BARRIO – An 18-year-old gunman opened fire Tuesday at a Texas elementary school, killing at least 19 children as he went from classroom to classroom, officials said, in the latest gruesome moment for a country scarred by a string of massacres. The attacker was killed by law enforcement.
The death toll also included two adults, authorities said. Gov. Greg Abbott said one of the two was a teacher.
The assault at Robb Elementary School in the heavily Latino town of Uvalde was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. grade school since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, almost a decade ago.
“My heart is broken today,” said Hal Harrell, the school district superintendent, announcing that all school activities were canceled until further notice. “We’re a small community, and we’re going to need your prayers to get through this.”
The gunman, who was wearing body armor, crashed his car outside the school before going inside, Sgt. Erick Estrada of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN.
He killed his grandmother before heading to the school with two military-style rifles he had purchased on his birthday, according to state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who said he had been briefed by state police.
“That was the first thing he did on his 18th birthday,” he said.
Officials did not immediately reveal a motive, but the governor identified the assailant as Salvador Ramos and said he was a resident of the community about 135 kilometres west of San Antonio.
Ramos bought a pair of semi-automatic rifles on May 17 and May 20 — just after celebrating his 18th birthday on May 16 — from Oasis Outback, an outdoors and hunting store on Uvalde’s Main Street that’s attached to a restaurant, according to officials and the New York Times.
Ramos also purchased 375 rounds of 5.56 ammunition, Texas State Sen. John Whitmire told the Austin American-Statesman.
After the armed teenager barged into the school, he barricaded himself inside a fourth-grade class and proceeded to shoot the teachers and children huddling inside, authorities said.
Ramos allegedly shot one girl as she tried to call 911, leaving her best friend sitting next to her covered in her blood.
Ramos had hinted on social media that an attack could be coming, Gutierrez said, noting that “he suggested the kids should watch out.”
A Border Patrol agent who was working nearby when the shooting began rushed into the school without waiting for backup and shot and killed the gunman, who was behind a barricade, according to a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about it.
The agent was wounded but able to walk out of the school, the law enforcement source said.
The school district’s police chief, Pete Arredondo, said that the attacker acted alone.
It was not immediately clear how many people were wounded, but Arredondo said there were “several injuries.” Earlier, Uvalde Memorial Hospital said 13 children were taken there. Another hospital reported a 66-year-old woman was in critical condition.
Robb Elementary School has an enrollment of just under 600 students, and Arredondo said it serves students in the second, third and fourth grade. He did not provide ages of the children who were shot. This was the school’s last week of classes before summer break.
Updated May 25 2022, 4:30pm