Waco restaurant shootout kills 9 members of rival biker gangs
Officers on hand when gunfire erupted, police spokesman says
The nine people killed in a shootout at a Texas restaurant on Sunday were all members of rival biker gangs that had gathered for a meeting, authorities said.
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said eight were killed at the Twin Peaks restaurant and another died in hospital. At least 18 other gang members were taken to hospitals for injuries suffered in the violence at a restaurant shortly after noon, he said.
Swanton said the gangs had arranged to meet to discuss differences when a fistfight began that quickly escalated to include knives and firearms. "Hundreds" of members from as many as five gangs and a small number of other patrons were in the restaurant, he said.
Tensions among the groups have focused on turf and recruitment efforts, Swanton said.
"There are still bodies on the scene of the parking lot at Twin Peaks," he said. "There are bodies that are scattered throughout the parking lot of the next adjoining business."
There are still bodies on the scene of the parking lot at Twin Peaks.- Sgt. Patrick Swanton, Waco police
A photo from the scene showed dozens of motorcycles parked in a lot. Among the bikes, at least three people wearing what appeared to be biker jackets were on the ground, two on their backs and one face down. Police were standing a few feet away in a group.
Several other people also wearing biker jackets were standing or sitting nearby.
"This is probably one of the most gruesome crime scenes I've ever seen in my 34 years of law enforcement," Swanton said, later adding, "I was amazed that we didn't have innocent civilians killed or injured."
Dozens of motorcycles were parked in a nearby lot Sunday. Bodies were found in the parking lot of Twin Peaks and in another adjacent lot for a family restaurant.
Swanton was clear about who the bikers are after a reporter said one of the bikers claimed that they are clubs, not gangs.
"They are a biker gang. We know exactly who they are," Swanton said at a televised news conference. "A bunch of criminal element biker members that came to Waco and tried to instill violence into our community and unfortunately did just that.
"These are criminals on Harley-Davidsons," he said, adding "dozens" of suspected gang members have been detained.
Swanton said police were aware in advance that at least three rival gangs would be gathering at the restaurant and at least 12 Waco officers in addition to state troopers were at the restaurant when the fight began.
When the shooting began in the restaurant and then continued outside, armed bikers were shot by officers, Swanton said, adding that the actions of law enforcement prevented further deaths. It was not known whether any of the nine dead were killed by police officers.
It's not known what triggered the violence but Swanton and McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said tensions had simmered among rival gangs for months.
"Apparently the management [of Twin Peaks] wanted them here and so we didn't have any say-so on whether they could be here or not," Swanton said.
A statement sent Sunday night on behalf of Jay Patel, operating partner for the Waco franchise, said, "Our management team has had ongoing and positive communications with the police," and added that the restaurant was co-operating with the investigation.
Franchise in jeopardy
But Rick Van Warner, a spokesman for the Dallas-based corporate franchisor, said the company is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the shooting and is "seriously considering revoking" the Waco location's franchise agreement.
"We're very upset that clearly our standards of safety and security were not upheld in this particular case," he said.
Three armed gang members were arrested when they attempted to enter the shooting scene to retaliate against rival members, he said. Authorities are increasing security in the area to prevent further violence among the gangs.
In addition to local and state police, federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents were also on the scene, according to the bureau's official Twitter account.