Waco, Texas, just off the I35, mid-day. In a scene which wouldn't have looked amiss in the grittiest Sons of Anarchy episode, nine bodies lay dead after a prolonged and bloody firefight between biker gangs. Here’s what we know about the incident so far…
SIX BIKER GANGS ARRIVED FOR A MEETING OVER A TURF DISPUTE
At least six rival biker gangs arrived at Waco’s Twin Peaks restaurants Peaks Sports Bar and Grill for a general meeting following disputes over turf and recruitment. Texas is an emerging battleground for outlaw motorcycle gangs and law officials had been monitoring growing the growing activity.
Police are currently holding back on publicly acknowledging the gangs involved but have described them as both “dangerous” and “hostile”.
In the press conference that followed the incident, Waco Police Sgt Patrick Swanton confirmed that while the police are aware of the specific gangs involved they would not currently "give them the privilege at this point [by] putting their names out there," adding, “This is not a bunch of doctors and dentists and lawyers riding Harleys… these are criminals on Harley Davidsons”.
However, according to several pictures that have emerged from the scenes alongside eye-witness reports, at least six known biker groups have been linked via various sources, including Leathernecks, Veterans, Los Pirados and Scimitars, allegedly aligned with the Cossacks.
The majority of reports would appear to be focusing on only two gangs as the main protagonists. These are:
Considered the world’s second largest biker gang after the Hells Angels, the US Department of Justice claims the Bandidos boast at many as 2,500 members in 13 different countries.
The group’s motto reads, ‘We are the people our parents warned us about,’ and was formed by Vietnam War veteran Donald Chambers in San Leon, Texas in 1966.
Previous high profile incidents have included an ‘internal cleansing’ in 2006 that left eight members dead, found shot in cars. And an equally violent turf war in Scandinavia against Hells Angels in the mid to late 90s.
Last year a gang threat assessment by the Texas Department of Public Safety classified the Bandidos as a "Tier 2." The second highest, and placing them on a similar scale to that of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Another Texan-based group, the Cossacks were founded in the state in 1969. Though allegedly it wasn’t until 2013 that the rivalry with the Bandidos really intensified.
In November of that year, a president of a Texan Bandidos chapter named Curtis Jack Lewis was arrested after stabbing two Cossacks in a skirmish outside a restaurant.
Cossacks live by the motto “We take care of our own,” of the members arrested in Waco, many sported neo-Nazi tattoos symbols.
The gangs were prepared for a bloodbath and came packing with more than 100 weapons
Throughout the incident a variety of weapons were used by the different gangs involved, ranging from knives, clubs and chains to firearms.
Over 100 weapons including 30 guns were recovered overall, with paramedics finding the nine dead bodies with a mixture of gunshots and stab wounds. At least 18 more people are thought to be injured and are currently being treat in hospitals, some of whom are now under police protection.
Police arrested dozens of suspected gang members on the scene, and now say 192 of the gang members will stand trial on charges of organised crime.
POLICE KNEW THE MEETING WAS HAPPENING
Law officials were aware that the biker meet-up was happening in advance and prepared for the likelihood of trouble due to simmering tensions between the gangs.
They made themselves visible by parking nearby in fully marked cars, making their presence clearly known in an effort to deter any violence.
The gangs paid little attention to their efforts though and an altercation over an alleged parking dispute occurred between the gangs. This soon escalated from a fist fight to a full blown shootout, spilling out of the restaurant and into the car park.
“In 34 years of law enforcement, this is the most violent crime scene I have ever been involved in,” said Sgt. Swanton of the Waco Police Department.
The restaurant had been pre-warned and could have helped avoid violence
Since the shooting the police department has been incredibly open about their frustrations with the establishment, claiming that the violence could have been reduced, if not avoided completely.
“We have attempted to work with the local management of Twin Peaks to no avail,” said Sgt. Swanton. “They have continued to allow these bikers to gather here, and this is the culmination of what has occurred.”
Twin Peaks is a national restaurant chain and until recently held a weekly “Bike Night”, something the Waco Police Department hasn't overlooked.
In their own statement about the shooting, Twin Peaks Restaurant spokesman, Rick Van Warner said: “We were shocked by the shootings that took place in the parking lot of our franchised restaurant in Waco and are fully reviewing all the circumstance surrounding it. We are thankful no employees, guests or police were injured in this senseless violence outside the restaurant, and our sympathies are with the families of those killed."
According to the New York Times, Van Warner has also stated that the chain is “seriously considering revoking the franchise based on this situation.” Commenting, “If any of those allegations are true that there was ample warning to potentially prevent something of this nature, there is no way we would allow someone to continue operating under own brand.”
There could be more violence to come
Waco police officials have currently closed numerous streets throughout the area, including the bridges that cross Brazos River in anticipation of any recurring violence or acts of revenge.
Agents from both the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are currently assisting the investigation and have been spotted stopping motorcycle riders for questioning.
Many local business are also currently operating an early close policy in the aftermath of the shooting.
[Images: Rex Features, Ninian Reid Flickr]