Texas school shooting victims all died in one classroom

Massacre in Uvalde that left 21 people dead is the deadliest incident at a US school in about a decade

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Days after a racist massacre in New York, America was reeling once more on Wednesday following a primary school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead in a single classroom in the worst such attack since the Sandy Hook killings in Connecticut a decade ago.

Horrifying details have emerged about Tuesday's attack, in which Salvador Ramos, 18, began his rampage by shooting his 66-year-old grandmother in the face before fleeing in a car.

He then crashed the vehicle and entered the nearby Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and opened fire, authorities said. The attack that lasted nearly 40 minutes.

Police and others smashed windows at the school to enable pupils and teachers to escape. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said a shootout ensued, in which three police officers were wounded. Officials said all the victims were believed to have been hit by Ramos's bullets.

Police "breached the classroom door, they went in, engaged Ramos, and killed him at the scene," Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference.

Lt Christopher Olivarez of the same department told CNN that the killer “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom”, he said.

“It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter”.

One girl in the fourth grade, 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, was murdered as she tried to call the police.

"My little love is now flying high with the angels above," her mother, Angel Garza, wrote on Facebook. "Please don't take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them."

Onlookers had to urge police officers to charge into the school, a witness said on Wednesday.

“Go in there! Go in there!” nearby women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who saw the scene from outside his house, AP reported. Carranza said the officers did not immediately go in.

Ramos lived with his grandmother, who survived but is in critical condition. Authorities said the teenager had posted three chilling messages through Facebook before the shooting spree, saying he planned on shooting his grandmother and attacking a school.

More than a dozen children were wounded at the school, attended by more than 500 pupils, mostly Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and aged between 7 and 10.

Mass shootings in the US, often defined as an attack in which four or more people are killed or injured, not including the gunman, are commonplace.

The Gun Violence Archive shows that 213 mass shootings have occurred so far this year - an average rate of more than one a day.

Wednesday's assault stands out, however, for the scale of the slaughter.

US flags fly at half-staff in New York City after the shooting. AFP

Not since a gunman entered the Sandy Hook primary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and killed 26 people have so many children been murdered in a school shooting.

Twenty children aged between 5 and 10 years old were among the dead in that attack. There were louder calls for gun control action shortly afterwards, as tragic photos of the young children were published.

But in a country where constitutionally protected gun-ownership outstrips public safety concerns, no meaningful action was taken and the everyday violence that is increasingly coming to define America has only worsened.

Mr Abbott was dismissive of questions about gun control, pointing to other cities such as Chicago that are awash in firearms despite having some gun restrictions on the books. He called for greater mental health care but noted that Ramos had "no known" issues with mental health.

The governor and other officials repeatedly blamed the attack on "evil".

At one point in the press conference, Beto O'Rourke, who is running for Texas governor, confronted officials over their unwillingness to discuss gun control in a state with almost no gun laws and more than one million registered firearms.

"The next shooting is right now and you are doing nothing," Mr O'Rourke said before being ejected from the auditorium.

Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke disrupts a press conference held by Governor Greg Abbott the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Reuters

The Uvalde shooter bought his guns legally days before the attack soon after his 18th birthday, authorities said.

He bought one AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle from a federally licensed gun dealer in the Uvalde area on May 17. The next day, he bought 375 rounds of ammunition and bought a second rifle on May 20.

On May 14, a self-proclaimed white supremacist gunman rampaged through a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in a predominantly black neighbourhood, killing 10 people. Police have categorised it as a racist hate crime.

Democrat Chris Murphy, a senator from Connecticut and a leading advocate for legislation to restrict the proliferation of guns, told reporters: "I just don't understand why people here think we're powerless."

"You know, guns flow in this country like water. And that's why we have mass shooting after mass shooting," he said.

Firearms became the leading cause of death for US children and adolescents starting in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, a University of Michigan research letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month said.

“As a nation, we have to ask, when in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Joe Biden asked in a White House address, with first lady Jill Biden by his side.

“I am sick and tired we have to act."

On Tuesday evening, members of the Uvalde community held a Catholic mass for the dead, hours after parents had waited anxiously for news of their children.

New York Stock Exchange traders pause for a moment of silence on the floor before the opening bell on Wednesday, in remembrance of the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas. New York Stock Exchange / AP

“This is my home town, a small community of less than 20,000. I never imagined this would happen, especially to loved ones,” said Lydia Martinez Delgado, a relative of one of the teachers who was killed.

Her niece, Eva Mireles, had taught at the school for 17 years and was murdered along with her colleague, Irma Garcia, who’d worked at the school for more than two decades.

She told local San Antonio news channel K-SAT TV that the outrage was directly linked to the availability of guns.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the biggest gun rights lobby group in the US and has been instrumental in fighting against stricter US gun laws.

Mr Abbott and Ted Cruz, one of the state's senators, are listed as speakers at an NRA forum in Houston, Texas, scheduled for later this week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country has experienced the bombing of schools during the Russian invasion, offered his condolences to victims of the Texas shooting.

Former US vice president and staunch gun advocate Mike Pence, who told an audience of the NRA in 2019 that “firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens don't threaten our families", said that he was praying for the victims.

"Karen Pence and I are deeply saddened and heartbroken to hear of the horrific shooting that took place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde," he wrote on Twitter.

Democrats in favour of tougher laws on guns followed Mr Biden’s call to “stand up to the gun lobby”.

Jamie Raskin, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, called on Congress to “confront the nightmare of gun violence in America and its savage toll on our people”.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: May 26, 2022, 7:48 AM