Police lights painted the night blue and red as reporters squeezed into a small sidewalk to try and get a glimpse of the scene where two men opened fire outside of an art exhibition in Garland on May 3.
The exhibition, hosted at the Curtis Culwell Center, was titled the “First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” and was sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group that has been known for its inflammatory remarks against Islam. Contestants drew caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which is considered sacrilegious by many Muslims. The winner of the contest was awarded $10,000 for the best cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
The keynote speaker at the event was Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has been placed on a hit-list by Al Qaeda for his controversial views on Islam. Wilders has spoken out against the immigration of Muslims and publicly criticized Islam in the past.
Just before 7 p.m. two men drove up to the center, got out and opened fire on Bruce Joiner, a Garland Independent School District security officer who was working at the event, said Garland police spokesman Joe Harn. Harn said Joiner was unarmed but was in uniform.
Harn said police officers saw what was happening and engaged the two men, shooting and killing both at the scene. Joiner was taken to a hospital with a wound to the ankle, where he was eventually released, Harn said.
According to ABC, FBI officials have named Elton Simpson, an Arizona man who was previously under a separate terror investigation, as one of the shooters. He was convicted in 2010 for lying to investigators about traveling to Africa, where investigators claimed he intended to join a terror group.
The other suspect, who appears to be Simpson’s roommate, has been identified as Nadir Soofi according to CNN.
Harn said there has not been a correlation between any religious motives and what occurred. He said that security had been increased for the event because of reactions to similar incidents in the past.
At the scene of the shooting, police had set a quarantine around the Culwell Center that made it impossible to get closer than half-a-mile away from the location.
TV reporters scrambled to get good shots as a handful of passerby and residents shyly looked on. Major networks such as Fox News and Al Jazeera all made a presence. Meanwhile, police armed with what appeared to be assault rifles redirected traffic away from the scene, sometimes forcing drivers who lived nearby to lose access to their homes.
Harn said that fears of a possible “incendiary device” at the scene led police to close off the area until they could investigate further.
“Because of what we have witnessed in the past around the world, it would be customary (for) somebody to come up and start shooting to possibly have incendiary devices in their vehicle,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re treating it that way. We don’t want anybody else hurt.”
A little before midnight, just as everything started to quiet down, police officers yelled at members of the media to find solid cover. As members of the press scrambled, unsure of what exactly was going on, two muffled explosions sounded in the distance. Officers could not answer whether or not the blasts came from a bomb going off or from a controlled detonation.
Harn later confirmed that police did not find bombs on the suspects or in their car.
The event was the second controversial gathering held at the Culwell Center this year. In January, an event called “Stand with the Prophet” was held there to counter Islamaphobia that had resurged after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. That event was protested by about 200 demonstrators without incident.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement condemning the attack.
“Texas officials are actively investigating to determine the cause and scope of the senseless attack in Garland, Texas,” he said. “This is a crime that was quickly ended thanks to the swift action by Garland law enforcement. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all those affected tonight.”
Listen to our interview on BBC Radio here