Chaos erupted in the parking lot of a Texas restaurant Sunday afternoon as rival biker gangs exchanged fire with each other and police, leaving 9 dead and at least 18 wounded in what one officer called “one of the worst gun fights that we’ve had in the city limits of Waco.”
Police told KXXV-TV that all of the victims were gang members (read about the victims here) who had gathered at the Twin Peaks restaurant. At least 18 others were, also all bikers, were injured. The extent of those injuries wasn’t immediately released.
The bikers were attending the Texas Region 1 Confederation of Clubs and Independents meeting, according to the United Clubs of Waco website.
Sgt. Patrick Swanton said innocent bystanders and officers somehow managed to escape injury, including a restaurant full of families just feet away from the one where the shooting started.
“Let’s just say it’s Sunday and someone was looking out for us,” Swanton said. “There were so many rounds fired from bad guy weapons here.”
Police said Monday morning that 170 people were arrested in connection with the shooting and will all face engaging in organized crime charges.
See a list of the bikers who have been arrested here.
The investigation is continuing. Swanton said the charge is a serious one, and more charges, including capital murder, could be filed against some of the bikers who are in custody.
Security was stepped up security on Monday over fears of retaliation or further violence, including against police.
“Threats have been made to kill our uniformed officers,” Swanton said Monday at a press conference. The police news website GoHeroes.us posted an officer safety alert warning that the biker gangs were looking to kill officers in Waco.
The names of the gangs haven’t been officially released, but the Bandidos, Scimitars and Cossacks were seen at the restaurant. Police said there were at least 100 bikers at the scene and at least five gangs involved.
Photos also show members of the Leathernecks, Veterans, Kottonmouths and Los Pirados, though it wasn’t immediately clear which, if any, of the other clubs they are affiliated with. It is also not yet known if they were involved in the fighting.
More than 100 weapons were recovered at the scene.
The restaurant is in a shopping center called the Central Texas Market Place.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Officers Were at the Scene When the Shooting Started & Exchanged Fire With the Bikers
Police said uniformed officers were at the scene when the shooting started and did fire shots. About 12 Waco officers and members of the Texas Department of Public Safety were at the scene, including a SWAT team, prior to the shooting.
“We were in marked cars. They knew we were here, they knew that we’ve been here at their past events. And it mattered not to them,” Waco Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said at a news conference, which was posted online by KXXV. “That tells you the kind of level of people we’re dealing with.”
Swanton said the officers “treated it as an active shooter scene,” with the potential citizens could have been killed or injured.
The bikers fired at the police, but none of the officers were injured.
“Their action has saved lives by keeping this from spilling into a busy Sunday morning,” Swanton told the Waco Tribune.
Swanton said guns, chains, knives and clubs were used by the rival gang members.
“The fight broke out inside (Twin Peaks) and spilled into the parking lot,” Swanton said.
He said it “progressed very rapidly from hands and feet as weapons,” to chains, clubs and knives, and then progressed further as officers moved to the scene.
“Gunfire broke out on the part of the criminal biker gangs,” Swanton said. The gangs were shooting at each other, and police also opened fire on the armed gang members.
Police said the scene was still not safe, and closed down the Central Texas Market Place, where the shooting occurred.
“Officers are continuing to arrest individuals coming to the scene with weapons,” police said in a post on their Facebook page. “This is not the time to sight see as we are dealing with very dangerous individuals.”
The ATF is also sending agents to the scene.
Police said state and county agencies were also participating in the investigation.
Swanton said it was the most violent crime scene he’s seen in his 34 years in law enforcement.
The scene remained active Sunday night and Swanton said it would take some time for the investigation to be completed. He said investigators were treating the dead bikers with respect.
“They are still humans, still individuals with family. We are doing everything we can to protect their dignity and treat them as such,” Swanton said. “It’s a very gruesome and very violent crime scene. There are still weapons laying scattered all over the parking lot. There is a lot to process.”
2. Police Say the Restaurant Management Was at Least Partially at Fault for the Shooting
Police said the business could have done more to prevent the violence.
Waco Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton told the Waco Tribune, “Management knew that there were issues, and we were here, but they continued to let those groups of people into their business.”
“Apparently the management wanted them here, so we didn’t have any say so on whether they could be here or not,” Swanton said.
“A lot of innocent people could have been injured today,” Swanton said. “These are very dangerous, hostile criminal biker gangs.”
Local District Attorney Abel Reyna told KWTX about two weeks ago that trouble between rival bikers had been brewing at Twin Peaks for some time. He said police were on heightened alert because of incidents during Biker Night on Thursdays.
He said two local motorcycle gangs were feuding and it spilled over as others from the Dallas-Fort Worth area came to Waco to support the local gangs.
The operating partner for the restaurant, Jay Patel, posted a statement on Facebook:
We are horrified by the criminal, violent acts that occurred outside of our Waco restaurant today. We share in the community’s trauma. Our priority is to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for our customers and employees, and we consider the police our partners in doing so. Our management team has had ongoing and positive communications with the police and we will continue to work with them as we all want to keep violent crime out of our businesses and community. We will continue to cooperate with the police as they investigate this terrible crime.
Swanton, the police spokesman, said the statement that the restaurant management cooperated with police an “absolute fabrication,” according to The Austin American-Statesman.
The restaurant’s corporate Twitter account posted after the shooting:
A spokesman for the Dallas-based company told the AP they are reviewing the circumstances surrounding the shooting and are “seriously considering revoking” the Waco location’s franchise agreement.
He said he couldn’t say what the franchise owners “did or didn’t do leading up to this,” and added the company is “very upset that clearly our standards of safety and security were not upheld in this particular case.”
But Rick Van Warner, a spokesman for the Dallas-based corporate franchiser, said the company is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the shooting and is “seriously considering revoking” the Waco location’s franchise agreement.
Swanton said Monday morning that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Control agency is implementing a summary suspension, closing the restaurant for seven days.
“This is not a punitive action on TABC’s part but done due to the ongoing danger it presents to the community,” Swanton said in a post on the department’s Facebook page. “They are conducting a parallel investigation and further action may be forthcoming.”
3. Witnesses Described a Harrowing Scene as Gunfire Erupted
Witnesses told KWTX that they ran for cover when the shooting started.
“We crouched down in front of our pick-up truck because that was the only cover we had,” the man, who asked not to be identified, said.
Another witness told the Waco Tribune it was like a war zone.
“There were maybe 30 guns being fired in the parking lot, maybe 100 rounds,” said Michelle Logan. She was at the restaurant and said she knows some of the victims. “They just opened fire.”
She said people scattered after the shooting began, adding that it did not seem like a random event.
“It was a set up,” she said.
Swanton, the police department’s spokesman, said there were many families in the Don Carlos Mexican Restaurant next to Twin Peaks, but not in Twin Peaks itself. The restaurants are within feet of each other.
He said it would be “pretty obvious which restaurant” families would choose after seeing law enforcement officers and “bikers flying with colors.”
4. The Restaurant Is Known for its Bikini-Clad Waitresses & Hosted Bike Nights
The shooting happened in the parking lot of the restaurant, which is known for its bikini-clad waitresses known as “Twin Peaks Girls.”
There are several locations across the United States.
The Waco location had posted on its Facebook page advertising “Sunday Funday” not long before the shooting. Staff posted on the page after the shooting to say that customers and employees were not injured, but they faced criticism from other posters.
The post has since been deleted.
Marc Griffin said, “Great job management team at Twin Peaks, lets put people in danger for no reason but to make money…..wont be back ever and who ever the “Management team” is here should be fired!”
“Why did you ignore the police about the dangers today? Did you simply not care about your customers? Do your profits mean more to you than human life? You were warned about this for weeks yet did nothing to prevent it. Twin Peaks, you are responsible for this fiasco and the loss of life today. I see possible charges being filed against your establishment as well as civil suits to come. I hope you are run out of business!,” Wanda Sharp posted.
Jarod Pathcin wrote, “I cannot believe your restaurant would basically support gang violence by continuing serve criminal biker gangs. You have done a great disservice to our community and I hope every one in Waco realizes how much danger your establishment has brought in to our community and refuses to eat here in the future.”
And Toni Riggs said, “I hope they charge the manager with obstruction for not cooperating with local authorities And placing innocent lives in danger. What a loser!”
5. The Gangs Wanted to ‘Instill Violence Into Our Community’
The Scimitars and Cossacks appeared to be aligned.
According to the BigCountryHomePage.com, the president of the Abilene, Texas chapter of the Bandidos, Curtis Jack Lewis, was arrested in November 2013 on charges that he stabbed two members of the Cossacks during a fight outside a restaurant.
The police department’s spokesman, Sgt. Patrick 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.”
“This is not a bunch of doctors and dentists and lawyers riding Harleys,” he said. “These are criminals on Harley-Davidsons.”
Swanton said they were lucky they had he intel they did and were able to get the scene under control quickly.
“(We are) extremely fortunate, this could have been much worse,” Swanton said.