Nineteen children are dead after a gunman opened fire at a Texas elementary school on Tuesday, Texas officials said.
The mass shooting comes less than two weeks after a man, who authorities say was motivated by racist ideology, shot and killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket, targeting a predominantly Black community. The latest tragedy once again horrified the country and sparked outrage, particularly from gun safety advocates who said the nation could no longer hide behind old excuses for these horrific killing sprees.
The shooting happened at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, about 85 miles west of San Antonio. Two adults were also killed.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said the suspect, an 18-year-old man who resided in Uvalde, was also dead and was likely killed by officers who responded to the scene. The suspect has been identified as Salvador Ramos, according to state police.
Erik Estrada, of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the CNN late Tuesday that the shooter crashed his car near the school, got out with a gun and was wearing a bulletproof vest. School district police officers engaged the suspect, but he was able to get into the school and went classroom by classroom firing his weapon.
The gunman also shot his grandmother before driving toward the school with two military-style rifles. He had purchased the guns on his 18th birthday, State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat, told the network. He also said three people hospitalized in the attack were listed in serious condition.
The grandmother is also in critical condition, Estrada said, and several others were injured. He said some of the victims’ families had been notified, though he isn’t sure all proper notifications have been made. Around 9 p.m. local time, some parents were still looking for their children while others were having their DNA swabbed to help law enforcement identify the victims, according to local news reports. Estrada couldn’t confirm these reports.
Details about Tuesday’s attack began to circulate while President Joe Biden was en route to the United States following his overseas trip to Asia. He has been briefed on the incident, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday, and spoke to Abbott aboard Air Force One to offer assistance.
After arriving at the White House Tuesday evening, the president delivered a raw and emotional prime-time address in the Roosevelt Room. He talked about the deep-seeded grief of losing a child, something he knows all too well.
“To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” Biden said. “There’s a hollowness in your chest, you feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out. Suffocating.”
He noted the number of days — 3,448 — since he addressed the Sandy Hook shooting as vice president. In the speech, Biden asked what it would take for lawmakers to act.
“When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Biden said. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage?”
Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the tragedy at an event Tuesday evening, repeatedly saying “enough is enough.”
“In a moment like this we would all say naturally, that our hearts break, but our hearts keep getting broken,” she said, noting the number of elected leaders in the room. “You know what I’m talking about. Every time we’ve had a tragedy like this happen, our hearts break and our broken hearts are nothing compared to the broken hearts of those families. And it keeps happening. … Enough is enough. As a nation, we have to have the courage to take action and understand the nexus between what makes for reasonable and sensible public policy. To ensure something like this never happens again.”
Speaking in the U.S. Senate shortly after the initial death toll was announced, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) challenged Americans to act, citing the massacre in his own state at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
“What are we doing?” Murphy said. ”Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands.
”This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country,” Murphy said. “And nowhere else, nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking that they might be shot that day. Nowhere else do parents have to talk to their kids, as I have had to do, about why they got locked into a bathroom and told to be quiet for five minutes just in case a bad man entered that building. Nowhere else does that happen except here in the United States of America. And it is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, tweeted a similar message: “Another shooting. And the GOP won’t do a damn thing about it. Who the hell are we if we cannot keep our kids safe. This is preventable. Our inaction is a choice.”
A little after noon local time, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District said there was an “active shooter” at Robb Elementary School, and that “Law enforcement is on site.” The Facebook post asked parents and other visitors to not come to campus at that time.
Just under 600 students were enrolled at the elementary school in the heavily Latino community, and the last day of the school year was set for Thursday. Robb Elementary School serves students in the second, third and fourth grade.
A message on the school’s website Tuesday afternoon asked parents to not pick up their children at the time. Students were taken to the city’s civil center for reunification.
“Students need to be accounted for before they are released to your care. You will be notified to pick up students once all are accounted for,” the message said.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting with local and state authorities with the ongoing investigation.
Gun safety advocates and Democrats on Tuesday highlighted the years of legislative inaction since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., left 20 children and six adults dead. Biden, as vice president at the time, led the White House’s efforts to pass an expansive gun control bill in Congress, only to see it fail.
The shootings continued, and congressional efforts to pass legislation to curb gun violence has failed countless times, even as new tragedies spur members to make new promises to change gun policies. From killings at a Black church in Charleston, S.C., to a high school in Parkland, Fla., the nation has seen more than 3,500 mass shootings since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
When speaking in Buffalo last week, Biden called on lawmakers to pass legislation to “keep assault weapons off our streets.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how significantly the shooting would affect the National Rifle Association convention, scheduled for this weekend in Houston. A spokesperson for one slated speaker at the event, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), said the lawmaker had already notified the gun group he would not be attending.
“Prior to the tragedy today in Uvalde we had already informed the NRA he would not be able to speak due to [an] unexpected change in his schedule,” Cornyn spokesperson Drew Brandewie said. “He now has to be in D.C. for personal reasons on Friday.”
Juan Perez and Burgess Everett contributed to this report, which also includes material from the Associated Press.