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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Deadliest US school shooting in a decade shakes rural Texas town

People at a candlelight vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School gather in downtown Houston on Tuesday evening, May 24, 2022.

By Edgar Sandoval, Julie Bosman, J. David Goodman and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Law enforcement officials described in chilling detail Wednesday how an 18-year-old gunman shot his grandmother in the face and left her wounded at her home, drove a pickup truck that crashed at a high speed by an elementary school less than a half-mile away, and exchanged shots with police officers on the scene who were unable to stop him before he killed 19 children and two teachers in a massacre in a single classroom.

According to preliminary investigatory documents described by a state police official, the gunman, identified by police as Salvador Ramos, used an AR-15-style rifle in the killings Tuesday, and a second similar weapon was left in the truck outside. Ramos purchased both guns within the last week, just after his 18th birthday, the official said.

The chaotic rampage that unfolded in Uvalde, a small city about an hour and a half west of San Antonio, left a community in anguish, devastated families whose children had been violently gunned down at school, and renewed a national debate over firearms legislation and the stupefying tally of gun violence in the U.S.

It was the deadliest school shooting since 20 children and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, 10 years ago.

The shooting began to unfold Tuesday morning, when the local police department in Uvalde received a 911 call around 11:30 a.m. saying that a truck had crashed at Robb Elementary School and that a man had emerged from it carrying a long rifle and a backpack.

At least one armed law enforcement officer from the Uvalde school district was at the school. That officer exchanged gunfire with the gunman, but the gunman was able to get past the officer, the official said, citing the initial reports.

The gunman then entered through a south door at the school. After he was inside, two officers from the Uvalde police department arrived on the scene, engaged the gunman and were immediately met with gunfire, the official said. Both were shot.

It appeared the gunman was contained in one classroom at that time and the officers were unable to enter it. He remained there until a tactical unit from the border patrol arrived and shot the gunman several times, killing him, the official said.

Juan Paulo Ybarra Jr. said his little sister, a 10-year-old student at Robb Elementary School, described what happened in the moments before and leading to the massacre at her school.

Ybarra, a 19-year-old senior at Uvalde High School, said that when he and his mother first heard about a possible shooting at the elementary school, they frantically drove to the civic center, where they were told they could reunite with the students who survived. After several hours, they were reconnected with his sister.

“We were panicking,” Ybarra said. “I just wanted to talk to my sister.”

As they left together, she began to describe the horrifying moments as the gunman approached the school, Ybarra said.

Ybarra said his sister told him that her fourth-grade class had been watching a movie when she looked out of the classroom window and saw a man outside with a gun. She alerted her teacher and soon the classroom could hear gunfire aimed toward nearby windows, Ybarra’s sister told him.

Finally, Ybarra said, his sister described how she and her fellow classmates jumped out of the window, one by one, and ran to a funeral home across the street, seeking refuge.

All of the victims in the shooting have been identified, a state police official said. Several other children were injured Tuesday in the shooting.

A 66-year-old woman who officials said was the gunman’s grandmother was in serious condition Wednesday.

University Health, a hospital in San Antonio, said Wednesday that a 10-year-old girl brought to the hospital in critical condition after the school shooting had improved and was now in serious condition. A 9-year-old girl and another 10-year-old girl were also hospitalized and in good condition.

Acquaintances said the gunman frequently missed class when he was enrolled at a local high school and had few friends. The state official said Ramos appeared to have dropped out of school and had been employed at Wendy’s.

Officials did not release the names or ages of the students killed or of the two teachers.

Politicians and celebrities across the United States lamented the violence in Uvalde, a display of grief that has become a depressingly familiar American ritual. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, moved to clear the way to force votes on legislation that would strengthen background checks for gun purchasers.

“This isn’t the case of the American people not knowing where their senators stand. They know,” he said. “They know because my Republican colleagues are perfectly clear on this issue. Crystal clear. Republicans don’t pretend that they support sensible gun safety legislation.”

Republicans in Congress have blocked such measures after previous mass shootings. One of the staunchest opponents has been Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. On Tuesday, Cruz said the United States had “seen too many of these shootings” but also that he opposed the idea of restricting Americans’ constitutional rights.

Even before the pandemic, the United States had more guns than citizens. The pace of gun buying has risen over the last two years and so has the toll of gun violence, especially on children. That is true even in states, such as New York, that have relatively strong gun laws: Ten days before Uvalde became a focus of national attention, a gunman fatally shot 10 people inside a Buffalo, New York, grocery store.

On the state level, Texas has forged ahead with some of the least-restrictive gun laws in the United States. In 2021 — two years after twin mass shootings left more than two dozen people dead in El Paso, Midland and Odessa — Gov. Greg Abbott signed a wide-ranging law that made the state one of the largest to essentially eliminate most restrictions on the ability to carry handguns.

Cruz and Abbott are both scheduled to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston on Friday.

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