HOUSTON » A disgruntled lawyer wearing military-style apparel with old Nazi emblems had two weapons and more than 2,500 rounds of live ammunition when he randomly shot at drivers in a Houston neighborhood today before he was shot and killed by police, authorities said.
Nine people were injured during this morning’s shootings on the street in front of a condo complex; six were shot and three had eye injuries from flying glass. One person was in critical condition and another in serious condition, officials said.
Houston Homicide Capt. Dwayne Ready and Interim Police Chief Martha Montalvo did not identify the man and did not have information about a motive. A bomb-squad robot examined a Porsche that police said belonged to the gunman; Texas motor vehicle records in a commercially available database showed the car is licensed to Nathan DeSai at an address in the condo complex.
The property manager of the condo complex also confirmed that police were going through DeSai’s residence, where Ready said vintage military items dating to the Civil War and other guns were found in the man’s apartment.
Authorities first received reports of the shootings about 6:30 a.m., and the man began firing at officers when they arrived. The man had two legally purchased guns — a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun and a semi-automatic rifle commonly known as a Tommy gun —and an unsheathed knife, Ready said. He also noted that there were 75 spent casings at the scene, which were from officers and the gunman.
Ready said nine officers — five with the Houston Police Department and four with two other local agencies — “engaged the suspect who was shooting randomly at passersby as well as anybody he could put his sights on.”
During the shootout, one driver was shot and one of the officers “left cover to take that citizen to safety while the other officers engaged the subject,” he said.
Mayor Sylvester Turner told KTRK-TV in Houston that DeSai was a lawyer who was “disgruntled” and was “either fired or had a bad relationship with this law firm.” But DeSai’s former law partner, Kenneth McDaniel, disputed that assertion, saying they jointly closed their 12-year-old law firm in February due to economic conditions related to Houston’s energy industry downturn.
McDaniel also said he hadn’t had contact with DeSai lately and that police called him this morning to check on his safety, though they didn’t explain why.
“He went his way with his practice and I went with mine,” McDaniel said, adding, “All I can say it’s a horrible situation. I’m sad for everyone involved.”
Calls placed to phone numbers connected to DeSai and his father were not immediately answered. DeSai’s father, Prakash DeSai, told KTRK that his son lived in the condo complex and drives a black Porsche. He also said his son, whom he saw Sunday, was upset because “his law practice is not going well” and stays upset “because of his personal problems.”
Perrye Turner, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Houston Division, said officials don’t believe the incident is tied to terrorism.
The entrance to the condo complex, which is in southwest Houston near the affluent enclave of West University Place, was blocked off with police tape late this morning. Several cars with bullet holes and shattered windows were at a nearby strip mall.
Jennifer Molleda and her husband live in the same condo complex as Nathan DeSai. Though she heard gunshots about 6:12 a.m. and called 911, her husband left for work. The 45-year-old called not long after, and he told her, “I’m hit, I’m hit.”
After the shooting stopped at 7:15 a.m., Molleda found her husband, 49-year-old Alan Wakim, several blocks away in the parking lot of a strip mall. His Mustang had two shots that went through the windshield, and he told her that he saw a red laser beam before the shots were fired. He was taken to a hospital to be treated.
“He got out of his car, we hugged, we cried,” Molleda said, adding that after she saw everything, she believes DeSai was “aiming to kill.”
Molleda said she didn’t know DeSai very well, and described him as quiet. “He’s a normal, average Joe,” she said.
Jason Delgado, the property manager of The Oaks at West University condo complex, said DeSai was involved in two recent incidents at the complex.
In August, Delgado said, police were called after roofers working in the complex said DeSai pointed an assault-style rifle at them. He says there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward with charges because the man contended he didn’t point the gun at roofers. Molleda mentioned the same incident.
Last week, DeSai became upset because of water pressure problems at his home, asked for maintenance help and expressed his displeasure in an email to the management firm that implied he’d “intimidate his way to getting what he was asking for,” Delgado said.
Another witness, 30-year-old Antwon Wilson, inadvertently drove into the shooting scene after dropping off his girlfriend at work and could “literally hear the gunfire flying.” He managed to flee and escape injury.
Lee Williams left his home in the neighborhood upon hearing gunshots and began directing traffic away from the condo complex, noting that people usually cut through the area to avoid some busier intersections. One car ignored him, he said, and was immediately shot at. Williams couldn’t see the gunman because it was dark, but believed he saw the muzzle flashes.
“Whatever cars were going by, he was shooting at them,” the 55-year-old said, noting he heard at least 50 gunshots over 40 or so minutes. As he was being interviewed, neighbors came by and patted him on the back, thanking him for keeping people safe.