According to state and federal officials, a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school in one of the country’s deadliest school massacres posted his intentions online before barricading himself inside a fourth-grade classroom, where all of the death and injury occurred.
“We’re still trying to confirm motive, what triggered him,” said Lt. Christopher Olivarez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, to the Los Angeles Times.
Officials say the rampage began with the suspect, Salvador Ramos, 18, a fast-food worker, shooting his 66-year-old grandmother, Celia Gonzales, in the face at her home in Uvalde.
The gunman was spotted minutes later crashing a truck into a ditch and running toward the school with a rifle. An officer with the Uvalde school district engaged the gunman before he entered the school. But at least 40 minutes to an hour passed — the shooter went through a backdoor, down two short hallways and ended up in a classroom where he opened fire — before a Border Patrol officer shot and killed him.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that Ramos was a high school dropout with no criminal record or mental health history. He gave no warning of his crime, Abbott said, until about 30 minutes before he reached the school, when he posted on Facebook that he was going to shoot his grandmother, who had worked as a teacher’s aide for the elementary school until 2020.
In a second post on Facebook, Abbott said, the gunman said he had shot his grandmother.
Less than 15 minutes before arriving at school, he said, Ramos posted: “I’m going to shoot an elementary school.”
Abbott’s narrative was disputed by Andy Stone, a spokesman for Meta, who said on Twitter that the suspect’s messages were private one-to-one direct text messages discovered after the shooting occurred. A 15-year-old girl in Frankfurt, Germany, told CNN and The New York Times that she received the messages.
The massacre in the predominantly working-class Latino city of about 16,000 people, roughly 50 miles from the Mexico border, involved the most fatalities of any U.S. school shooting since 2012, when 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Uvalde has been shaken to its core,” Abbott said at news conference at the local high school. “Families are broken apart. Hearts are forever shattered. All Texans are grieving with the people of Uvalde.”
As the people of Uvalde mourned, there was little agreement on the root cause of the tragedy — or the solution to the staggering toll of gun violence in America. The shooting, that came less than two weeks after 10 people were killed at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, sparked a renewed burst of calls for more regulation of firearms.
In an exchange that underlined America’s divisions over gun control, Abbott was challenged by Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman who is running for governor of Texas, who walked up to the stage and confronted Abbott after he finished speaking.
“The next shooting is right now and you’re doing nothing,” O’Rourke said.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, a Republican, seated behind the governor, rose and shouted to O’Rourke, “Sir, you are out of line!” Then he ordered O’Rourke to leave the auditorium: “I can’t believe you’re a sick son of a bitch who would come to a deal like this to make a political issue.”
“There are family members who are crying as we speak,” Abbott said after O’Rourke was escorted out of the room. “Think about the people who are hurt and help those who are hurt.”
A total of 17 people were injured, Olivarez said. All of the dead had been identified and their bodies removed from the school Wednesday, although the campus remained a crime scene and students were dismissed for the year.
University Hospital in San Antonio said Wednesday that two victims — a 66-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl who arrived in critical condition — were now in serious condition. A 9-year-old girl and another 10-year-old girl were in good condition.
After Ramos shot his grandmother, he got into a truck, drove at high speed and crashed. Clad in black and wearing an armored vest with no protective ballistic plate inside, he was captured on a security camera with at least one weapon visible as he approached the school.
At 11:43 a.m. local time Tuesday, Robb Elementary School went into lockdown.
About 34 minutes later, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District announced on social media that there was an active shooter at the school.
“Law enforcement is on site,” the district said. “Your cooperation is needed at this time by not visiting the campus. As soon as more information is gathered it will be shared. The rest of the district is under a Secure Status.”
The first group of officers who responded to the shooting broke and shattered windows to help the teachers and students evacuate the school, Olivarez said.
The children at Robb Elementary were two days away from summer break when the attacker burst into their classroom. Tuesday’s theme at the school was “Footloose and Fancy,” and students were supposed to wear special outfits with fun or fancy shoes.
Among those killed in the shooting was Eliana “Ellie” Garcia, 9. The second eldest of five girls, Eliana was a helper around the house who loved “Encanto,” cheerleading and basketball, her grandparents said. She dreamed of becoming a teacher.
Her grandfather Rogelio Lugo, 63, spent Tuesday driving among hospitals, then waiting at the civic center as officials swabbed the mouths of his daughter and son-in-law for DNA to identify his granddaughter. At about 9:30 p.m., he said, officials started calling parents’ names, summoning them to a back room to confirm their children were dead.
“When you go in, you know your baby is deceased,” he recalled as he sat in his living room Wednesday, surrounded by family and friends.
He and his wife, Nelda Lugo, 63, had last seen Ellie on Sunday. She spent weekends with her grandparents, reminding them to take their pills, helping to mow the lawn and make tostadas and chalupas. Sitting in their kitchen Wednesday surrounded by loved ones, Lugo said the deaths still didn’t seem real.
“This morning I got up and thought, ‘What a dream I had,’” she said.
Another victim was Amerie Jo Garza, 10. Just that morning, she had posed at school for a photo, beaming as she clutched a bright certificate celebrating her “A-B” honor roll.
“Thank you everyone for the prayers and help trying to find my baby,” her father, Angel Garza, wrote on Facebook shortly after midnight. “She’s been found. My little love is now flying high with the angels above.”
In their briefing for lawmakers early Wednesday, law enforcement officials said the suspect purchased two AR-platform rifles at a local federally licensed firearm seller on May 17 and May 20. On May 18, the suspect purchased 375 rounds of 5.56-caliber ammunition. One of the rifles was left in the crashed vehicle. The other rifle, a Daniel Defense, was located in the school with the suspect.
The suspect dropped a backpack with several magazines full of ammunition near the school entrance, authorities said. Inside the school, at least seven 30-round magazines were found.
Uniformed state troopers, police and firefighters lingered outside the Uvalde civic center on Wednesday morning, but relatives of the dead had vanished. Outside the elementary school, state troopers maintained barricades around the active crime scene.
The shooter’s grandfather, Rolando Reyes, 73, said Wednesday that he did not know that his grandson had any guns in the house as he stopped by his home — still a crime scene — before returning to his wife, who he said was undergoing surgery in San Antonio.
Asked about his grandson’s motive in the shooting, he said, “I don’t know.”
Reyes said his grandson lived with him, that they spoke daily, and he didn’t seem upset or have drug problems. Ramos wasn’t licensed to carry a gun, he said.
“I’m so sorry,” Reyes said as he walked past police tape to his car. He knew the victims’ families. “I feel terrible for those who lost children. They were innocent. I feel for all the victims and the families.”
Eduardo Trinidad, whose son is a senior at Uvalde high school, said in a telephone interview that Ramos was a loner who wore all black and was bullied because of his strange behavior.
“He was always off by himself,” he said. “My son told me he really did not have a lot of contact with the other kids.”
Trinidad said his son told him that Ramos had been working at Wendy’s and was not in school.
“The kid was upset about not graduating,” he said. “That set him off.”
Asked if Texas should introduce more restrictive gun laws in response to the massacre, Abbott dismissed the idea that states like New York, California and Illinois were role models on guns.
“I hate to say it, but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” he said at the news conference. “We need to realize that people who think that well, maybe we just implement tougher gun laws it’s going to solve it, Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois and Texas have similar firearm mortality rates (14.1 deaths per 100,000 residents in Illinois in 2020 compared to 14.2 in Texas).
Abbott, who last year signed into law several measures that expanded gun rights in Texas, is scheduled to speak on Friday at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston.
Art Acevedo, the former police chief of Houston and Austin, Texas, said state law allows an 18-year-old to buy AR-style rifles and permits a buyer to purchase two semi-automatic rifles.
“There is a reason why the drinking age is 21,” Acevedo said. “Eighteen to 21 are important years for development. If he had to wait three years to get the guns, maybe he would have changed or got on the law enforcement radar.”
Acevedo said he has heard conservative friends say they think it is reasonable to delay access to this type of rifle: “When people say there is nothing we can do, that isn’t true,” he said. “We can change the age limit here and it would save lives.”
Henry Becerra, a pastor with City Church, which is based in Los Angeles and San Antonio, traveled to Uvalde after the shooting to pray with families overnight and into Wednesday morning.
After meeting them at the civic center, Becerra went to some of their homes to pray with relatives in living rooms as mourners spilled into the yards.
“How many more moments of silence do we have to go through?” Becerra said as he stood with a half-dozen members of his church outside the civic center late Tuesday.
“The last few days, the vulnerable people have been taken advantage of: a grocery store, a church and a school,” he said, alluding to recent shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Laguna Woods, in Southern California.
“We need to take action,” Becerra said, but “I don’t have an answer.”
Becerra said he saw families in the civic center being notified that their children had died in the attack.
“They screamed, they cried, they pulled their hair, they yelled, ‘Why?’ ” he said.
The Rev. Mike Marsh of St. Philips Episcopal Church in Uvalde, who met at the local hospital Tuesday with relatives of those unaccounted for, said local funeral homes planned to cover funeral costs. He said the city was paying for the burials.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotional trauma for students, teachers and parents that needs to be addressed,” he said. “There’s no good answers.”
On Wednesday evening, Ravenn Vasquez, 21, said she wanted to avoid politics as she stood in a local park holding up a sign to passing cars.
On one side it read “Uvalde Strong.” On the other, “Back the Pack,” a reference to the local school mascot, the Coyotes.
A 2019 Uvalde High graduate, Vasquez wanted to spread a positive message — purposefully not about politics or gun control — rather than sit at home in shock watching TV or scrolling social media, she said.
“Just to be here for the community — and get away from the screens for a little bit,” she said as cars streamed by.
Vasquez’s two friends held their own signs.
“Prayers 4 Uvalde,” read one.
“Remember their names,” read the other.
(Hennessy-Fiske reported from Uvalde, Jarvie from Atlanta and Winton from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report from Uvalde.)