Garland police: Suspects were ‘there to shoot people’

GARLAND — Police in Garland say they believe the two men killed outside a controversial art show Sunday night were there to shoot the approximately 200 people attending the event before a traffic officer intervened.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative was hosting the Muhammad Art Exhibit inside the Curtis Culwell Center Sunday. The event featured a contest for cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and was almost over when the incident occurred.

Officer Joe Harn with GPD said during a 10 a.m. press conference Monday that security had been ramped up for the controversial event and a plan had been in place involving the FBI for months. Organizers of the event paid $10,000 themselves to have extra officers on hand.

According to Harn, the two suspects pulled up to the event in a car, immediately got out with assault rifles and began shooting at a police car that was parked next to a barricade.

Garland ISD Officer Bruce Joiner was hit but suffered non-life threatening injuries.

A traffic officer at the scene opened fire on the suspects with a service pistol, killing both of them outside their car.

“He did a very good job and probably saved lives,” Harn said of the officer, whose name has not been released.

Harn said investigators spent the night searching the suspects’ vehicle for bombs or explosives. None were found, but they detonated the vehicle for safety’s sake. Harn says luggage was found inside the vehicle, but it isn’t clear when the suspects arrived in North Texas.

Both suspects’ bodies remained at the scene as of Monday morning, with dozens of shell casings surrounding them. Both were wearing heavy-duty tactical vests. One had a New York Yankees cap next to him.

The site outside the Curtis Culwell Center is still an active crime scene, Harn said. The vehicles of the nearly 200 people attending the art show are still at the scene. The attendees were bussed away from the event via GISD school buses Sunday night.

A 1,000-foot radius around the Walmart nearby was initially shut down and multiple businesses in the area were evacuated. The perimeter has since been lifted.

Advanced placement testing scheduled for Monday at the Culwell Center was canceled, according to Garland ISD, but school was in session Monday morning for a high school nearby.

Plano, Irving, DPS, FBI and ATF are assisting Garland police with their investigation, Harn said.

FBI agents are now searching an apartment in Phoenix where they say the suspects lived as roommates.

“The two gunmen who were involved in the shooting in Dallas… were determined to be from Phoenix, located at this property,” Assistant Special Agent in Charge John Lannarelli told WFAA’s sister station KPNX. “Hence the FBI and Phoenix police were involved in determining where at this location and what evidence may be available that can be used in the Dallas investigation.”

One of the suspects has been identified as Elton Simpson, 30, according to ABC News. He was convicted in a terror investigation five years ago, but was given probation.

The ABC report says Simpson was accused of lying to federal agents about plans to travel to Africa, in an apparent attempt to join a terror group there.

Simpson is believed to be the man who tweeted several ominous messages before the incident Sunday, using the hashtag #texasattack.

Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and organizer of the art show, referred to it as a “free speech event” on Twitter. One tweet from her after the apparent attack read “this is a war.”

Governor Greg Abbott released a statement on the shooting Sunday:

“Texas officials are actively investigating to determine the cause and scope of the senseless attack in Garland, Texas. This is a crime that was quickly ended thanks to the swift action by Garland law enforcement. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all those affected tonight.”

Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah, National Vice President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, also released a statement:

“Violence is never an acceptable response to hate speech, no matter how inflammatory and uncivilized that speech is. While we do not yet know what motivated these shooters, we urge calm and defer to local, state, and federal authorities to peaceably and justly resolve this.”

ABC News says ISIS followers were calling for attacks leading up to the Garland event.

“The brothers from the Charlie Hebdo attack did their part. It’s time for brothers in the US to do their part,” one supporter wrote.

“Brothers in Garland Texas Please go to there with your weapons, bombs or with your knives. Threaten your enemies & the enemies of Allaah,” another wrote last week.