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After mass shooting, Odessa’s mayor is "mad as hell" but helping his city cope

David Turner says residents are still in shock. He’s unsure of the solution but is troubled that the gunman was able to obtain a firearm even after failing a background check.

Odessa Mayor David Turner, far right, speaks at a vigil at the University of Texas Permian Basin on Sept. 1, 2019.  The Odes…

Editor's note: Odessa Mayor David Turner spoke with David Brown of the Texas Standard on Tuesday, three days after a gunman killed seven people during a rampage in Odessa and Midland. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Texas Standard: Could you tell us a little bit about how the last 72 hours have been for you? I know it must have been heart wrenching, especially at some of these vigils that you've been present at.

Odessa Mayor David Turner: It's been a rough 72 hours, but Texans are resilient and I'm very proud of the way the community's coming together. In fact, this morning, I'm heading to Odessa High School, where they lost one of their students, just to check on the kids, check on the administration, make sure that they know we're standing with them, and just letting them know that we care.

A lot of folks are going back to work as well today. How are folks in the community dealing with this tragedy? What are you hearing from them firsthand?

I think first, everyone's still in shock. I think that will probably take a week or two to really overcome. I think some people are angry — you just run the gamut of the emotions. But the thing that really inspires me most are the stories that are coming out about citizen helping citizen. A perfect example is all of the funerals have been paid for by a funeral home. United Airlines has offered to fly in families at no cost to any of the families. The amount of food we have, the amount of phone calls that we have from mayors that I've received personally. You just realize how special our state is, when we stand together.

I was listening to the governor, who was out at UT-Permian Basin Sunday. He seemed rather exasperated by the frequency of these shootings now — this is the second in West Texas in a month. He seemed to suggest that doing nothing is not an option. What more could be done? There were some proposals that the Texas Legislature had been considering that they chose not to take up, like for instance red flag laws.

Just what I've learned in the last 72 hours, one thing is not going to fix it. We need stronger mental health laws. I think there were red flags for this gentleman, or this person. As municipalities and as a state, we're very limited on what we can do when somebody shows that they are maybe spiraling down or they may have some mental issues. You can hold them for maybe 24 hours, 48 hours, but then you have to release them. That is something that is going to have to be addressed.

He'd been turned down when he tried to make a gun purchase. Is something wrong with our background check laws?

I'm a gun owner, and it's something I struggle with: How did he get this weapon when he had been turned down? I don't know the facts. I know the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] is in the middle of this. Some of the national news has tried to politicize this issue. I told them, I said at this point, I'm not interested in talking politics right now. I'm worried about my community, and we are going to get through these next few weeks. We have a lot of funerals that we need to attend. There will be a time for debate, but right now I'm just concerned about my community.

Is there anything that someone listening to us right now could do? Is there anything that could be done?

I think first and foremost, we covet your prayers. There are those that are still in the hospital. We have three officers — the DPS [Department of Public Safety] officer, the Odessa Police Department officer and a Midland police officer are still in the hospital, along with some victims. A lot of these victims were not from Odessa because with the current oil boom we have people from all over the state and all over the country in here. Prayer is probably the most important. The governor has been fantastic. There were some GoFundMe pages that were fraudulent. The attorney general and the governor have shut those down and are in the process of getting some of these stolen pictures off Facebook, which has been fantastic. The governor has offered the full resources of the state. The mayor of San Antonio, the mayor of Abilene, the mayor of El Paso have all reached out. Just saying, 'I'm here and you're welcome to our resources,' has been huge. And if in the next few weeks we may need some help, right now we're just loving on those that need to be loved on.

Gov. [Greg] Abbott last night said that Texas was working on a legislative package and "that expedited executions for mass murderers would be a nice addition." Can you imagine anything that can be done legislatively, and would you agree with what the governor is saying there?

I'd like to say I understand the situation, but it's something that I'm learning as we speak. To be honest with you, I'm glad he's dead. I'm glad we don't have to spend tax dollars to go through the courts and things like that. That may sound very callous, but when you've stood beside officers who have bullet holes in their arms, or bullet holes in their legs, or you see the Midland police officer who has lost his sight in one of his eyes, to be honest with you, I'm mad as hell. I wish I had the answers, but I'm relying on those in Austin to come up with solid ideas. Not just politicians saying, 'We're going to do something,' and then do something that doesn't get any results. I'll leave my faith in them. Because right now, I've got everything I can handle taking care of my citizens.

Disclosure: The University of Texas of the Permian Basin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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