A shootout among rival biker gangs at a popular Central Texas restaurant left nine people dead and 18 injured, and sent panicked patrons and bystanders fleeing for safety, a police spokesman said Sunday.
The violence erupted shortly after noon at a busy Waco shopping center along Interstate 35 that draws a large lunchtime crowd. Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said eight people died at the scene of the shooting at Twin Peaks Sports Bar and Grill and another person died at a hospital.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara, whose office is involved in the investigation, said all nine who were killed were members of the Bandidos or Cossacks gangs.
Swanton said 18 people who were taken to hospitals with injuries that include stab and gunshot wounds were gang members. Some victims are being treated for both, Swanton said.
“In 34 years of law enforcement this is the worst crime scene, the most violent crime scene that I’ve ever been involved in,” Swanton told the Dallas Morning News. “Dead people are still there. There’s blood everywhere. We will probably approach the number of 100 weapons that we’ve recovered.”
Dozens of motorcycles were parked in a nearby lot Sunday. Bodies were found in the parking lot of Twin Peaks and in another adjacent lot for a family restaurant.
At least 100 people were detained, Swanton said late Sunday night.
Swanton said at least five rival gangs gathered at Twin Peaks for a meeting that he said focused on turf and recruitment, two areas where the groups have often clashed. Preliminary findings indicate a dispute broke out in a bathroom and then spilled into the restaurant where it escalated to include clubs, knives, chains and firearms, he said. There were 150 to 200 gang members inside the restaurant at the time.
Police were aware of the meeting in advance, and at least 12 Waco officers in addition to state troopers were outside the restaurant, part of a national chain that features scantily clad waitresses, when the fight began.
"This is one of the worst gun fights we've ever had in the city limits. They started shooting at our officers," Swanton told KCEN-TV, the local NBC affiliate.
Officers shot armed bikers, Swanton said, adding that the actions of law enforcement prevented further deaths. It was not known if any of the nine dead were killed by police officers.
When the shooting ended, bodies were scattered across two parking lots.
“These are very dangerous hostile biker gangs,” Swanton said. “A lot of innocent people could have been injured today.”
Swanton said that the restaurant's operators also were aware of the meeting in advance and would not cooperate with authorities.
"Apparently the management (of Twin Peaks) wanted them here and so we didn't have any say-so on whether they could be here or not," Swanton said.
Three armed gang members were later arrested when they attempted to enter the shooting scene to retaliate against rival members, Swanton said. Officers with numerous law enforcement agencies were seen parked along the service road for I-35 near the city. Swanton said authorities are increasing security in the area to prevent further violence among the gangs.
In addition to local and state police, agents from the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also at the scene about an hour and a half south of Dallas.
According to Bloomberg, "Twin Peaks is the most successful example of a new generation of restaurants, what people in the industry euphemistically refer to as 'the attentive service sector' or, as they’re more casually known, 'breastaurants.'" It is one of the fastest growing chains in the U.S., launched a decade ago as an alternative to the increasingly family-friendly Hooters, where waitresses wear uniforms less revealing than those at Twin Peaks.
A statement sent Sunday night on behalf of Jay Patel, operating partner for the Waco Twin Peaks franchise, said, "Our management team has had ongoing and positive communications with the police," and added that the restaurant was cooperating with the investigation.
Rick Van Warner, a spokesman for the Dallas-based corporate franchisor, said the company is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the shooting and is "seriously considering revoking" the Waco location's franchise agreement.
Al Jazeera with wire services