CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Residents of a Nevada's capital city say they woke up Wednesday to a small town that's lost its innocence after a mass shooting in an IHOP restaurant that left four people and the shooter dead and injured seven others.
Just before 9 a.m. Tuesday, gunman Eduardo Sencion stepped onto
the Carson City pancake house parking lot from his blue minivan
with a yellow "Support Our Troops" sticker on it.
He opened fire, then continued into the restaurant and marched
toward a table of uniformed National Guard members before shooting
each one, and fatally wounding three of them, authorities said.
Officials released the names of the victims Wednesday as the search for a motive - and a time of grieving - continue.
"Our hearts ache for all the victims of this senseless act of violence," IHOP Restaurants President Jean Birch wrote on Facebook after coming to town in the aftermath of the breakfast-time massacre. "The people of Carson City have also shown incredible support for the victims and IHOP's team members."
Killed were Sgt. 1st Class Christian Riege, 38, of Carson City, a fitness buff and father of three who served in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010; Major Heath Kelly, 35, of Reno, an avid student of military history who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005; and Sgt. 1st Class Miranda McElhiney, 31, who specialized in medicine and dentistry and loved bringing cupcakes to her co-workers.
Also killed was Florence Donovan-Gunderson, 67, of South Lake Tahoe.
Brig. Gen. William R. Burks says Guardsmen overseas are being told to maintain focus as they grieve the loss of the service
Seven people were wounded in the attack; their injuries range from severe to extremely life-threatening.
"This is unquestionably the most devastating attack in Carson City's history," said Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong. "Yesterday our town was shocked to the core."
Lawmakers, business owners and law enforcement officials in this
close-knit, government-driven city of 50,000 struggled to
understand what drove Sencion to turn an AK-47 assault rifle on his
"It's unprecedented in Carson City history," said Guy Rocha, retired Nevada state archivist. "People who live in Carson City have come from other places to get away from the large urban madness. ... It finally came to Carson City.
Authorities are investigating whether the military members were
targeted. Furlong said Wednesday it's still unclear whether Sencion
was targeting people in the military.
Sencion shot each of the five Nevada National Guard troops sitting together at the back of the restaurant. Another woman was shot and killed.
Family members told investigators that Sencion, 32, was mentally
troubled, but he did not have a criminal history. He was pronounced
dead at a local hospital hours after the mass shooting.
"The sheriff may never know the motive," Nevada Highway Patrol
spokesman Chuck Allen said.
The shooting started just before 9 a.m. roughly two miles from the state Capitol in Carson City.
Sencion stepped out of the minivan and immediately shot a woman
near a motorcycle before charging into the chain restaurant.
Witnesses said he had unloaded a magazine when he was still less
than 12 feet from his car.
The gunfire prompted Ralph Swagler, the owner of a nearby barbecue restaurant, to grab his weapon. But when Sencion started
toward him, Swagler backed away.
"I wish I had shot at him when he was going in the IHOP," said
Swagler, who owns Locals BBQ & Grill. "But when he came at me,
when somebody is pointing an automatic weapon at you - you can't
believe the firepower, the kind of rounds coming out of that weapon."
Sencion struck each of the Guard members in the restaurant in what witnesses described as a seemingly intentional attack. He then exited the restaurant and fired shots toward the barbecue
restaurant, shattering the windows. He also fired toward an H&R
Block and a casino across the street.
Sencion had shot himself and was lying injured in the parking lot by the time officers arrived. A crowd of reporters and onlookers could see a body on the ground, covered with a white sheet except for the feet, clad in tan boots.
Fran Hunter is a frequent IHOP customer who works in a pet supply store next door but made a last second decision Tuesday to eat at the casino coffee shop across the street.
"It turned out to be a good decision," she told the AP. "If you know the IHOP, they had to be sitting ducks with that long narrow aisle - if they were at those tables with no way to get out."
Servicemen flocked to a Reno hospital after the shooting, nervously waiting for word on those killed and hurt.
"It's hard to believe something like this would happen to really good people," said Spc. Lee Amato, 33, a Nevada Army National Guard member. "It's like a hole, something taken away. It's mind-boggling and hard to comprehend."
Sgt. 1st class Cameron Anderson, 31, of Reno, was tasked with
driving the Guard's chaplain to the hospital.
"You go a whole tour in Afghanistan and no one is shot," Anderson said. "And you go to IHOP and several are shot. It's a shock."
Officials were analyzing the assault rifle to determine whether it is automatic or semi-automatic. Sencion left two more guns in the van - another rifle and a pistol, authorities said. Furlong said law enforcement agencies are investigating how Sencion got the guns.
The violent outburst rattled Nevada's capital city after the long Labor Day weekend when many officials, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, had left town. Carson City is also a jumping off point 30 miles south of Reno for travelers headed to Lake Tahoe or back to California across the Sierra.
Nevada officials initially feared the worst as news of the shooting spread. The state Capitol and Supreme Court buildings were briefly closed and extra security were sent to guard state and military buildings in northern Nevada to prevent further violence. The IHOP is several miles from the Guard's state headquarters complex.
Sandoval was in Las Vegas when the shooting occurred. He soon
returned to the capital, where he was briefed by police and his security adviser.
"Everything is being done to ensure the public's safety," Sandoval said in a statement. He ordered flags to half-staff through Friday night in honor of the killed guardsmen.
Sencion was born in Mexico and had a valid U.S. passport. He worked at a family business in South Lake Tahoe and had no known
affiliations with anyone inside the restaurant, Furlong said. He was not in the military.
Sencion filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009, listing more than $42,000 in outstanding debts for a car, several credit cards and some medical expenses. The case was discharged four months later.
A lawyer representing some of Sencion's family members called the shooting "an aberration of his character."
"He's a gentle, kind man who was very helpful to friends and family," Joe Laub told The Associated Press. "I couldn't venture to guess what would cause him to do something as horrible as this."