UVALDE, Texas – Grief counselors, ministers and therapy dogs provided counsel and solace Wednesday to community members and employees of the elementary school where a gunman’s rampage killed 19 children and two teachers in one fourth-grade classroom.
It was the state’s deadliest school shooting in modern history and the nation’s third mass shooting within weeks.
An 18-year-old male, armed with a rifle, shot his grandmother before driving to Robb Elementary School and overpowering a school officer, authorities said. Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN the children and teachers who died were inside a single classroom – where the shooter barricaded himself before he was fatally shot.
Authorities identified the gunman as Salvador Ramos, 18. Ramos had hinted on social media that an attack could be coming, according to state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who said he had been briefed by state police. He said that the gunman “suggested the kids should watch out” and that he had bought two assault weapons after turning 18.
Authorities have not revealed a motive for the attack.
“It’s a terrible morning. A terrible morning,” Uvalde resident Juan Torres, 31, said Wednesday as he sat on his front porch a few blocks from the school. “We’re shocked. Stressed out. Traumatized.”
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The killer entered the classroom, locked the door and started shooting, Olivarez told CNN. Officers arriving on the scene began breaking windows around the school trying to evacuate children and teachers. Olivarez said a tactical team forced its way into the classroom and faced gunfire but was “able to shoot and kill that suspect.’’
Multiple students in the classroom were wounded, and officials have said the death toll could rise. Olivarez did not know how many students were in the room when the shooting started but said it normally would hold 25-30 kids.
“A typical classroom setting, where you have mass groups of children inside that classroom all together, with nowhere to go,” Olivarez said. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”
Looking across the street at a brown house, Javier Rangel, 57, remembered the young girl who used to play out front. Rangel lives a few blocks from Robb, where the girl was a student. He said her father posted to Facebook last night that she was among the dead.
“This has hit us bad, knowing they were young kids just starting their lives,” said Rangel, a truck driver. “We never thought it would happen in this little town. I was used to see her riding her bike, playing with her sisters. That poor little girl.”
Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, co-founders and CEOs of Sandy Hook Promise, each had a son killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting spree that killed 26 a decade ago. They issued a statement saying they are “sickened under the weight of our sadness as we watch another community of families suffering their worst nightmare.” And they called on everyone to urge elected officials to pass legislation that protects children.
“This can be done while upholding second amendment rights,” the statement said. “Now is the time to take bold action — as a country, how much longer can we stand by while innocent children continue to be killed?”
Juan Torres and his family live a few blocks from both the school and the home where authorities say they gunman lived. Torres’ wife grew up in Uvalde, and their two young children attend school here, although at different campuses than where the shooting took place.
Torres said he was returning to the city from his construction job Tuesday when he heard about a school shooting on the radio, but assumed it was elsewhere. Thenl he saw the helicopters hovering over his neighborhood. His daughter had been to San Antonio on a field trip, and teachers texted parents to let them know they could pick up their kids at a rest stop on the outskirts of town.
“I ran out of here so fast, drove down there at like 120 mph and grabbed her hugged her so hard,” Torres said. “It’s all been a bunch of chaos.”
Authorities say the gunman walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, about 85 miles west of San Antonio, around 11:30 a.m. Central time and opened fire. Uvalde is home to about 16,000 people and is located about 75 miles from the Mexican border. About 82% of the city’s population is Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Robb Elementary, part of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, has an enrollment of just under 600 students. The district initially put all campuses on lockdown after gunshots were fired, and it canceled all district and campus activities, after-school programs and events.
Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the shooting, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Chris Olivarez said. A U.S. Border Protection agent, one of several responding to the scene, shot and killed the gunman, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told USA TODAY on Tuesday night.
University Health, a hospital in San Antonio, reported on Tuesday evening that it had four patients: a 66-year-old woman in critical condition; a 10-year-old girl in critical condition; a 10-year-old girl in good condition, and a 9-year-old girl in good condition. By nightfall, many families were still waiting for updates, hoping to hear that their children were in a hospital in Uvalde or San Antonio.
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President Joe Biden in a Tuesday night news conference decried “another massacre” that had left parents in unfathomable pain: “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” he said. Biden also called for a renewed push for gun control measures, lamenting the lack of progress despite repeated shootings.
“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he said. “Time to turn this pain into action.”
Abbott directed that the Texas flag be immediately lowered to half-staff across the state from Tuesday until Saturday in memory of the people who lost their lives in the school shooting.
“The first lady and I extend our prayers of comfort to the survivors and the families of the victims, and we will continue to keep them in our thoughts and prayers,” Abbott said.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott identified the assailant as Salvador Ramos, 18. He was killed by law enforcement following the shooting. The gunman allegedly legally purchased two assault rifles at a local gun store on his 18th birthday, Democratic Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez told USA TODAY.
In the last five years, Texas has been the scene of mass shootings that killed more than 85 people. Worshippers during a Sunday sermon, shoppers at a Walmart, students on a high school campus and drivers on a highway have been the targets. The state’s conservative, Republican-controlled government is unlikely to restrict gun access despite the carnage. Last year, gun laws were actually loosened after a gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist 2019 attack that targeted Hispanics.
“I can’t wrap my head around it,” said Democratic state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde. “It’s disturbing to me as a policymaker that we have been able to do little other than create greater access to these militarized weapons to just about anyone who would want them.”
Contributing: Megan Menchaca, Austin American-Statesman; N’dea Yancey-Bragg, Trevor Hughes, Chris Kenning, USA TODAY; The Associated Press