It is hard to believe it has been nearly six months since a mobile mass shooting changed our lives forever.
Reflecting back on that fateful day a gunman drove through Midland and Odessa randomly shooting innocent victims is difficult.
Aug. 31 changed the Permian Basin forever and no one knows that better than law enforcement.
“Things were moving so quickly, changing so rapidly,” Michael Gerke, Odessa Police Chief, said. “Information was coming in here, then it was happening there, in retrospect these incidents were all coming in around the same time.”
In all, there were over 25 crime scenes in both Midland and Ector County as the gunman kept moving. With phone call after phone call, West Texans called in to give help or get help from emergency workers.
“You had one individual that was mobile and that’s an unprecedented event," Ricky George, Ector County and Odessa emergency manager, said. "You’re getting 911 calls that are just being flooded and people are saying bits and pieces."
At the time, it was unknown if all the events were related.
With only knowing bits and pieces on the situation, the Basin’s police departments, sheriff’s offices and Department of Public Safety were struggling to communicate amongst one another because the shooter was not just in one location.
“It’s not a one size fits, all it was-the shooting was such a different situation it was not somebody going into a store or a building like we’ve seen in the past, it was a mobile threat so that was a little bit different,” Devin Sanchez, city of Odessa, public information officer, said.
It was different for MPD because the shooter drove out of their jurisdiction and across county line, leaving little to no radio communication between Midland and Odessa.
“Dealing with outside entities especially outside of Midland County, to include state agencies and Ector County and OPD--we had already ventured into an inoperable radio wise prior to this incident and obviously the active shooter spurred that along even further,” Seth Herman, Chief of Midland Police, said.
As officers tried communicating with each other over radio channels, the lines got so flooded that passing information along internally created even more barriers.
“We need to be able to talk amongst ourselves a lot better within our department,” Dwayne Frantz, former Public Communication Radio Manager, Midland County Sheriff’s Office, said. “We need to be able to get information in and out to dispatch not only to ourselves but also to others too, we need to be able to talk around.”
Without a way to communicate with one another on portable radios, it made it harder to warn the public with a clear message about how to stay safe.
“How do you relay all of those and craft a message telling entire public?" said George. “I think you have to be very cautious than that because he might create more panic because like you said, law-enforcement themselves didn’t know if these events were related. The individual changed vehicles so I mean me and then you have to actually have a person who have to compile all that information.”
On Aug. 31 local governments and law enforcement agencies relied heavily on social media and Nextdoor.
This left some of the public frustrated they didn’t get another type of notification on what was happening.
“People are frustrated and they’re hurt; I mean it’s a major event that hit our community and a lot of times after major events people are wanting to blame," said George.
Many citizens of both cities were left asking why they were left in the dark.
“I believe citizens and taxpayers are justified in saying anything they want to say because that’s who we serve, so if there’s any criticism sure I mean I won’t ever say people can’t criticize us,” said Gerke. “I mean that’s okay I think when you look at the bigger picture and when you don’t operate with those agencies on a daily basis, weekly basis or even a monthly basis that it’s difficult to build those relationships.”
It is a massive undertaking communicating with a multi-pronged approach to hundreds of thousands of people and multiple law enforcement agencies.
“We are becoming a metroplex at this point and understanding that West Texas is still so isolated from the rest of the state so we have to work together," Herman said. “We have to work in a combined effort as a combined team, we have to share information and share our operation responsibility not only with the local agencies but also with the state and federal.”
Changes are coming to the Basin and for the Midland and Odessa police chiefs.
It is well worth the effort if it means keeping our community safe and more informed. In the next part of the story, we will walk you through the steps the two cities are taking to work together after the mass shooting.