HOUSTON — A gunman walked into a Texas school Tuesday and killed at least 21 people, including 19 children, in another mass shooting in an America that daily buries victims of gun violence amid divisive political debates over Second Amendment rights and the gaze of disbelief from the outside world.
The killings in the predominately Latino city of Uvalde were — as happens so often — the work of a lone man who took unsuspecting lives in a barrage of gunfire.
Officials say Salvador Ramos, 18, carrying a handgun and possibly a rifle, entered Robb Elementary School in the working-class city of about 16,000 people approximately 80 miles west of San Antonio.
“He shot and killed — horrifically, incomprehensibly,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said.
Police officers are believed to have killed the gunman, who had been a student at a nearby high school, Abbott said.
Pete Arredondo, police chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, said Tuesday afternoon that investigators believed that “the suspect did act alone during this heinous crime.”
Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother before he arrived at the elementary school, according to a law enforcement source.
Clad in all black, Ramos was captured on a security camera approaching the school carrying at least one visible weapon. Investigators searched a black SUV that the gunman abandoned near the school moments before the shooting and federal and local law enforcement are conducting searches at his home and other addresses associated with his family.
The attack is the deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. elementary school since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in the 2012 Sandy Hook school attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
On Tuesday evening, parents and grandparents gathered at the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center, many in tears and with red eyes, to learn whether their loved ones were safe.
One father, Brandon Elrod, choked back tears as he told ABC News that he was still searching for his 10-year-old daughter.
“Pretty sad,” he said. “Really sad. I don’t know what this world is coming to.”
“This is just a very sad time for them,” Uvalde County Commissioner Ronald Garza said of the families who waited for information. “They’re scared. They’re kind of in a state of shock.”
Garza asked the public to pray for Uvalde and “for peace, for understanding.”
“Everybody’s heartbroken and stunned,” said Uvalde County Commissioner John Yeackle.
“It’s a small town, so no one is going to be unaffected,” he added. “There won’t be anybody that doesn’t know — either directly or indirectly — either family or friends that are going to be affected by this.”
At least two officers were struck by the shooter’s gunfire, and one has a wound, according to a law enforcement source.
Uvalde Memorial Hospital received 17 injured children via ambulance or school bus, two of them dead on arrival, according to hospital Chief Executive Tom Nordwick.
Nordwick said the hospital also treated a man in his mid-40s who had suffered minor injuries in the shooting.
“He just said, ‘Treat the kids,’” Nordwick said Tuesday afternoon, adding that 12 children were still being treated in the ER. He couldn’t say what their conditions were.
Two children were transported to a hospital in San Antonio, and another was awaiting transport, hospital officials said Tuesday afternoon. University Hospital in San Antonio said in a statement that a 66-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl at the hospital were in critical condition. Another 10-year-old girl, the hospital said, was in good condition.
President Joe Biden issued a proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset Saturday in honor of those killed in the attack.
In a Tuesday evening address to the nation from the White House, Biden declared it was “time to act.”
“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he asked. “Where in God’s name is our backbone?”
It was the second time in less than two weeks that the president has delivered remarks about a deadly mass shooting. Earlier this month, a gunman opened fire, killing 10 people, at a grocery story in Buffalo, New York.
“As a nation, we have to ask, when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Biden added. “When in God’s name are we going to do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”
One of the victims in Uvalde was Eva Mireles, a fourth-grade teacher who had worked for the school district for about 17 years.
Her aunt, Lydia Martinez Delgado, said in a statement that she was “furious” to lose her niece in yet another “senseless tragic shooting.”
Robb Elementary has an enrollment of just under 600 students. Earlier Tuesday, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District had said that all schools in the district were in lockdown due to gunshots in the area.
The school district instructed parents of children at the elementary school to stay away from the school and gather at the Uvalde Civic Center for “reunification.”
“Please do not pick up students at this time,” a message on the district website said. “Students need to be accounted for before they are released to your care.”
“Texans across the state are grieving for the victims of this senseless crime and for the community of Uvalde,” Abbott said in a statement.
“Cecilia and I mourn this horrific loss,” he added, referring to his wife. “And we urge all Texans to come together to show our unwavering support to all who are suffering.”
Abbott, who is scheduled to address the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston later this week along with former President Donald Trump, said he had instructed the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers to work with local law enforcement to investigate the shooting.
The politics of gun control in America quickly came into play.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said the victims were “taken at the hands of an individual who should have never had a weapon in the first place.”
“Tragedies like this will continue to leave Texas families grieving and traumatized until our state starts prioritizing our families, our safety, and our future,” he said in a statement. Today, we grieve and renew our demand for meaningful action now to end gun violence. Texas families can’t wait any longer.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control, the first half of the 2021-2022 school year was the deadliest in recent history.
There have been at least 77 incidents of gunfire on school grounds across the country, resulting in 14 deaths and 45 injuries, so far this year. Six of these incidents took place in Texas.
“We are heartbroken for everyone impacted by this senseless act of violence in a predominantly Latinx community,” Rena Estala, a volunteer with the Texas chapter of Students Demand Action, said in a statement.
“School is the last place where kids should have to worry about gun violence,” she added. “We need leaders at every level to prioritize gun safety now.”
But for some in Uvalde, it was too soon for political sparring.
“In our opinion, this is not going to be the time to talk about gun policy,” said Yeackle, the Uvalde County commissioner. “There’ll be plenty of time for that after. Right now, feelings are so raw.”