Crowd calls on Biden to 'do something' during visit to Uvalde, Texas, in wake of school shooting
U.S. president visits community left reeling from deaths of 19 children, 2 teachers
U.S. President Joe Biden grieved with the shattered community of Uvalde, Texas, on Sunday, mourning privately for three hours with anguished families left behind when a gunman killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers.
Faced with chants of "do something" as he departed a church service to meet privately with the families, Biden responded: "We will."
The visit to Uvalde was Biden's second trip in as many weeks to comfort a community in mourning after staggering loss. On May 17, he was in Buffalo, N.Y., to meet with victims' families and condemn white supremacy after a shooter killed 10 Black people at a supermarket.
Outside Robb Elementary School, Biden stopped at a memorial of 21 white crosses — one for each of those killed in Tuesday's shooting — and his wife, Jill Biden, added a bouquet of white flowers to a pile in front of the school sign.
They viewed individual altars erected in memory of each student, and the first lady touched the children's photos as the couple moved along the row.
After visiting the memorial, Biden attended mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where several victims' families are members, and one of the families was in attendance.
Speaking directly to the children in the congregation, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller tried to assuage the fears of the youngsters, some appearing about the same age as the victims.
"You have seen the news, you have witnessed the tears of your parents, friends," he said, encouraging them not to be afraid of life. "You are the best reminders to us that the lives of the little ones are important."
As Biden departed the church to meet privately with family members, a crowd of about 100 people began chanting "do something." Biden answered "we will," as he got into his car. It was not immediately clear what the U.S. president was suggesting.
Biden tweeted during the visit that he grieves, prays and stands with the people of Uvalde. "And we are committed to turning this pain into action," he said.
To everyone impacted by the horrific elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: We grieve with you. We pray with you. We stand with you. And we’re committed to turning this pain into action. <a href="https://t.co/TIYjdmfKVP">pic.twitter.com/TIYjdmfKVP</a>—@POTUS
Biden later met with first responders before his return trip to his home in Delaware. It was not clear if the group included officers who were involved in the immediate response to the shooting.
The visit to Uvalde was Biden's second trip in as many weeks to console a community in loss after a mass shooting.
He traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., on May 17 to meet with victims' families and condemn white supremacy after a shooter espousing the racist "replacement theory" killed 10 Black people at a supermarket.
The shootings in Texas and New York and their aftermath have put a spotlight on the nation's entrenched divisions and its inability to forge consensus on actions to reduce gun violence.
"Evil came to that elementary school classroom in Texas, to that grocery store in New York, to far too many places where innocents have died," Biden said on Saturday in a commencement address at the University of Delaware. "We have to stand stronger. We must stand stronger. We cannot outlaw tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer."
Mckinzie Hinojosa, whose cousin, Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10, was killed on Tuesday, said she respected Biden's decision to mourn with the people of Uvalde.
"It's more than mourning," she said. "We want change. We want action. It continues to be something that happens over and over and over. A mass shooting happens. It's on the news. People cry. Then it's gone. Nobody cares. And then it happens again. And again."
Mounting scrutiny of police response to shooting
Biden visited Uvalde amid amid mounting scrutiny of the police response to the shooting.
Officials revealed on Friday that students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help even as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway. Officials said the commander believed that the suspect was barricaded inside an adjoining classroom and that there was no longer an active attack.
The revelation prompted fresh anguish and questions about whether more lives were lost because officers did not act faster to stop the gunman, who was ultimately killed by Border Patrol tactical officers.
On Sunday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would conduct a review of the local police response to the shooting.
On Wednesday, before details about the delayed officer response were known, Biden had praised their efforts, saying that "brave local officers and border patrol agents intervened to save as many children as they could."
Authorities have said the shooter legally purchased two guns not long before the school attack: an AR-style rifle on May 17 and a second rifle on May 20. He had just turned 18, permitting him to buy the weapons under federal law.
On Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw told reporters the shooter had purchased a total of 1,657 rounds of ammunition and that 315 of them were found inside the school, with 142 of them spent cartridges and 173 live rounds.
The police, by comparison, fired a total of 35 rounds — eight in the hallway and 27 in the classroom where the gunman was killed.
'I know we can do this'
Speaking on Saturday, Biden said something had to change in response to the attack.
"I call on all Americans at this hour to join hands and make your voices heard, to work together to make this nation what it can and should be," he said. "I know we can do this. We've done it before."
Hours after the shooting, Biden delivered an impassioned plea for additional gun control legislation, asking: "When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?"
Over the years, Biden has been intimately involved in the gun control movement's most notable successes, such as the 1994 assault weapons ban, as well as its most troubling disappointments, including the failure to pass new legislation after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
In the White House, Biden has tried to chip away at gun violence through executive orders. He faces few new options now, but executive action might be the best the president can do, given Washington's sharp divisions on gun control legislation.
Lawmakers restarted long-stalled negotiations on expanding background check requirements and encouraging "red flag" laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of individuals suspected of posing a risk to themselves or others, but the talks face an uphill battle on Capitol Hill.
With files from CBC's Kazi Stastna