Report offers look into moments before shootings

Prior to the City of Odessa releasing more than 70 police reports to the Odessa American, it was believed interaction between a Department of Public Safety trooper and a 36-year-old gunman, who killed seven people and wounded 25 others in Odessa, was a routine traffic stop.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Chuck Pryor reportedly pulled over Seth Aaron Ator, 36, for failure to signal Aug. 31, 2019, on Interstate 20.

However, a police report from Odessa Police Department officer Taylor Box detailed that a broadcast of reckless driver displaying a “long rifle,” which turned out to be Ator, and that DPS troopers were given information on Ator and that they attempted to find him at his home in West Odessa before Pryor was shot.

The report does not address if Pryor heard that broadcast before he pulled Ator over. Pryor was wounded during Ator’s rampage but has since returned to work. Calls and emails to DPS spokesperson Sgt. Oscar Villarreal were not immediately returned to address if Pryor heard the broadcast that day before pulling Ator over. Villarreal said via text message he was in a meeting Wednesday afternoon and asked to send him questions by email.

FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs said during a press conference on Sept. 2, 2019, that Ator had called the FBI national tip line about 15 minutes before he shot Pryor. Ator also reportedly spoke with Box for an unspecified amount of time on Cpl. James Santana’s personal cell phone prior to his more than one hour shooting spree around Odessa.

Shortly after Ator hung up with Box after claiming that his former employers were involved in a conspiracy to murder him and get away with it, dispatch broadcasted over the radio a “reckless driver traveling south the Southwest Loop 338 in a gold colored Toyota Camry,” the police report detailed. The complainant stated a white man was driving erratically and displaying a “long rifle.” Box checked the registration status and it was registered to Ator.

There were reportedly two DPS troopers on scene with Santana and Box who responded to see if the OPD officers needed assistance. Box stated after hearing the broadcast of the reckless driver that he notified dispatch to have the troopers respond to assist Santana in case Ator was returning to his former employer, Journey Oilfield Services.

Santana and Box grabbed their duty issued patrol rifles and prepared for Ator to arrive, the report detailed. The troopers arrived shortly after and dispatch said Ator was seen at the intersection of Crane Avenue and Murphy Street. Box told the troopers to gear up. Santana told Angel Madrid, the complainant at Journey Oilfield Services, to stay inside the business after hearing about Ator at Crane Avenue and Murphy Street.

Madrid reportedly told officers there was a job site located near that intersection in the 500 block of Murphy Street. Box broadcast over the radio to inform responding officers to locate Ator at the job site. Responding officers weren’t able to find Ator.

Box, Santana and the troopers stayed at Journey Oilfield Services for a short period of time in case Ator was still traveling to their location, but they never saw him or his vehicle pass by, the report stated. Box told the troopers all of the information they had collected about Ator — his vehicle description and a photograph of him from a jail record.

The troopers reportedly told Box and Santana they were going to attempt to locate Ator at his registered address from his license plate and left the scene. Santana and Box both left the Journey Oilfield Services.

Box started to head back to the police department when he heard dispatch broadcast a transmission that a DPS trooper, later identified as Pryor, had been shot off of Interstate 20, the reported detailed. Dispatch stated the suspect’s vehicle matched Ator’s and the vehicle was heading west on Interstate 20.

Box reportedly headed to the intersection of South County Road West and Interstate 20 after dispatch was unsure where Pryor was shot. Units were dispatched to the western and eastern side of Odessa off of Interstate 20.

When Box arrived at the intersection of Interstate 20 and South County Road West, he saw several troopers on the side of the road. He approached them and began to inform them of the vehicle license plate and Ator. One of the troopers was on the phone and stated Ator’s vehicle was last seen headed north on the Southeast Loop 338 from Interstate 20.

Dispatch stated there was a gunshot victim in the area of Southeast Loop and Trunk Street, the report detailed. Box traveled north on Country Road West to 42nd Street and then traveled east on 42nd Street as dispatch stated there were several gunshot victims across the northeastern portion of Odessa.