EL PASO, Texas — The confessed attacker in the mass shooting that left 22 people dead and at least two dozen injured at a local Walmart was indicted Thursday on capital murder charges.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza on Thursday announced that a grand jury had indicted Patrick Crusius, 21, of Allen.

“Capital murder is the highest charge in the State of Texas and is punishable by death or life imprisonment without parole if found guilty,” the district attorney’s office said in a news release.

Attorneys for Crusius, David Lane of Denver and Mark Stevens of San Antonio, could not be reached for comment.

U.S. attorneys say Crusius could also still face federal charges related to hate crime and domestic terrorism. He’s been behind bars, held without bond, since the Aug. 3 shootings.

Some of the people who were at Walmart the morning of the attack called death penalty appropriate.

“Hijole, I’m not God, but someone that crazy, someone who was hunting us down like goats, deserves the highest punishment,” said Geremias Veloz Rocha, 67, who hid behind shopping carts during the rampage. “Capital murder is right. We didn’t even have rocks to protect ourselves. Then he walked out of the store, as if nothing and got in his car and left.”

It could be months or even years before the criminal case goes to trial.

Experts say it is likely Crusius’ attorneys could seek a change of venue.

On the day of the shootings, he first walked into the Walmart and cased the store, which was buzzing with anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 people, the majority of Mexican descent, authorities have said. He then returned to his vehicle where he armed himself and returned wearing protective ear muffs, safety glasses and wielding a high-powered assault-style rifle, according to officials who’ve studied video surveillance of him inside the store.

Minutes before, authorities say, he posted a four-page manifesto online at the 8chan website, filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric that detailed his intention to stop a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

In it, the author warns white Americans that foreigners are replacing them. He lays out his intention to kill Hispanics to reduce their numbers in America by instilling enough fear in them to get them to leave the country en masse.

Police say Crusius, who surrendered after the shooting, admitted during questioning that he specifically targeted Mexicans.

Among the 22 fatalities, eight were Mexican nationals, prompting the government of Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to demand, among other things, that Crusius be extradited to face charges there.

Some critics have blamed political leaders, particularly President Donald J. Trump, for fueling the fires of anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic racial discontent. They say they’re using immigrants as political props.

Crusius’ family released a statement through an attorney after the indictment was announced.

“The tragedy weighs heavily on our hearts and minds each and every day,” it says. “It is important to respect the rule of law, including the grand jury’s decision and the district attorney’s office. ... We continue to pray for all those touched — most especially the victims and their families.”

The mass shooting, the fourth in recent history in Texas alone, has generated a political firestorm among pro- and anti-gun control advocates, widening the divide in the country, particularly Democrats and Republicans.

Crusius, the son of a licensed therapist and a nurse, graduated in 2017 from Plano Senior High School. He attended Collin College in Plano and had reportedly been unemployed for five months and living with his grandparents until he moved out about six weeks before the shootings. Police say he legally purchased the weapon he used.

He’d had had several minor run-ins with the law before the El Paso massacre. Weeks earlier, his mother called Allen police when she found out her son possessed a rifle.

Attorneys representing the family said she didn’t think her son posed a threat at the time she made the call but had questions because of her son’s age, maturity level and inexperience with the firearm, according to CNN.

Allen police said there was no record of the call.

In addition, a Collin County family alerted the FBI two years ago that Crusius tried to recruit their son to join a white supremacist group.

“At first it was a flyer, and then they made friends with him,” a family member told WFAA-TV (Channel 8) on the condition that they not be identified.

The Dallas Morning News

The Dallas Morning News