To John Thornton, who was outside grabbing the morning paper, it at first sounded like a dumpster lid crashing down. To Julie Bolin, it sounded like a truck carrying tanks of oxygen may have crashed, the tanks perhaps popping.
"My husband and I just went to target practice yesterday," Bolin said. "You'd think it would snap for me that it was gunfire."
Like dozens of other neighbors, Thornton and Bolin encountered a scene that repeats itself across the nation on a seemingly daily basis, but one they could barely believe was unfolding in their own backyard: a mass shooting, one that left nine injured and the gunman dead.
Early Monday around 6:30, a troubled lawyer opened fire on pedestrians and passing cars from his Porsche, parked near the Randall's grocery store and its connected strip mall, Houston police said. Police have recovered 75 shell casings, though that includes shots fired by police at the suspect, killing him. Numerous media outlets have identified the gunman as Nathan DeSai, though police refused to confirm his identity until they receive confirmation from the medical examiner.
His motivation is wholly unclear for now, police said at a press conference Monday evening, but police, Desai's father and his former colleagues have all pointed to business troubles that DeSai was having at his law firm this year as a stress contributor. Police also confirmed they found Nazi emblems among his personal affects in his car and in his home — a condo on Law Street, around the corner from the shooting scene — but could not speculate whether that had anything to do with his decision to attempt to kill innocent people. It is also unclear if he was targeting anyone in particular, though Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo said that for now, the shooting appears random.
According to local attorneys and various reports, DeSai's law firm fell apart in February due to economic reasons, and he and his partner, Kenneth McDaniel, went their separate ways. McDaniel told Law.com that DeSai was a "good, competent lawyer." It was after police showed up at his home early this morning to make sure he was okay that McDaniel realized something was terribly wrong. "It’s just a horrible situation," he told Law.com. "I’m just watching on TV, and it looks like although people were injured no one has died. I’m very happy for that. I’m very sad for Nathan.”
Bashist Sharma, a local attorney, said he spent months working closely with DeSai several years ago on a civil business case.
"He was a good attorney, just doing his job, fighting on behalf of his client," Sharma recalled. "His demeanor, the way he carried himself, was professional, so I didn't have any reason to believe that he would do something really awful as he did."
Sharma said that DeSai did not appear to be apart of any defense bar social groups, such as the South Asian Bar Association that he and other Indian attorneys frequented, and that in recent years he stopped seeing DeSai around at the courthouse. Another attorney, J. Thomas Black, told the Houston Press that DeSai joined the Houston Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys for a short time, but that his membership lapsed in 2010. We searched his bar number on the Harris County District Clerk's website, as well as his name in surrounding counties' databases, and it does not appear he litigated any cases in 2016. His father, however, who last saw his son Sunday evening, told TV news outlets that he believed DeSai had been representing clients out of his home following the law firm fall-out.
Montalvo confirmed that police have not received any calls for service to DeSai's home or involving DeSai; some reports, however, speculated that DeSai had a confrontation with a roofing company employee recently in which he pulled out a gun, originating from a KHOU interview with the wife of one victim.
Police said at the press conference that all victims — two of whom were listed as in critical and serious condition this morning — are expected to survive.