(This post has been updated following the Austin Police Department’s press conference on McQuilliams.)
No one was hurt besides the shooter. That’s perhaps the most important thing to take away from what happened in downtown Austin late on Thursday night/early Friday morning, when 49-year Steve McQuilliams went on a shooting spree. It was after 2am, after the bars were closed, and it happened on Thanksgiving, which meant that the normally-robust Thursday night crowd in downtown Austin was limited. Instead, McQuilliams fired hundreds of bullets into the Austin Police Department headquarters, the Mexican Consulate, and the Federal Courthouse.
The shooting started shortly before 2:30 in the morning, according to reports. 11 minutes after the first shots were reported, McQuilliams was dead outside of APD headquarters.
Here’s what we do know right now:
It’s not clear why he did it. There’s no clear motive to McQuilliams’ shooting spree. USA Today declared that it “appears to be a politically motivated anti-government attack linked to immigration.”
The paper quotes APD Chief Art Acevedo as connecting some dots in that regard:
“If you look at the targets, it doesn’t take a genius (to suggest) that that is the potential,” Acevedo said. “I would venture that political rhetoric might have fed into some of this, but that is speculation on my part.”
“When you look at the national debate right now about immigration, that … comes to mind. Sometimes our political discourse becomes very heated and sometimes very angry,” Acevedo said.
Shooting up the Mexican Consulate shortly after President Obama issued his executive order regarding immigration does indicate a potential motive, of course, but it doesn’t appear that McQuilliams left a statement or a manifesto to explain his actions.
Acevedo described McQuilliams as “a homegrown American extremist” with “hate in his heart.”
McQuilliams was a complicated guy. His neighbors liked him. Katie Matlack (a friend of the blog’s) described McQuilliams to KXAN as “a kind person” who used to dogsit for her. His Facebook profile indicates a fairly garden-variety brand of Austin Weird: there are photographs of him in Renaissance Fair outfits and in the water, kicking it in a pool float with a beer. He also posted videos of himself practicing with sais.
Parsing a person’s Facebook profile for clues as to what might have led him to go on a shooting spree can be a misleading activity: His public posts don’t talk about politics much (he liked Ron Paul, and mentioned “buying other people stuff with [his] tax money”]. There’s also an image of the Dalai Lama with the quote over it that reads, ““If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”
(Coincidentally, that quote comes from a 2001 discussion that the Dalai Lama held in Portland, in response to a question from a high school student about what to do in the event that a mass shooter is firing in public.)
Much was made about McQuilliams’s criminal record immediately after the shooting, though it appears that may have been overblown: He had been arrested on a robbery charge in 1992 that was later dismissed, and he may have been convicted of a misdemeanor drug charge in 1988. It does not appear that he’d ever been convicted of a violent crime. (Update: Acevedo said at his press conference that McQuilliams had spent time in a federal prison for bank robbery.) He appears to have been weird in the way that many Austinites are weird; he liked cult political figures that are popular among a number of people in his demographic.
At the APD press conference on Monday afternoon, Chief Acevedo made some more surprising statements: He said that McQuilliams was “part of an ultra-conservative Christian group with anti-immigration views.” That doesn’t entirely jibe with someone whom neighbors describe as a “loner,” but people can be complicated.
White supremacists apparently don’t want anything to do with him. Here’s an interesting tidbit dug up by RawStory.com: Over on the white supremacist website Stormfront, members are hard at work disavowing any association with McQuilliams. Instead, they’re claiming that he’s a “false flag” case, intended to stir up sentiment against immigration opponents. (Clicking that RawStory link will lead to some fairly vile racist quotes, incidentally.)
While we may never know McQuilliams’s true motive, the idea that he went on a shooting spree that led to his death in order to make white supremacists look bad seems pretty far-fetched by any standard.
Two of the buildings he shot up are reopened now. The Federal Courthouse in Austin and the Mexican Consulate are both open. The Austin Police Department Headquarters took more damage, and it’s currently closed to the public. The windows were shot out, and the building is barricaded, with officers standing watch in front of it.
He was killed by an officer’s bullet. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, questions persisted about whether McQuilliams was killed by a police bullet or by his own gun. According to a report from the Travis County Medical Examiner obtained by KVUE, the bullet that killed him was fired by APD Sergeant Adam Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the force. Johnson was placed on administrative leave, which is standard for officer-involved shootings.
For what it’s worth, Johnson’s shot was a pretty remarkable one:
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said he was loading up horses early Friday morning when he heard the gunshots, and while holding two horses with one hand he fired at McQuilliams with his free hand hitting him in the heart.
Friday afternoon, Acevedo praised Johnson’s quick actions saying “For a guy to keep his composure, holding two horses with one hand and taking a one hand shot with the other hand just says a lot about the training and professionalism of our police department.”
Johnson fired once, from over 300 feet away.
There were no bombs involved. (Updated) APD officers found a suspicious vehicle and were wary of a vest that McQuilliams wore, and Acevedo reported at his press conference that they found the remnants of attempted homemade IEDs inside of his apartment. Tests for bombs at the scene were negative, but Acevedo also reported that McQuilliams had worn a vest lined with IEDs.
(image via Facebook)