A local man has been arrested and charged with capital murder in connection with the shooting deaths of two individuals and wounding of six others at a crowded Hunt County event venue.
Brandon Ray Gonzales, 23, of Greenville was booked into the Hunt County Detention Center Monday afternoon on a charge of capital murder of multiple persons involving the deaths of Kevin Berry, 23, of Dallas and Byron Cravens Jr. 23, of Arlington early Sunday morning at The Party Venue, 2275 U.S. Highway 380, just west of the Greenville city limits.
During a Monday afternoon press conference, Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said Gonzales, who was arrested after arriving at his job at a local automobile dealership, had “cooperated some” but had not admitted to the shootings. A motive had not been determined for the killings, Meeks said, and the 9mm handgun believed used in the incident had not yet been located Monday.
Meeks said that Gonzales was not connected to the shots which were fired Sunday night in the Pleasant Grove neighborhood of Dallas during a vigil for Berry.
“This investigation is not complete,” Meeks said, asking the public to continue to provide information which could develop additional evidence.
He credited the assistance of local, state and federal agencies with assisting in the case, the support offered by Governor Greg Abbott and the deputies with his office who had worked through since the shootings were first reported.
Meeks had previously said the people who were at the party did not immediately provide any information which identified Gonzales as the shooter.
“We kept pushing and pushing and we finally got one tip, and that led to another and that led to another and we were able to come up with the identity of the shooter,” Meeks said.
Meeks said he still believes Gonzales acted alone and had entered the building that night to target one of the two fatal victims before starting to fire at random.
Meeks said despite widespread accounts in the media, he does not classify the incident as a mass shooting.
“I would describe this as a capital murder case,” Meeks said. “We believe one person was targeted and for some unknown reason to us he decided to shoot other folks.”
Meeks did have some optimistic news to report concerning the victims who remained hospitalized Monday, as four were said to be in good condition and one is still in critical condition.
Jail records indicated that Gonzales had a prior misdemeanor traffic offense in July for rider not secured by safety belt, for which he paid a $286 fine.
Capital murder carries a maximum sentence upon conviction of death by lethal injection or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
It was unknown Monday whether Gonzales had an defense attorney. He may be scheduled to appear in a state district court as early as this morning, at which time he may seek to have an attorney appointed to represent him.
Shortly after the press conference, comments and posts on social media began flooding in with skepticism regarding the arrest, with many saying that Gonzales was not the real shooter. Those reports have been unconfirmed.
Originally the party on Saturday night was reportedly to celebrate the Texas A&M University-Commerce homecoming. Subsequent reporting has indicated that the party was not affiliated with or sanctioned by the university, and that it was a Halloween party that was attended by an unknown number of university students to continue celebrating Homecoming weekend.
According to Meeks at a previous press conference Sunday morning, two sheriff’s deputies were on the scene in connection with a different matter when the shots rang out at around 12:05 a.m. Sunday.
“It was just complete chaos,” Meeks said, as he provided an outline for the events during a morning press conference.
The sheriff’s office was notified at around 11:30 p.m. of a large party and potential traffic hazard due to overflow parking at the property.
“The first deputies arrived at 11:41 p.m.,” Meeks said. "The officers were investigating a possible intoxicated party goer at the front of the club when the shots fired call came in. Within five minutes the deputies contacted dispatch to report there were multiple victims.
HCSO Sgt. Jeff Haines stated to press Sunday afternoon that, in total, 14 victims were identified.
Haines said that of the 14, eight had received gunshot wounds, which left six injured and two deceased. The remaining six reported injuries were sustained while attempting to flee the chaos following the shooting.
Meeks indicated there were more than 750 people were inside the building at the time.
A post from the venue's Facebook page in March stated that it held a capacity of 500 people. The Herald-Banner attempted to contact The Party Venue by phone. On the initial attempt an unidentified person answering hung up after learning the call was from the paper. A message left on the second attempt had not been returned as of press time.
At Sunday’s press conference before the arrests, Meeks said his investigators were frustrated by how only a very few people have come forward to offer their statements, with the majority of those who were in the club not cooperating with authorities.
He credited his patrol sergeant who was at the scene, who drove one of the shooting victims to Hunt Regional Healthcare hospital in Greenville, while one of the deputies provided first aid and CPR to another victim.
“I believe their efforts may have saved those victim’s lives,” Meeks said.
In addition to the sheriff’s officers, an off-duty Farmersville ISD Police Department officer was on scene and had been hired by the club to provide security.
Kimberly Wilson, a mother of one of the party attendees who escaped unharmed, said that the events of last night was concerning to her.
"It does [concern me], but I'm not showing it right now because I'm angry," Wilson, who was a 24-year Army veteran, said. "Putting it into my world with what I experienced in Afghanistan, my world was shoot 'em up, bang-bang. But I had my vest, my weapon, and all of my gear I was trained to fight... But for someone to come in and do something this heinous when [the partygoers} have no protection, no weapon, I'm upset by this."
Wilson's daughter escaped the mayhem without any injuries, but says that her daughter was distraught by the incident.
"My daughter called me... and she heard it was a mass shooting," Wilson said. "At this point she is crying and was like 'I could have lost my life,' because she didn't really know what she was running from."
Gonzales is currently being held at the Hunt County Detention Center in lieu of $1 million bond.