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9 Dead In Waco, Texas, Motorcycle Gang Shootout


Investigators are looking into yesterday's gang fight between rival motorcycle club members in Waco, Texas. Nine people were killed. A county judge says 174 bikers have been charged. No bystanders were injured in the fight. NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The day after the biker brawl, the parking lot of the Twin Peaks Bar and Grill swarms with police. SWAT officers shoulder assault rifles, wary of continued threats from bikers against the police. Meanwhile, the sports bar, featuring waitresses in scanty attire, has had its liquor license suspended by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, or TABC. Sergeant Patrick Swanton is spokesman for the Waco Police.


PATRICK SWANTON: TABC has issued a summary closure on Twin Peaks and we know for seven days, due to the continued threat level that we believe is possible coming from them.

BURNETT: The rumble started inside the restaurant, then spilled out into the parking lot. The beefy gang members, wearing vests and black T-shirts, quickly pulled out handguns, knives, chains, clubs and brass knuckles. Police say bikers shot at each other and at officers who returned fire. One of the gangs involved in the fight is the Banditos. Founded in Galveston in 1969, they're one of the nation's largest outlaw motorcycle gangs. A U.S. Justice Department fact sheet says they're involved in drug trafficking.

Local biker groups, which police speculate may have squared off against the Banditos, include the Cossacks, the Scimitars and the Boozehounds. One of the unanswered questions is why a popular restaurant chain with 72 franchises across the country would host a weekly biker night attended by the likes of the Banditos. Over the past two months, as the biker gatherings grew in size and troublemaking, Sergeant Patrick Swanton says police repeatedly warned the restaurant they were courting trouble.


SWANTON: We elicited the help of the local management to no avail. We know they were aware of what was going on, and we were basically told to butt out, that they welcome that business there.

BURNETT: Today, Twin Peaks corporate revoked the franchise of the Dallas-based company that ran the Waco location for ignoring security standards. The reaction among Waco citizens is to thank police and state troopers for protecting bystanders in the busy shopping center from getting hurt. John Green, a local retired man, stands at the police perimeter, watching investigators comb the crime scene. He does not have kind words for Twin Peaks.

JOHN GREEN: I hope they run them out of Waco, close them down. Don't come back. I hope other people start boycotting them. If they're not cooperating with the law, I mean - don't feel safe in their establishment, I'm not going to go to it.

BURNETT: The bikers are charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, a first-degree state felony. Justice of the Peace Pete Peterson tells NPR he set their bond at a million dollars apiece. We want to send a message, says the tired judge who arraigned them all night long. They can't be doing that. John Burnett, NPR News, Waco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
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