Victim and suspect in deadly shooting at Downtown Aquarium identified

ByCourtney Carpenter KTRK logo
Saturday, July 10, 2021
Victim, suspect in deadly shooting at Downtown Aquarium identified
The gunman opened fire on a man and woman who were in the second floor bar before taking his own life, HPD said.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The victim in a deadly shooting at the Downtown Aquarium has been identified by police.

According to the Houston Police Department, 28-year-old Gabriel Moriones Vargas was killed when a man opened fire on him and his wife while they were having dinner Thursday night. His wife survived the shooting, but Vargas died on the scene. They were in town visiting Houston from New York.

The gunman, who took his own life, was identified as 39-year-old Danny Cazares.

According to court records, Cazares was out on bond on three charges, including felon in possession of a weapon and criminal mischief - both of which he obtained in April. The third charge stems from a trespassing case in October.

The family of Cazares spoke with Eyewitness News and said he wasn't a mean man. They said Cazares was "a sweet man" who had schizophrenia and claim he had been hospitalized in the past.

Houston police released a statement on Twitter saying Cazares had a history of mental illness.

The shooting happened on the second floor of the Downtown Aquarium's restaurant in the bar area around 8:10 p.m. on Thursday.

Police are still trying to figure out how this all happened but a preliminary report shows a man who was out with a woman was killed just as they were about to close out their tab.

Investigators said when officers arrived, they found Vargas and Cazares dead and Vargas' wife injured. The woman was taken to a hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound to her leg.

According to a preliminary report issued by HPD Asst. Chief Matt Slinkard the night of the shooting, the couple was sitting at the bar having dinner. Police say video evidence showed Cazares approach Vargas and his wife, produce a gun and then fire multiple shots at them, before turning the gun on himself.

"This suspect got up, and in a very quick manner, went around the bar to the area where the male and female were together," explained Slinkard. "At the time, the suspect immediately started firing rounds. The deceased male immediately went down. The female who was injured went down as well, and then, from the footage that we've seen, this person we know to be our suspect that's deceased on the scene immediately committed suicide with one self-inflicted gunshot wound."

"This is the type of situation that should make us all pause for all of the families and all of the lives that will be affected," said HPD Asst. Chief Matt Slinkard.

Slinkard said based on the footage, it doesn't appear that the couple and Cazares were together.

"It does not appear that these parties were together," he said. "We have very little to go on except that footage."

Police later added that the preliminary investigation, including a statement from the woman, indicates the victims did not know Cazares. The motive in the shooting is unknown at this time.

It's unclear how many patrons were inside the restaurant at the time of the shooting, though Slinkard said it wasn't very crowded.

"This is the type of situation that should make us all pause for all of the families and all of the lives that will be affected," said Slinkard.

Meanwhile, a woman who was inside the restaurant at the time of the shooting spoke with ABC13 Thursday night and said she heard about four or five gunshots.

"Everyone started to run in one direction of the restaurant," said Elaine Khalil. "There was panic and pandemonium."

She said those inside immediately started running.

"It was a weeknight near closing so it was half full," said Khalil. "We just followed the crowd into this small room that kind of curved around. Everyone was trying to get around. Another person was yelling to shut the door. Then the wait staff, they were very composed, they led us to a back staircase where everyone ran out."

A day after the chaotic ordeal, the Downtown Aquarium issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

"Our deepest condolences go out to the victims and their families during this difficult time. This was an isolated incident and a senseless tragedy by someone who appears to have been facing personal conflicts. If you know of someone struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)."

Many people ABC13 spoke with Friday were shocked this happened at a family-friendly spot. Adolfo Ramirez, who was in Houston on vacation with his family from Kansas, said security should be upped.

"It's a family place, so I figured it was secure and like I was saying, maybe they should put a metal detector up or something to prevent this kind of stuff. I'm speechless now knowing anyone can come over here and do crazy stuff like that," said Ramirez.

Genny Celis, who was also visiting the Downtown Aquarium with her family Friday, said the violence made her feel uneasy.

"We we're looking everywhere, double checking because this is scary. We are not safe anymore," said Celis.

Anyone with additional information in this case is urged to contact the HPD Homicide Division at 713-308-3600.