UVALDE, Texas (AP) — The gunman who massacred 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school legally bought two AR-style rifles just days before attack, soon after his 18th birthday, and seemed to hint online that something was about to happen.
As details of the latest mass killing to rock the U.S. emerged Wednesday, grief engulfed the small town of Uvalde, population 16,000.
The dead included an outgoing 10-year-old, Eliahna Garcia, who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; a fellow fourth grader, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, with 17 years’ experience whose husband is an officer with the school district’s police department.
“I just don’t know how people can sell that type of a gun to a kid 18 years old,” Eliahna’s aunt, Siria Arizmendi, said angrily through tears. “What is he going to use it for but for that purpose?”
The gunman, Salvador Ramos, a resident of the community about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of San Antonio, opened fire Tuesday at Robb Elementary. Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN that all of the victims were in the same fourth-grade classroom.
The killer “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom,” Olivarez said. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”
Law enforcement officers eventually broke into the classroom and killed the gunman. Police and others responding to the attack also went around breaking windows at the school to enable students and teachers to escape,
Investigators did not immediately disclose a motive. But in chilling posts on social media in the days and hours before the massacre, an account that appeared to belong to Ramos displayed photos of his guns and seemed to indicate something was going to happen.
The attack in the predominantly Latino town of Uvalde was the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
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 God’s name are we going to do what has to be done?”
But the prospects for any reform of the nation’s gun regulations appeared dim. Repeated attempts over the years to expand background checks and enact other curbs have run into Republican opposition in Congress.
Days before the attack, an Instagram account investigators say apparently belonged to Ramos posted a photo of a hand holding an ammunition magazine. On the day Ramos bought his second weapon last week, the account carried a photo of two AR-style rifles.
In that post, Ramos apparently tagged another Instagram user, one with more than 10,000 followers, asking her to share the picture with her followers.
“I barely know you and u tag me in a picture with some guns,” replied the Instagram user, who has since removed her profile. “It’s just scary.”
On the morning of the attack, the account linked to the gunman replied: “I’m about to.”
Instagram confirmed to The Associated Press that it is working with law enforcement to review the account but declined to answer questions about the postings. Investigators are also looking at a separate account on TikTok, possibly belonging to the shooter, with a profile that reads: “Kids be scared IRL,” an acronym meaning “in real life.” The profile is not dated.
Officers found one of the rifles in Ramos’ truck, the other in the school, according to the briefing given to lawmakers. Ramos was wearing a tactical vest, but it had no hardened body-armor plates inside, lawmakers were told. He also dropped a backpack containing several magazines full of ammunition near the school entrance.
One of the guns was purchased at a federally licensed dealer in the Uvalde area on May 17, according to state Sen. John Whitmire. Ramos bought 375 rounds of ammunition the next day, then purchased the second rifle last Friday.
On Tuesday morning, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother, then fled the scene, crashing his truck near the school and entering the building, authorities said.
Dillon Silva, whose nephew was in a nearby classroom, said students were watching the Disney movie “Moana” when they heard several loud pops and a bullet shattered a window. Moments later, their teacher saw the attacker stride past the door.
“Oh, my God, he has a gun!” the teacher shouted twice, according to Silva. “The teacher didn’t even have time to lock the door,” he said.
A tactical team forced its way into the classroom where the attacker was holed up and was met with gunfire from Ramos but shot and killed him, according to Olivarez.
In the aftermath, families in Uvalde waited hours for word on their children. At the town civic center where some gathered Tuesday night, the silence was broken repeatedly by screams and wails. “No! Please, no!” one man yelled as he embraced another man. On Wednesday morning, volunteers were seen arriving with Bibles and therapy dogs.
Staff members in scrubs and devastated victims’ relatives could be seen weeping as they left Uvalde Memorial Hospital, where many of the children were taken. Three children and an adult were being treated at a San Antonio hospital, where two of them — a 66-year-old woman and 10-year-old girl — were listed in serious condition.
Law enforcement officers investigating the bloodshed began serving search warrants and gathering telephone and other records. They also sought to contact Ramos’ relatives and trace the guns.
Uvalde, home to about 16,000 people, is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border. Robb Elementary, which has nearly 600 students in second, third and fourth grades, is a single-story brick structure in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
The close-knit community, built around a shaded central square, includes many Hispanic families who have lived there for generations. It sits amid fields of cabbage, onions, carrots and other vegetables. But many of the steadiest jobs are supplied by companies that produce construction materials.
The attack came as the school was counting down to the last days of the school year with a series of themed days. Tuesday was to be “Footloose and Fancy,” with students wearing nice outfits.
Condolences poured in from leaders around the world. Pope Francis said it is time to say ”‘enough’ to the indiscriminate trade of weapons!” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his nation also knows “the pain of losing innocent young lives.”
Texas, which has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the nation, has been the site of some of the deadliest shootings in the U.S. over the past five years.
In 2018, a gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area. A year before that, a gunman shot more than two dozen people to death 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 came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston. Gov. Greg. Abbott and both of Texas’ U.S. senators, all of them Republicans, were among the scheduled speakers at a forum Friday.