producer of Reel East Texas Film Festival, welcomed guests to the nonprofit’s open house at the Texan Oct. 17, thanking the crowd for their ongoing support of RETFF and of its partnership with the City of Kilgore in ongoing renovation efforts at the historic downtown venue.

“As we look forward to our upcoming film festival, we want to be mindful and thankful of our sponsors and our volunteers,” Shirey said, “all the people who work together work so hard to make the film festival come together.

“With all of us together, we can all make great things happen.”

Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck offered an update on completed and ongoing projects at the theater, crediting film festival director Chip Hale for helping the city kick-off efforts at 201 S. Kilgore St. and keeping them moving.

“We had this theater that was in need of a user, in need of someone that would take it on,” Selleck said. Through efforts by Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation and other stakeholders, “A lot of good things had happened to the outside, but the inside had really been left in a state. With a user, the city was able to finally move forward.”

Key projects in the past two years included filling in terraces in the building (with 600 cubic yards of dirt and concrete), adding carpet and revamping air conditioning, among other, numerous tasks – often utilizing city employees’ skills.

During the first film festival in November 2017, “It was a touch chilly in here,” Selleck joked. Eventually, “We were able to actually clean and restore the existing HVAC ducting, which saved us a ton of money.

“We put in about 30 tons of AC, which makes it the livable temperature it is today.”

Many users have been utilizing the venue in the interim – for weddings, a wake, orchestra concerts, business luncheons, meetings, Geekend, KilGogh Arts Festival, library events, reunions and more – with various projects squeezed in between.

“The balcony actually turned out to be in much worse shape than we thought,” Selleck said. Between dry rot and wet rot, “When we tore into it, there was really nothing salvageable.

That said, with the task completed, “There’s good things to come.”

Selleck unveiled an architectural rendering for the building Thursday. Among looming improvements, “The lobby will shrink a touch” with the addition of a family- and ADA restroom (“Our goal is that when this facility is done that it’s accessible and all people can enjoy it,” he added) as well as a secondary foyer to help minimize lobby noise.

Looking further ahead, an enclosed external staircase (and potentially a future elevator shaft) will provide better access to a revamped balcony.

“We’re not sure the elevator fits today’s budget. If not, it will be provided in the future,” Selleck said, opening onto a balcony where different-sized terraces will offer both a classroom-type space as well as a viewing position: “It will be a really nice place to sit and watch the program on stage and on screen.

“One of the other big things we’ve added to this project is a whole series of storage rooms, mechanical rooms,” as well as a plating kitchen for catered events. “We feel like all these improvements are going to allow for us to make this a viable and sustainable facility.”

As much as they can, he added.

“Just so y’all know, this facility will never likely pay for itself. It never has, not since it was a movie theater,” Selleck said, “but as a community event center and as a multipurpose center our goal is to bring in as much viability, from a sustainability standpoint, as possible.

“We can only do this together. From the bottom of my heart, thank you – this is one of the neatest projects I’ve ever gotten to work on.”

Trump says US forces cornered IS leader in dead-end tunnel

WASHINGTON — Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi , the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group who presided over its global jihad and became arguably the world’s most wanted man, died after U.S. special operators cornered him during a raid in Syria, President Donald Trump said Sunday.

“Last night, the United States brought the world’s No. 1 terrorist leader to justice,” Trump announced at the White House, providing graphic details of al-Baghdadi’s final moments at the helm of the militant organization. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”

In a national address, Trump described the nighttime airborne raid in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, with American special operations forces flying over heavily militarized territory controlled by multiple nations and forces. No U.S. troops were killed in the operation, Trump said.

The death of al-Baghdadi was a milestone in the fight against IS, which brutalized swaths of Syria and Iraq and sought to direct a global campaign from a self-declared “caliphate.” A yearslong campaign by American and allied forces led to the recapture of the group’s territorial holding, but its violent ideology has continued to inspire attacks.

As U.S. troops bore down on al-Baghdadi, he fled into a “dead-end” tunnel with three of his children, Trump said, and detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and the children. “He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone,” Trump said. “He died like a dog, he died like a coward.”

Al-Baghdadi’s identity was confirmed by a DNA test conducted onsite, Trump said.

Trump had teased a major announcement late Saturday, tweeting that “Something very big has just happened!” By the morning, he was thanking Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as well as Kurdish fighters in Syria for their support.

The operation marks a significant foreign policy success for Trump, coming at one of the lowest points in his presidency as he is mired in impeachment proceedings and facing widespread Republican condemnation for his Syria policy.

The recent pullback of U.S. troops he ordered from northeastern Syria raised a storm of bipartisan criticism in Washington that the militant group could regain strength after it had lost vast stretches of territory it had once controlled. Trump said the troop pullout “had nothing to do with this.”

Planning for the operation began weeks ago, Trump said, after the U.S. gained unspecified intelligence on al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts. Eight military helicopters flew for more than an hour over territory controlled by Russian and Syrian forces, Trump said, before landing under gunfire at the compound.

Trump vividly described the raid and took extensive questions from reporters for more than 45 minutes Sunday. He said U.S. forces breached the walls of the building because the doors were booby-trapped and chased al-Baghdadi into the tunnel, which partially collapsed after al-Baghdadi detonated the suicide vest. Many homes in Syria, which has been riven by civil war since 2011, have subterranean tunnels or shelters from the fighting.

Trump also revealed that U.S. forces spent roughly two hours on the ground collecting valuable intelligence. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that the U.S.-led Coalition launched at least one airstrike in western Aleppo aimed at Abu Hassan al-Muhajer, an aide to al=Baghdadi.

Trump said he watched the operation from the White House Situation room as it played out live “as though you were watching a movie.” Trump suggested he may order the release of the video so that the world knows al-Baghdadi did not die of a hero and spent his final moments “crying, “whimpering” and “screaming.”

Trump approved the operation Saturday morning after receiving “actionable intelligence,” Vice President Mike Pence told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Trump had spent Friday night at Camp David and flew by helicopter Saturday morning to golf at his private Virginia club. He then returned to the White House.

Trump said he teased the announcement as soon as American forces landed safely in a third-country.

An Iraqi security official confirmed the U.S. aircraft took off from the Al-Asad air base in western Iraq, where Trump visited American forces in December.

Trump said he did not follow convention in informing leaders on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., before the raid, saying he was fearful of leaks.

Pelosi said the House “must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the administration’s overall strategy in the region.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the mission was to capture or kill the IS leader. While Trump had initially said no Americans were injured, Esper said two service members suffered minor injuries but have already returned to duty. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said a military dog chasing al-Baghdadi was seriously wounded by an explosive blast.

In his address from the White House, Trump suggested that the killing of al-Baghdadi was more significant than the 2011 operation ordered by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Trump later repeated a false claim that he predicted the threat posed by bin Laden in a book before the 2001 attacks.

He also praised Russia and the Syrian government — American foes — and defended his ban on entry to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries. He called European allies “a tremendous disappointment” for not repatriating foreign IS fighters.

Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said al-Baghdadi’s remains would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law and buried at sea in the same way that bin Laden’s were.

Praise for the military operation was swift, coming from American allies and even the president’s political opponents. In congratulating the U.S. forces and intelligence officials, but not Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden warned that IS “remains a threat to the American people and our allies.”

But one counterterrorism expert said al-Baghdadi’s death is not the end of IS.

“Counterterrorism must be part of the strategy, but reducing the strategy to just special operations raids and drone targeting, as this administration seems to want to, guarantees a forever war,” said Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute. She said extremists’ strength and staying power lies in the support they have locally among the disenfranchised and economically deprived populations.

Al-Baghdadi’s presence in the village a few kilometers from the Turkish border was surprising, even if some IS leaders are believed to have fled to Idlib after losing their last sliver of territory in Syria to U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in March.

Iraqi officials said Sunday they passed information that helped ascertain al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts to the U.S. from the wife of an Iraqi aide to al-Baghdadi, as well as al-Baghdadi’s brother-in-law, who was recently arrested by the Iraqis. The officials weren’t authorized to publicly discuss intelligence operations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Al-Baghdadi had led IS for the last five years, presiding over its ascendancy as it cultivated a reputation for beheadings and attracted tens of thousands of followers to a sprawling and self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria. He remained among the few IS commanders still at large despite multiple claims in recent years about his death and even as his so-called caliphate dramatically shrank, with many supporters who joined the cause either imprisoned or jailed.

His exhortations were instrumental in inspiring attacks in the heart of Europe and in the United States. Shifting away from the airline hijackings and other mass-casualty attacks that came to define al-Qaida, al-Baghdadi and other IS leaders supported smaller-scale acts of violence that would be harder for law enforcement to prepare for and prevent.

They encouraged jihadists who could not travel to the caliphate to kill where they were, with whatever weapon they had at their disposal. In the U.S., multiple extremists have pledged their allegiance to al-Baghdadi on social media, including a woman who along with her husband committed a 2015 massacre at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California.

With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Baghdadi was far less visible in recent years, releasing only sporadic audio recordings, including one just last month in which he called on members of the extremist group to do all they could to free IS detainees and women held in jails and camps.

The purported audio was his first public statement since last April, when he appeared in a video for the first time in five years. In that video, which included images of the extremist leader sitting in a white room with three others, al-Baghdadi praised Easter Day bombings that killed more than 250 people and called on militants to be a “thorn” against their enemies.

Trump set to nominate Texas cancer doctor to head FDA

President Donald Trump is poised to nominate Stephen Hahn, a top official at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, to be the next commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, according to people familiar with the situation.

If confirmed, Hahn would head an agency that regulates a broad swath of the U.S. economy, including brand-name and generic drugs, medical devices, much of the nation’s food supply and tobacco products. It is currently embroiled in a high-profile controversy over youth vaping and the president’s decision to ban most flavored e-cigarettes. Along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA is investigating an outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses and is developing the previously announced e-cigarette ban to try to reduce youth vaping.

Hahn, 59, a radiation oncologist and researcher, is chief medical executive at MD Anderson and is responsible for overseeing medical practice and patient care. He would succeed acting FDA chief Norman “Ned” Sharpless, who was also a major contender for the commissioner’s post. Sharpless, who previously directed the National Cancer Institute, was named acting FDA chief in March, when the previous commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, announced he was stepping down.

At that time, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration would conduct a search for a permanent commissioner. Last month, Sharpless won the endorsement of dozens of cancer and other groups and several previous FDA commissioners. Ultimately, Trump turned to Hahn after meeting with him in the Oval Office in early September. Hahn declined a previous request for comment about being considered for the FDA job.

Sharpless’ term as acting commissioner expires Nov. 1. But if Hahn is nominated, Sharpless could stay on at the FDA until Hahn is confirmed by the Senate, which could take months.

A medical and radiation oncologist, Hahn is described by friends and colleagues as an energetic consensus-builder with a disarming, folksy manner. Otis Brawley, a Johns Hopkins oncologist and former chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, praised Hahn for his research expertise and his empathy toward patients. Decades ago, the two worked together on AIDS drugs at NCI.

Brawley said he also admired Sharpless, who expressed strong interest in becoming permanent FDA commissioner. Sharpless is an expert on the biology of aging, with strong drug-development experience. “I would not have wanted to pick” between them, Brawley said.

Hahn, after his stint at NCI, joined the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, serving as chair of radiation oncology from 2005 to 2014. He then moved to MD Anderson to become division head of radiation oncology.

He has conducted an array of clinical trials, including on treating prostate cancer with proton therapy and new ways to combine immunotherapy and radiation.

In 2017, Hahn became chief operating officer at MD Anderson during a tumultuous time of mounting financial losses and staff cuts that culminated in the resignation of then-President Ronald DePinho. Hahn “was thrust into an uncomfortable situation there,” said a former colleague familiar with the situation. “Rome was burning,” he said.

Hahn oversaw the day-to-day operations of the cancer center and earned good reviews for his role in its financial turnaround and the rebuilding of staff morale. The cancer center, which has almost 22,000 employees, has been in the black for the past two fiscal years, senior officials say.

In a 2017 interview with the Cancer Letter, a trade publication, Hahn said many of the cancer center’s financial problems involved its installation of the Epic electronic health records system. “When we did the Epic install, the largest Epic install in the history of Epic — we did a couple things that were sort of the big bang, if you will,” he said. “We did inpatient, we did outpatient, and we did the billing system — all at once. “

During Hahn’s tenure as chief operating officer, the cancer center also struggled to deal with Hurricane Harvey, which battered Houston in August 2017. The hospital wasn’t flooded but many surrounding roads were impassable.

Hahn confronted another major problem in late December 2018 when a 23-year-old leukemia patient died after being given a blood product contaminated with a rare bacteria. After investigating, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sharply criticized the hospital for deficiencies in nursing care, patients rights and quality assurance.

In late June, the cancer center released a 94-page “plan of correction” to fix the problems. That included stepped-up monitoring of patients undergoing blood transfusions and a new informed consent process.

The cancer center’s website says Hahn’s expertise is in lung cancer and sarcoma, an uncommon group of cancers that arise in the bones and connective tissue. His research, it adds, “focuses on the molecular causes of the tumor microenvironment, particularly the study of chemical signals that go awry.”

Over the past several years, Hahn, who is a registered Republican, contributed to some GOP campaigns, including Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run, and also to a few Democrats’ campaigns. Sharpless, a former director of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center who is not registered with either political party, contributed to some Democratic candidates, including the presidential bid of Barack Obama, and to opponents of North Carolina Republican senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr.

Hahn’s salary for fiscal 2019 was $933,600, and his total compensation was $1.3 million, according to Texas state records. The FDA commissioner makes about $160,000.

Hahn, who is married and has four adult children, is an exercise enthusiast and avid football fan — especially of the San Francisco 49ers, friends say. Hahn did part of his medical training in that city. He and his wife, friends say, travel frequently to Italy.