The Westgate Shooter Was an Incel Who Wanted Couples to Feel 'Pain'

Armando Hernandez Jr.
Armando Hernandez Jr. MCSO
The first bit of news many Arizonans heard about a shooting attack on Wednesday at Westgate Entertainment District, a shopping center in Glendale, was a tweet by Arizona State Senator Martin Quezada:

"I just witnessed an armed terrorist with an AR-15 shoot up Westgate. There are multiple victims."

What followed was a mercifully brief story of a quick arrest and fewer casualties than the shooter intended to create. After shooting and wounding three people, 20-year-old Armando Hernandez Jr. surrendered as soon as police showed up.

The assault on the shopping center near State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, began at about 7:25 p.m. Hernandez live-streamed Snapchat video of himself firing a black, semi-automatic rifle as he walked through the center.

Ed Leiter, a deputy county attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, told a judge during Hernandez's initial court appearance on Thursday that Hernandez is an admitted "incel," who is "involuntarily celibate," had been bullied by people in his life, and believed women didn't want him. He'd been thinking about the attack for three or four years before developing a plan to shoot 10 people at Westgate, targeting couples to make them "feel the pain he feels on a daily basis."

"He has a dark side, and his dark side is coming out," Leiter said Hernandez told investigators after his arrest.

Hernandez put his plan into action on Wednesday after being triggered by his inability to get food at Panda Express.

"This angered him even more," Leiter told the judge during the telephone conference. In his growing rage, Hernandez called some of his friends, but they didn't respond. He thought about going to a movie. But the theater was closed due to the pandemic.

"This sent him over the edge," Leiter said.

Hernandez drove to Westgate with his rifle. He parked and walked into the district, reconnoitering. He went back to his car and loaded three rifle magazines to capacity. And he uploaded video to Snapchat.

"I'm going to be the shooter of Westgate 2020," Hernandez tells the camera in a video later uploaded to Twitter, (and soon taken down by Twitter.)

While still behind the wheel of his car, Hernandez gives his name and says, "This is to get back to mean society, so, let's get this done."

After he parks, he says, "Let's get this done, guys." Strangely, he films himself wearing a protective mask as he again displays his rifle.

Police say that before he stormed the center, Hernandez shot a power transformer, causing a local power outage.

He then shot three people: a 19-year-old man who suffered the most serious, life-threatening injuries; a 16-year-old girl who had non-life-threatening injuries, and a 30-year-old woman who didn't require hospitalization, Glendale Police Sergeant Randy Stewart said at a news conference on Thursday.

Police arrived at the scene five minutes after receiving the first call about the attack. Glendale Lieutenant Nick Susuras, a veteran with 26 years on the job, was the second officer to arrive at the scene and immediately took Hernandez into custody without incident. Police say Hernandez's rifle jammed, and that the incident could have involved more victims.

Hernandez, now in the Maricopa County Jail, has been charged with three counts of aggravated assault with serious physical injury, three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, one count of criminal damage, one count of recklessly damaging the property of a utility, five counts of discharging a firearm within city limits, and one count of disorderly conduct with a weapon — all felonies.

Senator Quezada was at his home at Westgate when he heard shots and the electricity went out.

From his third-floor window, he saw a man walking calmly while appearing to reload a gun, according to an interview he gave to the Associated Press. He went outside and saw two victims in the street.

“To be honest, I don’t think a lot of it has really settled in yet about what I witnessed and what actually took place out there,” Quezada said.

Glendale police said they have no updates in the case on Friday. They ask that anyone who has "first-hand video or photos and any additional witnesses" to the Westgate shooting to upload the file to:
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.