Odessa and Midland police and sheriff's deputies surround a white van in Odessa, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, after reports of gunfire. Police said there are "multiple gunshot victims" in West Texas after reports of gunfire on Saturday in the area of Midland and Odessa. Photo: Tim Fischer/Midland Reporter-Telegram via AP.

Odessa - Four weeks after a gunman opened fire on customers at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, another mass shooting has claimed five lives and left 21 wounded in Texas.

The tragedy unfolded around 3:30 Saturday afternoon, and the rampage, which lasted nearly two hours, left residents of the twin cities of Midland and Odessa reeling.

The shootings began with a traffic stop and ended in an exchange of gunfire with police in a movie theater parking lot. The attacks were all the more terrifying for their apparent randomness.

Details have yet to be released on the victims and, according to Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke, the wounded include three law enforcement officers.

The shooter, who was firing from his vehicle, has only been identified as a white male in his 30s. His motives were unclear.

"Grab your loved ones. Pray for this town," said Russell Tippin, chief executive officer of the hospital where some of the victims were being treated.

"This is a scary incident," he added in an interview with a local television station.

The shootings mark what has become an especially deadly summer of gun violence across the country.

In July, three people were killed by a gunman at a festival in Gilroy, California, and on the day after the El Paso shooting, nine people were killed in Dayton, Ohio.

But Saturday's shooting comes at a time when Texans are still feeling shaken by the killings in El Paso.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who recently formed a commission to look into the El Paso shootings and planned to visit Odessa on Sunday, said in a statement: "I want to remind all Texans that we will not allow the Lone Star State to be overrun by hatred and violence."

Democratic presidential hopeful and El Paso native Beto O'Rouke reacted to the shooting on Twitter, saying, "Our hearts are with Midland, Odessa, and everyone in West Texas who had to endure this again ... . We need to end this epidemic."

"Our community is devastated," said John B. Love, a City Council member in Midland. "It's just really, really horrible."

Love, who supports gun rights, added that the country needs to have a conversation about mass shootings "because lives depend on it."

"Something has to be done," he said.

Residents of Midland and Odessa had been busy celebrating the start of Labor Day weekend. A nine-day country fair - the Permian Basin Fair and Exposition - had opened Friday with pig races, a tractor pull and a Wild West show.

Less than 24 hours later, law enforcement officers were advising motorists to keep off the roads.

"Active Shooter! Please Share!" read a posting on the Facebook page for the Odessa Police Department.

At the time there were unconfirmed reports of a second gunman, only adding to the chaos of the rapid evolving shooting rampage, which began with a trooper from the Department of Public Safety being shot after stopping the gunman's gold Honda between Midland and Odessa.

The shooter then drove west into Odessa, according to police, and began "shooting at random people."

Zindy Galindo was heading to Walmart that afternoon with her 3-year-old son when she was nearly cut off by an erratic driver who shot at the vehicle ahead of her.

Galindo heard the gunfire, not knowing at first what it was. Then she saw the back window of the vehicle in front of her shatter.

"At that point, I panicked," she said, "and called my husband."

She continued to the Walmart, thinking it was a case of road rage, but when she saw people running through the parking lot, she knew it more serious.

When the gold Honda passed by, the driver still shooting, she said, "I grabbed my son out of the car seat and hid on the floor of my SUV."

The gunman had apparently chosen 42nd Street in Odessa as his target. One of Odessa's main drags, 42nd Street has a number of retail businesses - Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Starbucks - crowded with Saturday shoppers.

Vehicles parked along the street were punctured with bullets. A 17-month-old girl was among the bystanders wounded in the attack.

Hit in the face with a bullet fragment, she was flown to Lubbock for treatment, according to family friend, and was in stable condition Saturday night.

A restaurant worker described the chaos of people screaming and upending chairs as they tried to find cover.

Reporters at CBS 7, who were covering the shooting from their studios inside a shopping mall, were ordered to evacuate by police, who initially believed the shooter was nearby.

They continued to report remotely on the mayhem of shoppers running through the mall until police determined the mall was clear.

The shooter fired indiscriminately along 42nd Street, and at some point abandoned his vehicle, hijacked a mail truck and continued firing.

An unidentified witness told the local television station that her letter carrier had been shot in the head during the theft of the vehicle.

Jorge Nieto was at his parent's home in Odessa, scrolling through Facebook, when he began seeing posts calling attention to an active shooter in his neighborhood.

Walking to the front of the house, he looked outside his window and saw a body lying on the street. He wasn't certain if it was the postal carrier or another victim.

"I didn't hear any gunshots," he said. "I was confused. I thought someone got in a fight."

Nieto also described seeing a mail truck nearby with police vehicles approaching.

"It's normal for us to see four or five cop cars in this part of town," he said.

The shooter was en route to a movie theater complex, where after colliding with a law enforcement vehicle in the parking lot he exchanged gunfire with police officers and died.

Movie patrons fled the theater and flooded the parking lot. Some took cover in a dirt field in view of the shooting of the suspect.

Video showed police approaching the stolen postal truck with their guns drawn and firing.

Officials declined to comment on whether the shooter was killed by police officers or took his own life.

As victims lie in hospitals, recovering from the shootings in El Paso and now in Odessa, the newly formed Texas Safety Commission has been meeting to consider what Governor Abbott has described as the "next step" in responding robustly and rapidly to such shootings.

tca/dpa