UVALDE, Texas — A gunman killed at least 19 children and two adults Tuesday at a rural Texas elementary school, a state police officer said, in the deadliest shooting at a U.S. school since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre a decade ago.
The murders took place just before noon at Robb Elementary School, where second through fourth graders in Uvalde, a small town west of San Antonio, were preparing for the start of summer vacation this week. Among the murdered adults was at least one teacher and several other children were injured.
The gunman, who was identified by authorities as an 18-year-old man who had attended a nearby high school, was armed with several weapons, officials said. He also died on the spot, they said.
“He shot and killed in a horrific manner, incomprehensible,” Governor Greg Abbott said at a news conference.
As terrified parents in Uvalde waited for news about their children’s safety and law enforcement officers rushed to find out how the attack had taken place, the mass shooting deepened a national political debate about gun laws and gun prevalence. Ten days earlier, a gunman shot and killed ten people in a supermarket in Buffalo.
“This is just bad,” Uvalde resident Rey Chapa said of Tuesday’s murders while using an expletive. Mr Chapa said his cousin was at the school when the shooting happened but was safe. He waited for a response from family members and friends about the condition of other children, and scrolled through Facebook for updates. “I’m afraid I will know many of these children who were murdered.”
Across the street from the school, state agents were scattered across the school lawn, and an ambulance stopped with flashing lights. Adolfo Hernandez, a longtime resident of Uvalde, said his cousin had been in a classroom near where the shooting took place.
“He actually witnessed his little friend being shot in the face,” Mr. Hernandez said. The friend, he said, “got shot in the nose and he just went down, and my cousin was devastated.”
In a brief White House speech on Tuesday night, President Biden became emotional as he reflected on the attack and called for action, but he did not advocate any particular policy or vote.
“It’s just sick,” he said of the kind of weapons that are readily available in the United States and used in mass shootings. “Where the hell is our backbone, the courage to do more and then stand up to the lobbies? It is time to turn this pain into action.”
Mr Biden later added, “May the Lord be near to the broken-hearted and save those who are crushed in spirit, for they will need much.”
The shooting happened on Election Day in Texas, as voters across the state went to the polls for the first election that would set the stage for the November election at a time when the state and the nation are torn by political differences over race. , immigration and abortion.
When the deadly toll became known, the events at Robb Elementary School immediately brought back painful memories of the devastating 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., which killed six staff members and 20 children, some as young as 6 years old. Six years later, a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Lydia Martinez Delgado said her cousin Eva Mireles, a fourth-grader at the school, was among those killed in the frenzy. Ms. Mireles had been a teacher for 17 years, her aunt said, and was “dearly loved”, an avid walker and took pride in teaching mostly students of Latino heritage. “She was the fun of the party,” said Ms. Martinez Delgado.
For many, the weight of the tragedy appeared to be compounded by the arrival so soon after a deadly massacre of black shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket in what was one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history. It was the deadliest shooting in the United States this year, until Tuesday’s killings in Uvalde.
Mr Abbott said the shooter was a resident of the same county where the shooting took place, he attended high school there and had acted alone. He entered the elementary school with a handgun and possibly a rifle, the governor said.
It was not immediately clear whether the shooting took place in one classroom or in multiple classrooms, and officials did not release names or ages of the murdered students or of the teacher. At least three children – a 9-year-old and two 10-year-olds, one in critical condition – were taken to University Healtha hospital in San Antonio, for treatment.
Officials were investigating whether the gunman, whom they identified as Salvador Ramos, was the target of the school or whether he ended up there by accident, according to a law enforcement official, who requested anonymity to describe the investigation he warned was still ongoing. . The gunman appeared to have crashed a pickup truck through a barrier near the school before entering, the official said. At least two law enforcement officers who tried to attack the gunman were not injured in the shooting, the official said.
Marsha Espinosa, an assistant secretary with the Department of Homeland Security, said at least one US Border Patrol agent was injured after responding to the Robb Elementary School shooting. “On entering the building, officers and other law enforcement officers were faced with gunfire from the subject, who had been barricaded inside,” she wrote on Twitter†
Shortly before the massacre, a 66-year-old woman was shot at her home in Uvalde, the official said, and was later taken to a hospital in San Antonio with gunshot wounds. The official said the woman appeared to be the gunman’s grandmother and had been shot before the school shooting; both shootings, and the connection between them, remained under investigation.
The shooting happened just after 11:30 a.m. For much of the afternoon, as the news went, the district ordered afflicted parents to stay away from the school. “Please don’t pick up students at this time,” the school district instructed the parents, referring them to a local municipal center. “Students must be accounted for before being transferred to your care.”
Parents and relatives searched for information when news of a gunman at the school turned to the realization that so many children had been murdered.
Ryan Ramirez told KSAT in San Antonio that he couldn’t find his daughter, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary, when he showed up at school or at a civic center reunion point. “Nobody tells me anything,” he said, adding, “I’m trying to figure out where my baby is.”
Even before much was known about the gunman, his motives, or details about the weapons he used, the murders brought the gun control and Second Amendment rights debate back to the forefront of national attention.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and an advocate for gun control legislation, said, “I think everyone here is going to be shaken up.” He added: “I have no idea how a community is handling this. There is no way to do this right. Your community will never be the same after this.”
The National Rifle Association will hold its annual meeting in Houston starting Friday. Abbott is on the list of prominent Republicans to appear, along with former President Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.
“Today is a dark day,” Cruz said in a statement. In posts on Twitter, he said the nation had “seen too many of these shootings,” but did not immediately call for specific policy proposals to help prevent mass killings.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat whose efforts to block background checks for weapons purchases legislation in 2013, said, “It makes no sense at all why we can’t use common sense and try to avoid some of this problem. to happen.”
Robb Elementary, a brick school building on the edge of the city center, serves more than 500 students, mostly between the ages of 7 and 10. About 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, according to district records, and almost the rest are white. A sign hanging from the school reads ‘Welcome!’ and “¡Bienvenidos!” next to the logo of the school, a heart.
In the neighborhood around the school, more than 40 percent of residents have lived in the same home for at least 30 years, census data shows. And more than a quarter of Uvalde’s 15,000 residents are children, far above the national average. More than a third live at or just above the federal poverty line.
Joaquin Castro, a US Representative for Texas, described Uvalde on Twitter as a “wonderful, tight-knit community.”
Reporting contributed by Mike Baker† Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs† Emily Cochrane† Jacey Fortin† Robert Gebeloff† Jesus Jimenez† Alyssa Lukpat† Eduardo Medina† Sarah Mervosh and Michael D. Shear†