EL PASO: Two mass shootings in a matter of hours left 29 people dead, fuelling an angry debate on America’s rampant gun violence and bringing new charges on Sunday that President Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric encourages extremist violence.

The rampages turned innocent snippets of everyday life into nightmares of bloodshed: 20 people shot dead while shopping at a crowded Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday morning, and nine more outside a bar in a popular nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio, just 13 hours later.

In Texas another 26 people were wounded, and 27 in Ohio. In Dayton, the shooter, armed with a long gun, was killed by police in less than a minute.

They just happened to be nearby, and prevented a casualty toll that could have gone into the hundreds, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said.

Still, in those few seconds the shooter managed to mow down dozens of people.

“You could see the bodies actually start to fall and we knew it was bigger than just even a shoot-out,” Anthony Reynolds, who was outside the Dayton bar when the shooting started, told NBC News.

Reynolds described the shooter as a white man dressed all in black, with his face covered and armed with an assault rifle. Authorities have not identified this shooter but news outlets also said he was white.

In Texas, a suspect surrendered shortly after the massacre and was described in media as a 21-year-old white man named Patrick Crusius who might have posted online a manifesto denouncing a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. El Paso, on the border with Mexico, is majority Latino.

The manifesto posted shortly before the shooting began praised the killing of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March and the person who wrote it indicated he expected to die in the shooting.

Terrified shoppers cowered in aisles or ran out of the store as gunfire echoed.

These were the 250th and 251st mass shootings this year in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an NGO. It defines mass shooting as an incident in which at least four people are wounded or killed in a shooting.

On Twitter President Donald Trump described the El Paso attack as “an act of cowardice”. On Sunday morning he tweeted again saying “God bless the people of El Paso Texas. God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio.”

But critics hit hard at Trump, saying his custom of speaking in derogatory terms about immigrants is pushing hatred of foreigners into the political mainstream and encouraging white supremacist thinking that encourages violence.

“To pretend that his administration and the hateful rhetoric it spreads doesn’t play a role in the kind of violence that we saw yesterday in El Paso is ignorant at best and irresponsible at worst,” said the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a major civil rights group.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2019

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