At least 29 people have been killed and dozens wounded in two mass shootings within 13 hours of each other in the United States.
The first assault occurred on Saturday morning in the border city of El Paso in Texas, where a gunman killed 20 people at a Walmart store before surrendering to the police.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the gun assault appeared to be a hate crime, and police cited a “manifesto” they attributed to the suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.
A four-page statement posted on an online message board and believed to have been written by the suspect, called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.
John Bash, the US attorney for the Western District of Texas, said federal authorities were treating the shooting as a case of “domestic terrorism”.
“And we will do what we do with terrorists in this country, which is to deliver swift and certain justice,” he said on Sunday. A state prosecutor said they would seek the death penalty for the suspect.
Analysis: Why are Americans resistant to gun law changes? (4:35)
Across the country, a second gunman dressed in body armour opened fire in a central district of Dayton, Ohio, early on Sunday, killing nine people and wounding at least 27 others.
Police officers who were on routine patrol nearby arrived on the scene in less than a minute and shot the attacker dead, likely preventing a much higher casualty toll, police and the city’s mayor said.
The motive behind the shooting was not immediately clear, and investigators believe the individual had acted alone, said Assistant Police Chief Matt Carper.
Carper identified the suspect as 24-year-old Connor Betts, a white male from Bellbrook, Ohio, and said his sister Megan Betts, 22, was among those killed.
The victims were four women and five men and ranged in age from 22 to 57, authorities said, adding that the youngest was the gunman’s sister. Six of the nine people killed were African-American.
“There isn’t much discrimination in the shooting,” Carper told reporters. “It happened in a very short period of time.”
The attacks came less than a week after a 19-year-old gunman killed three people and injured 13 others at the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival in California before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
US President Donald Trump branded the El Paso shooting “an act of cowardice” in a Twitter post on Saturday.
On Sunday, he said state and local authorities were working together to investigate both attacks, and ordered flags on all government buildings to be flown at half mast for the next five days to mourn the victims of “these two senseless attacks”.
The El Paso shooting reverberated on the campaign trail for next year’s US presidential election, with several Democratic candidates repeating calls for tighter gun control measures and others drawing connections to a resurgence in white nationalism and xenophobic politics in the country.
Several candidates pointed a finger at Trump, a claim the White House dismissed as “ridiculous”.
A hallmark of Trump’s presidency has been his determination to curb illegal immigration, and the Republican president has drawn criticism for comments disparaging Mexican immigrants and referring to the flood of migrants trying to enter through the US southern border as an “invasion”.
In recent weeks, critics accused Trump of racism after his attacks on members of Congress who are members of racial or ethnic minorities.
“Donald Trump is responsible for this. He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry,” Senator Cory Booker, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said on CNN’s “State of the Union”.
Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, said he believed Trump was a white nationalist whose anti-immigrant rhetoric stoked divisions.
“Let’s be very clear about what is causing this and who the president is,” O’Rourke said on CNN. “He is an open avowed racist and is encouraging more racism in this country.”
US Senator Bernie Sanders also took Trump to task. “We must come together as a nation to reject this dangerous and growing culture of bigotry espoused by Trump and his allies,” he said late on Saturday.
The White House cannot shirk its responsibility in shaping the public discourse, said Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. “There’s no question that white nationalism is condoned at the highest levels of our government,” he told “Fox News Sunday”.
“He’s spoken about immigrants as being invaders. He’s given licence for this toxic brew of white supremacy to fester more and more in this country, and we’re seeing the results of that,” presidential candidate Julian Castro, the former Democratic mayor of San Antonio, said on ABC’s “This Week”.
Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, rebutted the Democrats’ allegations and attributed the shootings to “sick” individuals.
“There’s no benefit here in trying to make this a political issue, this is a social issue and we need to address it as that,” he said on ABC’s “This Week”.
Scott Lucas, professor of politics at University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, said Trump was to blame.
“I think we need to be honest and say that the man in the White House and other politicians, when they use anti-migrant language, when they use language that targets those of a different colour or a different religion, they don’t put the guns in the shooter’s hands, but they provide the excuses for those guns to be used,” he told Al Jazeera.
“So it’s not enough to simply condemn bigotry, there needs to be responsible action by all politicians and if they are not responsible, they need to called out as accomplices.”