In the second mass shooting the state of Texas experienced during the month of August, two Oklahoma Christian University alumni bunkered down to take shelter near the scene of the crime.
The shooting began at 3:17 p.m. off of I-20 in Odessa when a Texas state trooper stopped a gold Honda for failing to utilize their left turn signal. The perpetrator, Seth Ator, proceeded to shoot the trooper and eventually hijacked a U.S. Postal Service car, killing the driver. According to local law enforcement, Ator killed seven people and injured 22 others, including a 17-month-old child. Police eventually killed Ator in the parking lot of a local movie theater.
Caroline and Blake Patterson were on the road for about two hours when traffic came to a halt. The couple waited on the highway for 45 minutes before reading the words ‘active shooter’ on twitter.
“It was scary,” Caroline Patterson said. “We had no idea what was going on. We looked, and there was a complete shutdown. We watched so many cop cars pass by. There were a couple of fire trucks, and we realized this is really big.”
As they continued to drive, the couple saw Ator’s gold Honda pulled over to the side of the road.
“If we would have left 5 to 10 minutes earlier, we would have gotten caught up in the fire,” Caroline Patterson said. “We pulled off on the side of the road, and we just sat there for an hour watching the news pour in about what was going on. It was crazy.”
In the middle of the action, while the shooter was still active, the Pattersons witnessed broadcast journalists shelter in place, and eventually, they had to find safety in a parking lot.
“To see another family sheltering there and wonder what would happen if another car pulls in the parking lot, we had to be on guard,” Caroline Patterson said. “It was really scary, especially since we had nowhere to go. We didn’t know the city or how to get around at all, so that was terrifying.”
Oklahoma Christian alumna Mikaea Weaver also drove through I-20 in Odessa on Saturday, Aug. 31, three hours before the shooting occurred.
“I didn’t really think anything of it because you just try to push those thoughts out,” Weaver said. “When I finally read up on it and realized what had happened, I just cried. My name would have easily been one of the names in the news. You don’t really think about all the bad things that can happen until it actually does.”
Junior Jordan Santos lived in Odessa for ten years and still has friends in the area. After hearing about the shooting, Santos said he immediately reached out to the people he knew to make sure they were not affected.
“It makes me think. What if something like that happened while I still lived there?” Santos said. “It is hard to know what to do about it. What is really important to do is to turn to God when stuff like this happens.”
“Being from West, Texas, there are a lot of pro-gun people,” Weaver said. “I definitely understand where they’re coming from in that they want to protect themselves, but I think self-protection doesn’t mean just anyone should be allowed to own a gun. The fact that people can own military-grade firearms is pretty ridiculous, and if people disagree with that, then they’re just being stubborn.”
While debates about gun control continue on a national and state level, those affected by the violence are left to deal with their losses. Caroline Patterson notes this event as “one of the saddest things ever.” Driving back to Abilene on I-20 eastbound, Caroline Patterson said she could only ask one question: “Why did this have to happen?”
“They had shut down everything for evidence and it was dead, still and quiet,” Caroline Patterson said. “You could feel how scary everything was. It was really sad to see because they took two fire trucks, and they hung the Texas flag and the American flag off of both of them, shining a light on them.”
While Caroline Patterson labeled herself as an “advocate against gun violence” before this situation, the events reiterated and amplified her feelings about mass shootings.
“We have to act fervently every single day to fight against gun violence,” Caroline Patterson said. “I used to think this was something that was a crisis, but I know it’s much more than that. After being there and seeing it and wondering if you’re going to make it to the next day, we have to act now if we want to stop it.”