The event, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, featured hundreds of drawings of Muhammad, which is explicitly banned in Islam and seen as a sign of disrespect. About 200 people were in attendance.
Jobin Panicker, a reporter with ABC affiliate station WFAA-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth, was outside the event getting exterior shots when the shooting occurred.
“We started to hear what sounded like firecrackers, three to five very faint shots,” Panicker told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos this morning. “We now know that those were handgun shots. And then after that, some high-powered gunshots, and as soon as that happened, officers start to tell us that we needed to get down or get inside the building, and so they started to usher us into the building, and then they put us in that secure room.”
The shots rang out at about 7 p.m. near the end of the event, with two suspects allegedly opening fire on security officers hired to protect the event, Garland police spokesman Joe Harn said. The officers returned fire, killing the men.
One of the suspects was identified as Elton Simpson, an Arizona man who was previously the subject of a terror investigation, according to a senior FBI official.
The center was put on lockdown after the shooting.
Despite the shooting, meeting attendees remained steadfast in their focus, singing patriotic songs.
Reporter Panicker said he was surprised by the lack of protesters at the event, and said organizers prepared for the potential backlash by hiring extra security officers.
“I think [authorities] did an incredible job responding to this situation, getting everybody secure, into that room, and very quickly,” Panicker said.