By Jacques Billeaud and Terry Tang, AP
A gunman who opened fire at a suburban Phoenix restaurant and retail complex, injuring three people, wanted to target shoppers in retaliation for bullying he had suffered, authorities said Thursday.
“He said that he went to Westgate to target victims. He wanted to gain some respect, and he felt that he had been bullied in his life,” Glendale Police Sgt. Randy Stewart said at a news conference.
Armando Hernandez Jr., 20, also later admitted to detectives that he intended to harm 10 people.
“I don’t know why the suspect decided 10 people,” Stewart said.
The shooting happened about 7:25 p.m. Wednesday in Glendale’s Westgate Entertainment District, which reopened last week after shutting down more than a month ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officers were on the scene within five minutes of the first 911 calls, authorities said. Hernandez was taken into custody without incident upon being confronted by police.
Authorities say Hernandez wounded a 19-year-old adult man, who remains hospitalized in critical condition. A 16-old-girl was also taken to a hospital, but with non-life-threatening injuries. A third victim, a 30-year-old woman, did not require hospitalization, Stewart said.
Hernandez, who lives in the neighboring suburb of Peoria, is facing more than a dozen felony charges. It was not immediately known if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.
State Sen. Martin Quezada was at the complex during the shooting and wrote on Twitter that he witnessed a person “with an AR-15 shoot up Westgate.”
In a statement Thursday, the Democratic lawmaker said he was “beyond horrified what I saw with my own eyes.” He then called for more gun control.
“Civilians should not have access to these types of weapons and be able to walk into a mall to destroy people’s lives in a matter of seconds,” Quezada said.
Police would only confirm a black assault rifle was recovered, and the suspect had loaded three magazines to capacity. Investigators have also searched his car and his home.
Authorities also confirmed the authenticity of a Snapchat video in which the suspect appears to be discussing his plans and showing a rifle in the back seat of his car. Investigators are asking for anyone with firsthand knowledge of more videos to contact police.
Video posted on social media showed people running from the area and scenes of people embracing each other after being reunited.
Eliana Rivera, a sales associate at a pottery painting store, posted on Twitter that she and a co-worker heard police running and helicopters overhead as they huddled in the back of the business, the Arizona Republic reported.
“It’s just unreal,” Rivera said. “You see it on the news. It happens and you never really think that you would be put in that position. You just think, ‘What are the chances that that will happen?’ — and it did.”
Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers urged the public, already on edge about the pandemic, to not be afraid to patronize struggling businesses.
“Please don’t give in to fear. Don’t allow senseless acts like this to change your habits,” Weiers said. “We have a safe city.”
Police were still searching the area for evidence Thursday morning. A tow truck hauled away a white car about 4 a.m.
The area includes a stadium for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and hockey arena for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. ____
Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.