The gunman who massacred 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school had warned in online posts minutes before the attack that he had shot his grandmother and was going to shoot a school, said said the governor on Wednesday.
Salvador Ramos, 18, used an AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle in the bloodbath on Tuesday at Robb Primary School in Uvalde. He had legally purchased two of these rifles days prior, shortly after his birthday, authorities said.
Investigators did not immediately shed light on the motive. Gov. Greg Abbott said Ramos, a resident of the community about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of San Antonio, had no known criminal or mental health history.
But about 30 minutes before the bloodbath, Ramos made three social media posts, Abbott said. According to the governor, Ramos posted that he was going to shoot his grandmother, then he shot the woman, and finally he was going to shoot an elementary school.
Seventeen people were also injured in the attack.
“Evil swept away Uvalde yesterday. Anyone who shoots their grandmother in the face must have evil in their hearts,” Abbott told a news conference. “But it’s far more evil for someone to shoot small children. It’s intolerable and unacceptable for us to have someone in the state who would kill small children in our schools.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor this year, interrupted the press conference, calling the Republican’s response to the tragedy “predictable.” O’Rourke was escorted away as members of the crowd shouted at him, with one man calling him a “sick son of a bitch”.
As details of the latest massacre to rock the United States have emerged, grief has engulfed the small town of Uvalde, which has a population of 16,000.
Among the dead were a 10-year-old girl, Eliahna Garcia, who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; fellow fourth grader Xavier Javier Lopez, who was looking forward to a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, with 17 years of experience whose husband is an officer with the school district police department.
“I just don’t know how people can sell this kind of gun to an 18-year-old,” Eliahna’s aunt Siria Arizmendi said angrily through tears. “What is he going to use it for if not for this purpose?”
Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN that all of those killed were in the same fourth-grade class.
The killer “barricaded himself locking the door and just started shooting the kids and the teachers inside that classroom,” Olivarez said. “It just shows you the utter evil of the shooter.”
Law enforcement eventually burst into the classroom and killed the shooter. Police and others responding to the attack also smashed the windows of the school to allow students and teachers to escape.
The attack in the predominantly Latino town of Uvalde was the deadliest school shooting in the United States since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
The bloodshed was the latest in a seemingly endless series of massacres at churches, schools, stores and other sites across the United States. Just 10 days earlier, 10 black people were gunned down in a racist rampage at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
In a somber address to the nation hours after the attack in Texas, President Joe Biden pleaded for Americans to “stand up to the gun lobby” and enact tougher restrictions, saying, “When in in God’s name are we going to do what needs to be over?”
But the prospects for national gun regulatory reform looked bleak. Repeated attempts over the years to expand background checks and enact other restrictions have been met with Republican opposition in Congress.
On social media in the days and hours leading up to the massacre, Ramos seemed to hint that something was about to happen.
On the day Ramos bought his second gun last week, an Instagram account that investigators say apparently belongs to Ramos carried a picture of two AR-type rifles. Ramos apparently tagged another Instagram user, who has over 10,000 followers, asking him to share the photo with his followers.
“I barely know you and you tag me in a photo with guns,” replied the Instagram user, who has since deleted his profile. “It’s just scary.”
On the morning of the attack, the account linked to the shooter replied, “I’m about to do it.”
Instagram confirmed to The Associated Press that it was working with law enforcement to review the account, but declined to answer questions about the posts. Investigators are also looking at an account on TikTok, possibly belonging to the shooter, with a profile that reads: “Kids Are Scared IRL”, an acronym meaning “in real life”. The profile is not dated.
Investigators don’t yet know why Ramos targeted the school, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“We don’t see a pattern or a catalyst right now,” he said.
Officers found one of the rifles in Ramos’ truck, the other in the school, according to the briefing given to lawmakers. Ramos wore a tactical vest, but there were no reinforced armor plates inside, lawmakers said. He also dropped a backpack containing several magazines full of ammunition near the entrance to the school.
One of the firearms was purchased from a federally licensed dealer in the Uvalde area on May 17, according to State Senator John Whitmire, who was briefed by investigators. Ramos bought 375 rounds the next day, then bought the second rifle last Friday.
On Tuesday morning, Ramos shot and injured his grandmother in her home, then left. Neighbors called police when she staggered outside and saw she had been shot in the face, Department of Public Safety spokesman Travis Considine said.
Ramos then crashed his truck through a railing on school grounds, and an officer from the Uvalde School District exchanged gunfire with him and was injured, Considine said. Ramos went inside and exchanged more gunfire with two police officers arriving from Uvalde, who were still outside, Considine said. These officers were also injured.
Dillon Silva, whose nephew was in a nearby classroom, said students were watching the Disney movie “Moana” when they heard several loud noises and a bullet shattered a window. Moments later, their teacher saw the attacker walk through the door.
“Oh, my God, he has a gun! the professor shouted twice, according to Silva. “The teacher didn’t even have time to lock the door,” he said.
A tactical team forced their way into the classroom where the attacker was locked up and was met with gunfire from Ramos, but shot and killed him, according to Olivarez.
In the aftermath, the families of Uvalde waited hours to hear from their children. At the city’s civic center where some gathered on Tuesday evening, the silence was repeatedly broken by shouts and groans. “No! Please, no!” shouted a man, kissing another man. On Wednesday morning, volunteers were seen arriving with Bibles and therapy dogs.
Three children and an adult were being treated at a San Antonio hospital, where two of them – a 66-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl – were in serious condition.
Uvalde, home to around 16,000 people, is about 75 miles from the Mexican border. Robb Elementary, with nearly 600 students in second, third, and fourth grades, is a one-story brick structure in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
The tight-knit community, built around a shaded central plaza, includes many Hispanic families who have lived there for generations. It sits amidst fields of cabbage, onions, carrots and other vegetables. But many of the most stable jobs are provided by companies that produce building materials.
The attack came as the school counted down to the final days of the school year with a series of themed days. Tuesday was to be “Footloose and Fancy”, with students wearing beautiful outfits.
Texas, which has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the country, has seen some of the deadliest shootings in the United States in the past five years.
In 2018, a gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area. A year earlier, a gunman shot dead more than two dozen people during a Sunday service in the small town of Sutherland Springs. In 2019, a gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist attack targeting Hispanics.
The shooting took place days before the start of the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston. The governor and the two U.S. senators from Texas, all Republicans, were among the speakers scheduled at a forum on Friday.