UPDATED at 5:14 p.m. on 10/28/19: An arrest has been made in the case. Read more here.
A lone gunman is reported to have opened fire inside a crowded local event venue early Sunday morning, wounding eight people, two of them fatally.
The suspect remained at large as of mid-morning Sunday and Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said his department has little to go on in trying to identify and capture the assailant, who used a handgun to shoot at hundreds of people who were inside The Party Venue 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.
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 business at 2275 U.S. Highway 380, just west of the Greenville city limits.
“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.
Meeks originally stated that there were 16 total victims at the press conference, but HCSO Sgt. Jeff Haines stated to press later 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. Haines added that he was aware that four of those with gunshot wounds were currently in critical condition and one was in good condition.
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.
Despite the large number of people inside the business, no one was able to provide officers with a clear description of the suspect.
Meeks said the individual, a male, was believed to have entered the back door of the club while the officers were still in the front. Based on some witness statements, the suspect appeared to be searching for one person in particular and fired at that person first. The male victim was one of the two fatalities.
“After that he just apparently started firing at random,” Meeks said.
A male was also the second person shot and killed.
Hunt County Justice of the Peace Wayne Money ordered autopsies on the individuals and they were transported to the Southwest Institute for Forensic Science in Dallas.
The mother of one of the deceased spoke with WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas and confirmed that Kevin Berry, 23, was one of those killed in the shooting.
The second fatality was identified as Byron Craven Jr., which was confirmed by his mother. Craven was reportedly at the party with a cousin to celebrate his 23rd birthday.
Meeks said most of the people at the party were “in their late teens to early 20s” and that “four or five” of the wounded were students at the university.
Although publicized as a homecoming party, the event was not sanctioned by the university, Meeks said, and was hosted by a group called the “GoodFellas” in Commerce.
Some of the people at the party were also dressed in costume and apparently dropped fake bullets in their rush from the scene, which added to the confusion.
Meeks said his investigators are 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.
Later Sunday morning Hunt County Chief Deputy Buddy Oxford spoke to reporters at the scene, and confirmed the authorities are looking for a black male suspect, and that the suspect used a 9mm handgun in the shooting.
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."
Sunday afternoon, A&M-Commerce President Dr. Mark Rudin a statement in an email to students and employees.
"Last night's tragedy in Greenville, Texas has touched and saddened our university community," the statement read. "There is a tremendous amount of misinformation revolving around this off-campus incident. At this time we can confirm four of our current students were treated and released from local hospitals. We are currently reaching out to these four affected students. We will continue to monitor this situation."
The statement continued: "Walk-in counseling services are available to all of our students at the counseling center located on the Commerce campus in the Halladay Student Services Building. Students may also call 903-886-5145 for counseling services. Our heartfelt sympathies extend to all victims, their families, and friends."
Later in the day Sunday, Rudin released another statement, apologizing for what he called an "insensitive" message in the original statement.
"We recognize that our previous messaging related to the events in Greenville last night may have come across as insensitive. This was not the intent," Rudin said in the statement. "The purpose was to inform our community that the shooting did not happen on campus, as some media outlets were reporting. Please be assured, A&M-Commerce remains a safe campus."
Rudin continued: "We cannot begin to understand the emotions of those who experienced the tragedy of the events last night. These concerns were not adequately reflected within our responses, and on behalf of the University, I sincerely apologize. A&M-Commerce values and respects the dignity of life. Collectively, we will work to overcome the pain, hurt, and sorrow that many within the Lion Family are feeling."
The president also said that while classes will continue normally on Monday, all absences would be excused.
A "community gathering" event in honor of those killed, wounded or affected by the shooting was planned for Monday at 4 p.m. at the amphitheater on the A&M-Commerce campus, but was postponed Monday afternoon.
A statement was sent out from Texas A&M University-Commerce President Dr. Mark Rudin and Student Government Association President Kelsey Deckard regarding the decision.
"Based on conversations we have had with various students across campus, the decision has been made to postpone the community gathering originally planned for 4:00pm today," the statement read. "We appreciate the feedback you have provided, and care about your concerns. We remain committed to the health and wellbeing of our campus community."
It is unknown if the decision was made due to the shooting at a Dallas-area vigil for one of the Greenville shooting victims. Many on social media called for the event in Commerce to be held off due to safety concerns.
While it has not yet been determined whether or not any students with the Greenville Independent School District were in attendence at the party, the district expressed its support for those affected by the shooting with a post on Facebook saying “Greenville ISD stands with Texas A&M University-Commerce” and “Pray for TAMUC: #WeAreLionStrong.”
Meeks said the FBI and Texas Rangers are assisting in the investigation and he is urging anyone with information about the case to contact the sheriff’s office at 903-453-6800 or, if they choose to remain anonymous, to call Crime Stoppers at 903-457-2929.