A gunman set fire to several homes in Houston in the early hours of Sunday morning and then opened fire on the victims as they fled the flames, killing three before being shot dead by police, authorities said.
The chilling ambush unfolded around 1 a.m. on Dunlap Street in southwest Houston as unsuspecting residents slept inside their homes.
Houston police said the suspect, a black man in his 40s who is believed to have recently been evicted from the building, set several residences on fire in an attempt to lure victims out.
The gunman then waited in the dark, disguised as black and armed with a shotgun.
As terrified residents ran from the building to escape the fire, the attacker opened fire on them.
Police said some firefighters were already on the scene when the shooting began and were forced to take cover by the gunfire. It is unclear whether the gunman was shooting at the firefighters or not.
A Houston police officer immediately arrived on the scene and found the gunman prone with a shotgun in the parking lot across the street from the residence.
The officer shot and killed the gunman, police said.
Five other people were injured in the attack, three of them fatally.
Two of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene, while a third victim succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
The other two victims were injured but survived, with only one – a man in his 40s – going to hospital for treatment for a gunshot wound to his arm.
No law enforcement or emergency personnel were injured in the incident.
The identities of the gunman and the victims have not been released. The three dead victims were described as two white men in their 60s and a black man in his 40s.
The motive for the terrorist attack remains unclear and it is unclear whether the victims knew the perpetrator.
But Houston Police Chief Troy Finer said the gunman may have recently been evicted from the property described as a multi-room rental residence.
The police chief said the eviction “may have been the trigger” for the attacker.
Speaking at an early morning press conference at the scene, Chief Finner said he had never encountered such an incident in his long career.
“I’ve seen things I haven’t seen in 32 years, and it’s happened over and over again,” he said.
“And people are asking the police chief and the leaders why — and we don’t know why … We’re just asking for the community to come together.”
He added: “This is sad what is happening in this nation.”
Chief Finer praised the actions of the officer who shot the suspect, saying he was “proud” of his quick action to end the shooting and may have saved more lives from being lost.
Per department policy, the officer — a seven-year veteran — will be placed on administrative leave pending a review, and the body camera footage will be released within the next 30 days.