Gunman identified as South Lake Tahoe employee with history of mental health issues
Tribune News Service
CARSON CITY, Nev. – A gunman armed with an AK47 rifle opened fire on and inside an IHOP restaurant Tuesday in south Carson City, injuring eight people and killing three and himself. Among the dead were two members of the Nevada National Guard, according to officials.
Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said Eduardo Sencion, 31, 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.
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.
South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler said the department had contact with Sencion in April 2000 during a mental health commitment.
Sencion fought with police officers during the incident, but was not charged with a crime, Uhler said.
He declined to provided further details, saying he did not want to step on the toes of the lead investigators on the case. The report of the incident is being turned over to Carson City investigators, Uhler said.
He said he knew of no other contacts with South Lake Tahoe police since April 2000.
According to Furlong, at least five uniformed Nevada National Guard soldiers were eating breakfast in the IHOP and were among the dead and injured. At least two of the died 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 minivan he drove to the shooting was registered to his brother.
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 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 assisted the Carson City Sheriff’s Office.
As the attack unfolded, Nevada state officials worried about the violence becoming 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.
The shooting shocked some who knew Sencion, 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.
– Tribune reporter Adam Jensn and The Associated Press contributed to this article.