Police: Westgate shooting suspect admitted involvement, wanted to gain respect

Police: Westgate shooting suspect admitted involvement, wanted to gain respect
Armando Hernandez Jr. is accused of shooting three people in Arizona on Wednesday, May 20. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

GLENDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Police say the suspect in the shooting at the Westgate Entertainment District in Glendale told detectives that he did it because he wanted to gain some respect.

One of the first two responding officers, a lieutenant with 26 years on the job, quickly located the suspect, later identified as Armando Hernandez Jr., and “took him into custody without further incident,” Sgt. Randy Stewart of the Glendale Police Department said Thursday. The arrest came shortly after gunshots rang out just before 7:30 p.m. in the District at 95th and Glendale avenues.

Stewart said Hernandez cooperated with officers and did not put up a fight when they detained him.

Three people were wounded in the shooting. A 19-year-old man was shot in the chest and is in critical condition, Stewart said. A 16-year-old girl suffered less serious injuries, and a 30-year-old woman did not need to go the the hospital.

There was shelter-in-place order issued via reverse 911 while Glendale police, with the help of several other agencies, scoured the extensive Westgate complex to make sure there was not another shooter. That order was lifted around midnight.

According to Stewart, Hernandez "scoped out the scene" at Westgate and then went back to his car to get a black assault rifle, possibly an AR-15. He loaded it to capacity and then walked back into the District.

“The suspect in this case did later admit to detectives that he was planning on going Westgate to harm 10 victims with this horrendous act," Stewart said. "He said that he went to Westgate to target victims. He wanted to gain some respect and he felt that he had been bullied in his life."

According to public court documents, Hernandez told police he was looking for "targets that were within his general age range to shoot so that he could get respect." He also "admitted that had thought of committing this act in the past before and tonight he let his dark side act ...."

"Armando stated he ... shot the third victim in the leg and told her she was lucky he let her live before his weapon malfunctioned ...," the probable cause for arrest statement reads. "Armando stated multiple times he wanted to do this mass shooting for respect and spoke of interest in previous mass shootings that have occurred in recent years. He also stated he wanted at least 10 victims. Armando denied wanting to kill any of the victims but confirmed he wanted to injure them with the gun to gain respect."

Stewart also confirmed that Hernandez posted video of himself before and during the shooting to social media. "Witnesses reported seeing Armando holding his cell phone in his left hand and the AR-15 in his right hand as he was shooting at Westgate," according to the probable cause for arrest statement. "This is consistent with Armando actively taking video of himself performing in the incident."

Investigators found that rifle at the scene, Stewart said. They also located Hernandez's car in the east parking lot. Police got a search warrant for the car, Hernandez's cell phone, and his Peoria home, according to the probable cause for arrest statement.

In addition to wounding three people, police say Hernandez's gunfire hit an SRP transformer and knocked out power to most of Westgate and intersections in the area. Power has since been restored.

Hernandez is facing more than a dozen felony charges right now, and more could be coming.

  • Three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon
  • Three counts of aggravated assault-serious physical injury
  • One count of criminal damage-deface
  • One count of recklessly damaging property of utility
  • Five counts of discharge firearm in city limit
  • One count of disorderly conduct with a weapon 

Hernandez made his initial court appearance late Thursday morning. The lawyer representing Hernandez said he does not appear to have any criminal history. "This is his first contact with the legal system," he said, also pointing out that he has family and "significant ties" to the community. The lawyer for the state referred to what Hernandez allegedly told police. "This wasn't a gun accidentally going off," he said. "Mr. Hernandez had the purpose of taking out his expressed anger at society .... He wanted these people to feel the pain he feels on a daily basis. He suffers from extreme anger. ... There isn't a scenario where the community would be safe with the defendant out of custody," he continued.

The judge set a cash-only bond of $1 million, which the prosecutor requested and the defense called "utterly ridiculous," and scheduled a preliminary hearing for May 28.

The Glendale Police Department is asking anyone who recorded video of the shooting to upload it so detectives can get a clearer picture of what happened at Westgate Wednesday night.

“As we begin to emerge from our homes into our public spaces again, evil acts like this have a very, very fearful and paralyzing effect – that is, if we left them,” Mayor Jerry Weiers said late Thursday morning. “I’m asking all of you, please don’t give into fear. Don’t allow senseless acts like this to change your habits.” He described the Westgate shooting as “a very isolated incident,” offering his assurance that both the city and the Westgate community are safe.

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