The gunman who shot dead three elderly women as he prowled a New Mexico neighbourhood firing at cars this week had legally purchased an assault-style rifle, one of three weapons he used in the rampage, a month after he turned 18, police said on Tuesday.
The suspect, whose shooting spree on Monday morning through a residential area of Farmington, New Mexico, ended when police shot him dead, was publicly identified on Tuesday as 18-year-old Beau Wilson, a student at Farmington High School.
Police said Wilson stalked a quarter-mile stretch of roadway on foot firing indiscriminately at cars, with some homes also being hit, before police confronted him outside a church, exchanging gunfire with Wilson to halt his advance.
Video footage showed Wilson, dressed in black, pacing around the church driveway holding what appeared to be a handgun with an extended, high-capacity magazine before he was killed.
The minutes-long burst of violence stirred hours of fear as police searched the area to ensure order was restored in the town, a major retail centre and fossil energy hub about 180 miles (290 km) northwest of Albuquerque in an area known as the Four Corners because it is where four southwest states intersect.
The gunman's actions "appear to be purely random and had no specific targets or motives that we can identify at this time," Farmington Deputy Police Chief Kyle Dowdy told a media briefing on Tuesday.
The women slain were identified as Gwendolyn Schofield, 97, and Melody Ivie, 73, a mother and daughter who were struck by gunfire together in their car, and Shirley Voita, 79, who was in a separate car.
Four other people in cars struck by gunfire or shrapnel were wounded, police said, along with two police officers who have since been released from a local hospital.
Wilson was staying at an address in the neighbourhood where the shootings took place, but there was no indication he knew any of his victims, Dowdy said. Wilson had a history of "minor infractions as a juvenile" and was believed to have suffered from an unspecified mental illness, Dowdy said.
In addition to obtaining the assault-style rifle legally a month after he turned 18 in October 2022, Wilson is believed to have obtained two other firearms used in the shooting from family members, police said.
New Mexico has some of the least restrictive gun ownership laws in the country, with no minimum age to possess rifles and shotguns. The state generally prohibits anyone under age 19 to possess a handgun, according to the Giffords Law Center gun control organisation.
Proposed legislation to ban the sale of many semi-automatic firearms, limit the capacity of ammunition magazines and impose a mandatory waiting period on gun purchases all failed to pass New Mexico’s legislature during its 2023 session.