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Two Dead, Multiple Injured at College Party Shooting

The Dallas Morning News

This is a breaking news story that is being constantly updated.

A 23-year-old man was arrested Monday in the deadly shooting near Greenville that left two dead and six others recovering from bullet wounds after a witness came forward and identified the shooter through his Facebook profile “Fml Jefe,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

The witness, who through an attorney, led law enforcement to Brandon Gonzales who was being held at the Hunt County Jail on a capital murder charge in the deadly shooting at an off-campus party celebrating Texas A&M-Commerce’s homecoming.

Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said Monday at a news conference that his office, Texas Rangers and federal officials had not yet found a motive. Meeks said that Gonzales was arrested at a local auto dealership where he works as a mechanic. He declined to name the business.

The sheriff’s office identified the two victims slain as 23-year-old Kevin Berry Jr. of Dallas and Byron Craven, also 23, of Arlington. On Sunday, four of the six others shot were in critical condition. Others received minor injuries while trying to escape.

Gonzales has been cooperative, Meeks said, but has not admitted to being the shooter at The Party Venue along U.S. Highway 380. The shooting took place about 15 miles southwest of the Commerce campus, which is about 65 miles from Dallas.

Gonzales did tell authorities that he was at the party, Meeks said. Gonzales has not offered information about whether he has any connection to the victims, Meeks said.

The arrest warrant affidavit said the witness, who was not named in the document for safety reasons, first saw Gonzales around 9:15 p.m. in line at the front door. Then, the witness saw Gonzales again playing dice around 11:30 p.m. in the bathroom with a large group.

About 15 seconds after Gonzales left the restroom, the witness saw him pull a handgun and start shooting, the affidavit says. The witness heard about eight shots fired, the affidavit states. Authorities found seven spent 9mm cartridges at the scene, according to the affidavit. The witness told authorities there was no threat toward Gonzales when he opened fire.

The witness said it appeared that Gonzales “was intending to kill because he pointed his gun at people’s head,” according to the affidavit. After Gonzales opened fire, Berry fell onto the witness, the affidavit states. The witness turned over their jacket to authorities, as it had a large amount of Berry’s blood.

Meeks said it appeared that the first person shot was a target of Gonzales’, but then the rest appeared to be fired at randomly. The sheriff did not say who was shot first.

Meeks said no other arrests were anticipated in connection with the deadly shooting. Gonzales’ bail is set at $1 million.

He said authorities were able to identify Gonzales as the suspect through tips from the community and “pushing and pushing” from investigators. Several law enforcement organizations, including the Texas Rangers, were called in to assist with the investigation.

The arrest warrant says law enforcement found a public Facebook post from about 20 minutes after the shooting that tagged Gonzales’ Facebook account. “Get all my respect!! [Expletive] everybody else,” the post said.

Gonzales responded, saying “100 100 preciate that bro that jus how I rock if I fw anybody,” according to the affidavit.

The owner of The Party Venue, Heath Jackson, said Monday that the man who rented the facility told him he was having a Halloween Party for friends. Jackson said the man, who he did not identify, was not upfront about the type of party or that he planned to charge admission.

Jackson said The Party Venue typically hosts events like reunions, birthday celebrations, holiday parties and quinceañeras. Going forward, he said, he will only host “family-sanctioned events only." He also said he has donated use of the space to groups like shelters for abused women.

“We are just devastated by this and the loss of life,” he said. “We’re really shaken up.”

Texas A&M-Commerce confirmed that four of its students had been treated and released from hospitals. Saturday night’s party, attended mostly by people in their teens and early 20s, had been promoted as a homecoming event but wasn’t university-sanctioned.

The first person the gunman shot may have been his intended target and the rest of the victims may have been fired upon randomly, Sheriff Randy Meeks said. The sheriff said the shooter used a handgun.

A “Twerk or Treat” costume party had been promoted for Saturday night at the venue, which is described as an 8,000-square-foot facility with a capacity of 500—well below the estimated attendance at the event.

On Monday, additional security measures were in place at Greenville High School after a student working at a fast food restaurant overhead a customer say a similar act of violence would occur there.

At the college, classes met as scheduled on Monday, a message on the school’s website from President Mark Rudin said. A vigil planned for Monday afternoon at the university’s amphitheater was canceled. On Sunday, gunfire erupted at a Dallas vigil for friends and relatives of Berry.

“Based on conversations we have had with various students across campus, the decision has been made to postpone the community gathering,” the school said on Facebook. “We appreciate the feedback you have provided, and care about your concerns. We remain committed to the health and well being of our campus community.”

At Sunday’s vigil, people ran for cover and there were no reports of injuries as dozens of shots were heard.

Dallas police said Monday they were investigating the incident. A man was detained after police said he tried to evade them in his black Toyota Corolla. But police had not determined whether the man was connected to the shots fired at the vigil.

Before the Monday’s vigil was canceled, students organized a small prayer gathering at noon Monday, said the Rev. Brian Dierolf, the Wesleyan campus pastor at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

“We all shared in prayers, prayers for peace, prayers for hope, prayers to defeat fear and to all support each other,” he said. “We’re trying to offer all the prayers and support we can, especially for those students who are still get frightened trying to cope and process."

He said campus was quiet Monday, with more students out and about than the day before but still less than usual.

He said he was hesitant to speak on behalf of the university or students, but he had heard from people concerned over the disquiet following the shooting and that the shooter hadn’t been caught.

Before the fatal shooting at the party on Saturday, Hunt County deputies were already at the venue investigating complaints about illegal parking. They arrived about 20 minutes before the gunman opened fire. Deputies questioned a person outside the front of the venue who they believed was intoxicated when they heard gunshots coming from the back of the building.

At first, they could not tell whether the shots were fired inside or outside. But they found Berry and Craven when they entered, authorities said.

An off-duty Farmersville ISD police officer also had been at the venue working security at the party.

Meeks, the sheriff, said the party became “complete chaos” as people tried to flee the gunman, with some breaking through windows and others trying to squeeze through the venue’s front door four abreast. Six people suffered cuts and bruises while they were trying to escape.

The gunman fled during the commotion, and witnesses had not given authorities a detailed description of him or any suspect vehicle. The sheriff pleaded with partygoers to provide any information they could about the gunman.

“During the past 24 hours, Hunt County has had a wake up call to our small town way of life just like so many other communities have, small or large,” Meeks said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Anyone with information about the shooting may call the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office at 903-453-6800 or Crime Stoppers at 903-457-2929.

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