Carson City gunman kills 4, self in IHOP attack; 7 hurt
September 6, 2011
CARSON CITY – A gunman armed with an AK-47 rifle opened fire on and inside an IHOP restaurant Tuesday in south Carson City, injuring seven people and killing four and himself. Among the dead were two women and two men. Three of the victims were members of the Nevada National Guard, according to officials.
Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said Eduardo Sencion, 32, then turned the AK47 on himself eight minutes into the shooting, which was first reported at 8:58 a.m. Sencion was taken from the scene by ambulance and pronounced dead at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center in Carson City two hours later, the sheriff said.
The gunman’s motive was not clear.
“At this point, we have no idea why he did what he did,” said Furlong.
Multiple medical helicopters ferried wounded to area hospitals while authorities temporarily shut down busy Interstate 395, just yards from the scene of the shooting.
According to Furlong, at least five uniformed Nevada National Guard soldiers were having breakfast in the IHOP and were among the dead and injured. At least two of the dead were still at the scene. A body covered with a sheet lay on the grass near the IHOP’s front entrance for much of the morning.
Ralph Swagler, owner of the adjacent Locals BBQ restaurant, told the Nevada Appeal that he saw the gunman pull up in a minivan, get out and begin firing an automatic rifle at the IHOP. The gunman then reloaded and went inside the IHOP, and Swagler said he heard more gunshots inside the restaurant.
Swagler said Sencion then emerged from the IHOP and turned his ire toward the surrounding businesses. Bullets riddled Swagler’s building, an H&R Block tax office and the Casino Fandango across the highway.
Furlong described Sencion’s movement as circular.
Carson City investigators traced the registration on the minivan, in which a second automatic rifle was found along with a pistol, to Sencion’s brother’s home off Jodi Lane. A family member at the brother’s home gave police the address to Sencion’s parents in east Carson City.
Officers converged on that address but found it empty, said Furlong.
Affadavits in support of search warrants for both address were sealed.
Furlong declined to say whether he thought the shooting was linked to Sunday’s 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or was aimed at the National Guardsmen who were at the restaurant for what he described as an unplanned breakfast.
The Carson City Sheriff’s Office was assisted in the investigation by the FBI, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Nevada Department of Public Safety.
As the attack unfolded, Nevada state officials worried about the violence being more widespread. They locked down the state Capitol and Supreme Court buildings for about 40 minutes and put extra security in place at state and military buildings across northern Nevada.
“There were concerns at the onset, so we took certain steps to ensure we had the capability to embrace an even larger circumstance,” Furlong said. “At this point in time, it appears to be isolated to this parking lot.”
Reno-based FBI Special Agent Michael West said there was no indication of any terrorist plot.
As police interviewed dozens of witnesses after the shooting and kept the gathering crowd of media at bay, a body lay on the ground, covered with a white sheet except for the feet, clad in tan boots.
Sencion was born in Mexico and had a valid U.S. passport. In interviews with investigators after the shooting, his family raised concerns about his mental health, Furlong said. Sencion worked at his family’s business in South Lake Tahoe and had no criminal history. The minivan he drove to the shooting was registered to his brother.
The shooting shocked some who knew him, including Joe Laub, his lawyer in a bankruptcy filing in January 2009, who called it an “aberration of his character.”
“He’s a gentle, kind man who was very helpful to friends and family,” Laub told The Associated Press. “I couldn’t venture to guess what would cause him to do something as horrible as this.”
In the bankruptcy filing, Sencion listed more than $42,000 in outstanding debts including a car loan, several credit cards and some medical expenses. At the time, Sencion reported having $200 spread over three bank accounts and $923 a month in disability income, mostly from Social Security.
At a Reno hospital, service members gathered, waiting for word on those killed and hurt. A hospital spokesman said four shooting victims were being treated there, but wouldn’t discuss their conditions or provide any other information.
“You go a whole tour in Afghanistan and no one is shot. And you go to IHOP, and several are shot,” said 31-year-old Sgt. First Class Cameron Anderson of Reno, a Nevada Army National Guard member. “It’s a shock. I came to work today and had no idea I’d be driving the chaplain here (to the hospital.)”
Another Guard member, 33-year-old Spc. Lee Amato, said he didn’t know the victims’ names but expected that they were people he knew.
“It’s hard to believe something like this would happen to really good people,” Amato said. “It’s like a hole, something taken away. It’s mind-boggling and hard to comprehend.”
The IHOP is about 4 miles from the Guard’s headquarters complex.
Furlong says officials are analyzing the shooter’s weapon to determine whether it is automatic or semi-automatic.
– The Associated Press contributed to this article.