DALLAS — The gunman who killed seven people in West Texas over Labor Day weekend was arrested in 2001 for trying to break into a woman’s bedroom after threatening to kill her brother, and hospital staff later determined he had “suicidal tendencies,” according to arrest reports obtained by The Associated Press.
A day after the attempted break-in, Seth Ator, then 18, jumped from a second-floor window to evade authorities in Waco, a city about 105 miles south of Dallas. He was eventually taken into custody and hospitalized, the documents show.
It is unclear whether the events nearly two decades ago in Lorena, a Waco suburb, have any bearing on the Aug. 31 mass shooting that stretched from Midland to Odessa, some 350 miles away.
It also is unknown whether the hospitalization affected a federal background check that a law enforcement official said blocked Ator from buying a gun in 2014 because of a “mental health issue.”
But reports from the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office obtained through a public records request portray a young man who was deeply troubled 18 years before authorities say he opened fire in a rolling rampage that spanned 10 miles.
Officers killed Ator, 36, outside a busy Odessa movie theater after shootings that lasted more than an hour and injured around two dozen people in addition to the dead.
Asked about Ator’s 2001 arrest, the FBI declined to comment on its investigation into the shooting.
Investigators are looking into how Ator obtained the assault-style rifle he used despite failing a background check. Last week, they searched the home of a man in Lubbock, who they believe was involved in the “transfer” of the weapon, a federal law enforcement official previously told the AP. The official said federal agents are investigating whether the Lubbock man has been manufacturing firearms but that there have been no arrests.
Through high school, Ator moved between schools in the Texas Panhandle city of Amarillo and Lorena. He was set to graduate in 2001 but dropped out the preceding November to enroll in a GED program, Lorena Independent School District Superintendent Joe Kucera said in a statement.
The following summer, a family in Lorena, a community with a population of about 1,700 people, had a “series of problems” with Ator based on his “relationship” with their daughter, the sheriff’s reports state. The AP is not naming the family because attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.
In July 2001, the mother of the family told a deputy that Ator threatened to kill her son. The next month, Ator tried to break into the daughter’s bedroom around 3:30 a.m., removing a window screen “in an attempt to contact her,” according to the reports. The daughter told Detective Mylie Hudson that she woke up and then saw Ator driving away in his father’s vehicle.
The AP’s attempts to reach Ator’s parents were unsuccessful.
The next day, officers found Ator locked inside a bedroom at a Waco apartment where his friends lived. As the officers knocked on the door and tried to get Ator to unlock it, he opened a bedroom window and jumped to the ground two stories below, the reports state. Hudson wrote that he and other officers searched the apartment complex’s grounds but could not find Ator.
The following day, the reports state, officers arrested Ator at another building for criminal trespass and a “suicide threat.” He was then taken to a local emergency room.
Staff at the hospital’s psychiatric and drug abuse facility evaluated Ator, and an officer at the county jail was informed of Ator’s “suicidal tendencies” when he was moved to the jail that day, according to the reports. Ator’s parents also told deputies their son had threatened and tried to take his own life, the reports say.
Officials at Ascension Providence hospital in Waco, where Ator was treated, did not respond to questions sent by the AP on Tuesday.
Ator eventually pleaded guilty to evading arrest and criminal trespass. Court records indicate he was ordered to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings as part of his probation. The attorneys who represented him did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment. The misdemeanors themselves would not have prevented Ator from legally purchasing firearms in Texas.
Federal law stipulates a limited number of reasons why someone would be prohibited from buying or having a gun. Among them are if the person has been convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, has a substance abuse addiction, was dishonorably discharged from the military, was convicted of domestic violence or was the subject of a restraining order, or if they have been involuntarily committed for a mental health issue.
FBI records show that in 2018 more than 26 million background checks were conducted, and fewer than 100,000 people failed. The vast majority of those denied were for a criminal conviction. Just over 6,000 were rejected for a mental health issue.
Hudson, the now-retired sheriff’s deputy who investigated Ator, told the AP he remembers few specifics about dealing with the man in 2001.
”He just came across as being a nut who didn’t want to take no for an answer,” said Hudson, 74. “Obviously he had problems back at that time.”
A woman who at one point had a 12-year prison sentence for selling $31 worth of cannabis is back in jail after police in Oklahoma City arrested her on a bench warrant seeking more than $1,100 in unpaid costs in the nearly decade-old case.
Patricia Spottedcrow was 25 when a Kingfisher County judge sentenced her for a first offense of distribution of a controlled substance — cannabis — to a police informant in December 2009 and January 2010. Spottedcrow had four young children at the time and did not have any criminal convictions when she pleaded guilty without a sentencing recommendation from a prosecutor.
The Tulsa World included Spottedcrow’s story in a 2011 project about women in Oklahoma prisons, drawing national scrutiny and grassroots advocacy aimed at securing her release.
A different judge modified her sentence to eight years with four years suspended during a 2011 judicial review. She left prison in November 2012 after then-Gov. Mary Fallin agreed with the parole recommendation of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
But on Tuesday, news of Spottedcrow’s Monday arrest in Oklahoma City on the Kingfisher County warrant drew outrage from those who have followed her case.
“Today, folks are profiting off of the marijuana industry, and she is still suffering from that $31 sale almost a decade ago,” said Nicole McAfee, director of advocacy for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “It’s really disappointing and sad for the state of Oklahoma.”
An arrest report indicates that an Oklahoma City police officer “made voluntary contact” with Spottedcrow at the Plaza Inn Motel parking lot near Interstate 35 around 1 a.m. Monday. The officer said Spottedcrow provided her identifying information and that he learned she had a felony warrant from Kingfisher County related to her 2010 case.
Spottedcrow was also charged in late 2010 with cannabis possession after authorities found a small amount in a jacket pocket while booking her into the Kingfisher County jail following her sentencing in the early 2010 case. She pleaded guilty in January 2011 and received a two-year concurrent sentence in that later case.
A 2017 Tulsa World story indicates that Spottedcrow splits her time between Kingfisher and motels in Oklahoma City because she struggles to find stable housing and employment. She got married in 2014 and has had at least two other children since then.
“I’ve never had Section 8 or HUD, but I need it now,” Spottedcrow said in 2017. “I even called my (Cheyenne and Arapahoe) tribe to help, and they didn’t. I called the shelters, and they don’t take large families.”
Spottedcrow’s mother, Delita Starr, was also accused of drug crimes in the 2009 incident. A judge handed her a 30-year suspended sentence, and Starr became the caregiver of Spottedcrow’s children while her daughter was in prison.
Court records show that Starr continues to pay court costs at least every other month.
Kingfisher County District Attorney Mike Fields said Tuesday that his office did not authorize or request the arrest warrant for Spottedcrow, saying cost collection bench warrants are typically handled by judges and the Court Clerk’s Office.
Then-Associate District Judge Robert Davis approved a cost collection bench warrant on Aug. 10, 2018, writing in a court minute that “defendant failed to pay fines and costs.”
The Kingfisher County Court Clerk’s Office told KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City that it has received several calls from citizens interested in contributing the $1,139.90 needed to secure Spottedcrow’s release from jail.
Though Fields said failure to pay can form the basis for prosecutors to file an application to revoke a suspended sentence, in Spottedcrow’s case, he said he did not anticipate doing so. He also reiterated that his office was not involved in the issuance or service of the warrant.
Another prosecutor handled a 2018 revocation proceeding against Spottedcrow that resulted in Davis’ partially revoking her sentence in favor of a six-month jail term. Court documents indicate that she missed at least one regularly scheduled meeting with her probation officer and admitted drinking beer in violation of her conditions.
Attorney Brenda Golden, who represented Spottedcrow in more recent proceedings, attributed the missed probation appointment to a miscommunication about the status of the case.
But McAfee said the complexity of the legal system makes it a challenge for defendants to successfully complete what is asked of them, especially if their supervision period is lengthy. She also said Spottedcrow likely will have to pay additional filing fees and could even be ordered to pay the costs associated with her incarceration.
“At the end of the day, there are Oklahoma kids who are without their mother,” McAfee said of Spottedcrow’s situation. “There is a woman who is serving even more of an already unjust sentence, and we’re only setting her up to have to pay more fines and fees for a longer time.”
One of the difficulties of living with a developmental disability — or living with someone living with a disability — is the feeling of being alone.
That’s why Kevin Harper wanted to get as many of those folks together as he could.
“The objective was to bring everyone together — to introduce them to the vendors who offer these services,” Harper said during Tulsa’s first Developmental Disabilities Awareness Rally at the Guthrie Green on Tuesday evening. “A lot of people really don’t know what’s out there.”
Several hundred people moved among the vendor booths, were entertained by the Owasso varsity cheer squad, watched an introductory video from U.S. Sen. James Lankford and danced with Miss Oklahoma, Addison Price. They also heard from several agency clients.
One of those was Katy Lew, who said she worked many years at Saint Francis Medical Center.
“People with disabilities can do things when given a chance,” she said. “We may look different and act differently, but we all have the same parts.”
Harper, director of marketing and business development for A New Leaf, said a recent survey showed that Tulsans in general don’t know much about the area’s developmentally disabled people and the agencies that support them.
“For instance,” he said, “A New Leaf has been around 40 years, and people don’t know about us.”
A New Leaf, like the other vendors, helps individuals with a wide range of disabilities achieve their potential and live more independent lives. Many people don’t know about such services, Harper said, or can’t afford them.
“Only about 50 percent of people with disabilities have a family that can support them,” he said.
That is a particular challenge in Oklahoma, where more than 10,000 people are on a waiting list for state aid for the developmentally disabled. The Legislature has taken steps in the past year to reduce that list, and Gov. Kevin Stitt has promised to bring it down significantly during his tenure.
But it is a daunting task.
“There are 29,000 people with disabilities just in Green Country,” Harper said.
Before joining some of the clients in a group dance, Price told them she understood how many of them felt.
“Everybody here can relate to that feeling of insecurity,” she said.
Price has talked openly about her early struggles with dyslexia.
“I was so shy I wouldn’t order off a menu in a restaurant,” she said. “I would tell my mother what I wanted, and she would have to order for me.”
Eventually, Price said, she decided that “I wasn’t weird, I was just different. … I hope as you listen to stories tonight you hear little pieces of yourselves.”