UVALDE, Texas — A gunman killed at least 19 children and two adults at a rural Texas elementary school Tuesday, a state police official said, in the deadliest American school shooting since the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre a decade ago.
The killings took place just before noon at Robb Elementary School, where second through fourth graders in Uvalde, a small town west of San Antonio, were preparing for the start of summer vacation this week. At least one teacher was among the adults killed, and several other children were injured.
The gunman, who authorities identified as an 18-year-old man who had attended a nearby high school, was armed with multiple weapons, officials said. He also died at the scene, it said.
“He shot and killed in an appalling, incomprehensible manner,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news conference.
While terrified parents in Uvalde awaited news of their children’s safety and law enforcement officials rushed to find out how the attack had happened, the mass shooting deepened a national political debate about gun laws and gun proliferation. Ten days earlier, a gunman fatally shot ten people at a Buffalo grocery store.
“This is just nasty,” Rey Chapa, a Uvalde resident, said of Tuesday’s killings while using an expletive. Mr Chapa said his nephew was at school when the shooting happened but was safe. He waited for feedback from relatives and friends about the condition of other children and scrolled Facebook for updates. “I’m afraid I will know many of these children who have been killed.”
Across the street from the school, state police officers were strewn across the school lawn and an ambulance was idling, its lights flashing. Adolfo Hernandez, a longtime resident of Uvalde, said his nephew was in a classroom near where the shooting took place.
“He actually witnessed his little friend being shot in the face,” Mr. Hernandez said. The friend, he said, “got shot in the nose and just went down, and my nephew was devastated.”
In a brief address from the White House Tuesday night, President Biden got emotional as he reflected on the attack and called for action, but did not endorse any specific policy or vote.
“It’s just sick,” he said of the type of guns that are readily available in the United States and used in mass shootings. “Where in God’s name is our backbone, the courage to do more and then stand up to the lobbies? It is time to put that pain into action.”
Mr. Biden later added, “May the Lord be near to the brokenhearted and save those who are down in spirit for they will need much.”
The shooting happened on Election Day in Texas, as voters across the state headed to the polls for the primary runoff elections that would set the stage for November’s election, at a time when the state and nation were grappling with political disagreements over race and immigration were torn apart and abortion.
When the death toll became known, events at Robb Elementary School immediately brought back poignant memories of the devastating 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that left six staff members and 20 children dead, some as young as 6 years old. Six years later, a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Recognition…Dario Lopez-Mills/Associated Press
Lydia Martinez Delgado said her niece Eva Mireles, a teacher of fourth graders at the school, was among those who died in the shooting. Ms Mireles had been a teacher for 17 years, her aunt said, and was “very popular”, an avid hiker and proud to teach mostly students of Latino heritage. “She was the fun of the party,” said Ms. Martinez Delgado.
For many, the weight of tragedy seemed to be heightened by their arrival so shortly after the fatal mass murder of black shoppers at a Buffalo grocery store in one of the deadliest racial massacres in recent American history. It was the deadliest shooting in the United States this year until Tuesday’s killings in Uvalde.
Mr. Abbott said the shooter resided in the same county where the shooting took place, attended high school there, and acted alone. He entered the elementary school with a handgun and possibly a rifle, the governor said.
It was not immediately clear if the shooting occurred in one or more classrooms, and officials did not release the names or ages of the students killed or the teacher. At least three children — a 9-year-old and two 10-year-olds, one in critical condition — were taken to University Health, a hospital in San Antonio, for treatment.
Officials were investigating whether the shooter, who they identified as Salvador Ramos, had targeted the school or if he had ended up there by accident, according to a law enforcement official, who asked for anonymity to describe the investigation, which he warned they were causing are still in progress. The gunman appeared to have rammed a pickup truck through a barrier at the school before entering, the officer said. At least two police officers who tried to attack the gunman were injured in the shooting, neither seriously, the officer said.
Marsha Espinosa, an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said at least one U.S. Border Patrol agent was wounded after responding to the Robb Elementary School shooting. “Upon entering the building, agents and other law enforcement officials were met with gunfire from the person barricaded inside,” she wrote on Twitter.
Shortly before the massacre, a 66-year-old woman was shot dead at her home in Uvalde, the officer said, and later flown to a San Antonio hospital with gunshot wounds. The officer said the woman appeared to be the gunman’s grandmother and was shot before the school shooting; Both shootings and the connection between them remained under investigation.
The shooting happened just after 11:30 a.m. For most of the afternoon, as the news broke, concerned parents were ordered to stay away from school by the district. “Please do not pick up students at this time,” the school district instructed parents, directing them to a local civic center. “Students must be held accountable before they are released into your care.”
Parents and relatives sought information when news of a school shooter led to the realization that so many children had been killed.
Ryan Ramirez told KSAT in San Antonio that when he showed up at the school or at a reunion point at a community center, he couldn’t find his daughter, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary. “Nobody tells me anything,” he said, adding, “I’m trying to find out where my baby is.”
Before much was known about the shooter, his motives, or details about the weapons he used, the killings brought the debate over gun control and Second Amendment rights back to the forefront of national attention.
Recognition…Christopher Lee for the New York Times
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut and an advocate of gun control legislation, said, “I think everyone here is going to be shaken to the core by this.” He added, “I have no idea how any community is handling this. There is no way to do this well. Their community will never be the same after that.”
The National Rifle Association will hold its annual meeting in Houston starting Friday. Mr. Abbott is among the list of prominent Republicans scheduled to appear alongside former President Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.
“Today is a dark day,” Mr. Cruz said in a statement. In messages on Twitter, he said the nation had “seen too many of these shootings,” but he didn’t immediately call for concrete policy proposals to prevent mass killings.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat whose efforts to pass legislation on background checks for gun purchases was blocked in 2013, said, “It doesn’t make any sense at all why we can’t do sensible things and try to prevent some of that from happening.” .”
Robb Elementary, a brick school building on the edge of the city center, serves more than 500 students, most between the ages of 7 and 10. About 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, according to district records, with nearly all others being white. There is a sign at the school that says “Welcome!”. and “¡Bienvenidos!” a heart next to the school’s logo.
In the neighborhood around the school, more than 40 percent of residents have lived in the same house for at least 30 years, according to census data. And more than a quarter of Uvalde’s 15,000 residents are children, well above the national average. More than a third live at or just above the federal poverty line.
Joaquin Castro, a US representative for Texas, described Uvalde on Twitter as a “wonderful, close-knit community.”
Reporting was provided by Mike Baker, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Emily Cochrane, Jacey Fortin, Robert Gebeloff, Jesus Jiménez, Alyssa Lukpat, Eduardo Medina, Sarah Mervosh, and Michael D. Shear.