A gunman killed at least 19 children and two adults Tuesday in an attack at an elementary school in the southwestern U.S. state of Texas, one of the deadliest mass shootings at a school in the country’s history.
The attack happened in the city of Uvalde, where authorities said the 18-year-old gunman first shot his grandmother, then crashed a car and entered the school, carrying out the shootings before being killed by law enforcement.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Erick Estrada told CNN that officers saw the gunman, who was wearing body armor, leave the crashed car carrying a rifle, and that officers “engaged” the suspect, but that he was still able to go into the school.
In the chaotic minutes and hours following the attack, the extent of the massacre was unclear, with some shooting victims taken to local hospitals and the number of those killed and wounded difficult to confirm.
Lydia Martinez Delgado wrote on Facebook that her niece, Eva Mireles, was a teacher at the school and among those killed.
“I’m furious that these shootings continue,” Martinez Delgado said in a statement. “These children are innocent. Rifles should not be easily available to all. This is my hometown, a small community of less than 20,000. I never imagined this would happen to especially loved ones.”
The school district’s superintendent, Hal Harrell, told reporters that grief counseling services were being made available for students and that the remaining few days of the school year were canceled.
“My heart is broken today,” Harrell said. “We’re a small community, and we’re going to need your prayers to get through this.”
A spokesman said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is deeply shocked and saddened by the heinous mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. It is particularly heart-wrenching that most of the victims are children.”
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to the nation late Tuesday, expressing condolences to the victims’ families, questioning why mass shootings are so common in the country and urging lawmakers to support what he called “commonsense gun laws.”
“I am sick and tired,” he said. “We have to act.”
Biden said he learned about the shootings as he was returning from a trip to Asia.
“What struck me was these kinds of mass shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world,” Biden said. “Why? They have mental health problems. They have domestic disputes in other countries. They have people who are lost. But these kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency they happen in America. Why? Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?”
Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest school shooting in Texas and the deadliest elementary school shooting since the 2012 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead, 20 of them schoolchildren.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott identified the gunman as Salvador Ramos.
“Texans across the state are grieving for the victims of this senseless crime and for the community of Uvalde,” Abbott said in a statement.
Abbott said he and his wife, Cecilia, “mourn this horrific loss and we urge all Texans to come together to show our unwavering support to all who are suffering.”
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas echoed similar sentiments. “Today is a dark day. We’re all completely sickened and heartbroken,” he said in a statement. “We’ve seen too many of these shootings. No parent should have to bear the pain of burying their child. We need to come together, as one nation, and support Uvalde as they try to heal from this devastating loss.”
Both Abbott and Cruz were among a group of Republican figures scheduled to appear Friday in Houston at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association, the gun rights group that has opposed gun control measures.
The school has an enrollment of about 600 students in the second, third and fourth grades and sits in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes. The town has a population of about 16,000 people and is the seat of government for Uvalde County. It is about 135 kilometers (84 miles) west of San Antonio and about 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the border with Mexico.
Texas has been the scene of several mass shootings over the past five years. One year before the Santa Fe school shooting in 2018, a gunman at a Texas church killed more than two dozen people during a Sunday service in the small town of Sutherland Springs. In 2019, another gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist attack.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.