By Jim Forsyth
(Reuters) - Two people were killed and at least 19 injured late on Saturday night near Houston in a hail of bullets unleashed when one of the guests at a house party fired a gun in celebration and another began shooting wildly into the crowd, police said.
More than 100 people were gathered in and around a home in the middle-class suburb of Cypress, northwest of Houston, for an 18-year-old's birthday party when the shooting erupted at about 11 p.m., according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
"Out of no apparent provocation, someone discharged a firearm in apparent celebration of the music," Sheriff Adrian Garcia told reporters in front of the two-story house on Sunday.
Following that single gunshot, another party-goer who was standing 10 to 15 feet away and had "unwisely decided he needed to bring a firearm to a birthday party, recklessly responded" and started shooting indiscriminately into the crowd, he said.
An estimated 10 shots were fired in all, and the result, Garcia said, was carnage and pandemonium.
Two people were killed - a man declared dead at the scene and a woman pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. At least 19 others were hurt, with injuries ranging from gunshot wounds to broken legs and twisted ankles in the chaos that ensued.
Some guests jumped from second-story windows and others wrenched the door of an attached garage off its rollers in a panicked rush to escape, though a number of victims struck by gunfire were outside the house, the sheriff said.
Police earlier had put the number of injured at 22, but Garcia said the number was revised downward after further investigation. Those attending the party ranged in age from 14 to 22, he said.
The sheriff said authorities were seeking two male suspects, aged 17 and 22.
Eyewitnesses described a chaotic scene in local media accounts, with victims lying bloodied on the floor and others rushing to neighboring homes for help.
"It sounded like a balloon popping," A. Henry, a 19-year-old party guest, was quoted as telling the Houston Chronicle. He said he was in the kitchen when the shooting began, and heard 10 or 12 shots fired over several minutes.
Although a number of known gang members were present at the party, there was no indication that the violence was gang-related, Garcia said.
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"What we have is a combination of immaturity, access to a firearm, and a person's inability to control one's self," the sheriff said.
He also cited another factor as contributing to a "birthday party gone wild" - the fact that the celebration had been advertised on Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites and that many of the guests were strangers.
"When you promote a party on social media, what you are saying to the world is, 'I don't know who you are, but you're invited,'" Garcia said.
He said even though a "bouncer" had been hired and a parent of the 18-year-old for whom the party was thrown was present, they were overwhelmed by the crush of people who attended.
None of the weapons used in the shooting were immediately recovered, though investigators said several shell casings have been found.
Garcia appealed to the public for help in finding the suspects, including tips to the sheriff's department website.
"Social media helped cause this," he said. "Social media can help solve it."
(Writing by Jonathan Allen and Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)