Teachers died trying to protect students in Texas school shooting, relatives say
22 people killed, including gunman, in midday elementary school attack in southern Texas
The two teachers who were shot alongside their students at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, died trying to protect their students after a gunman burst into their classroom, barricaded the doors and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, according to relatives briefed by police.
Nineteen children, aged nine and 10, were killed in the attack, along with Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia.
Garcia's nephew wrote on Twitter that his aunt "passed away with children in her arms trying to protect them." He went on to say, "Those weren't just her students they were her kids as well."
The 18-year-old gunman was killed, too.
As details of the latest mass killing to rock the U.S. emerged Wednesday, grief engulfed the small town of Uvalde, population 16,000.
The gunman legally bought two AR-style rifles before the attack, soon after his 18th birthday, and warned on social media minutes before the attack that he had shot his grandmother and was going to shoot up a school, Gov. Gregg Abbot said Wednesday.
The dead included an outgoing 10-year-old, Eliahna Garcia, who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; a fellow fourth grader, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, with 17 years' experience whose husband is an officer with the school district's police department.
"I just don't know how people can sell that type of a gun to a kid 18 years old," Eliahna's aunt, Siria Arizmendi, said angrily through tears. "What is he going to use it for but for that purpose?"
About 30 minutes before the bloodbath, Salvador Ramos made three social media posts, Abbot said. According to him, Ramos posted that he was going to shoot his grandmother, then that he had shot the woman, and finally that he was going to shoot up an elementary school.
PHOTOS | Community mourns following deadly school shooting:
'Evil swept across Uvalde'
Abbott said Ramos, a resident of the community about 135 kilometres west of San Antonio, had no known criminal or mental health history.
Seventeen people were also injured in the attack.
"Evil swept across Uvalde yesterday. Anyone who shoots his grandmother in the face has to have evil in his heart," Abbott said at a news conference. "But it is far more evil for someone to gun down little kids. It is intolerable and it is unacceptable for us to have in the state anybody who would kill little kids in our schools."
News conference interrupted
Democrat Beto O'Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor this year, interrupted the news conference, calling the Republican's response to the tragedy "predictable."
As Abbott was finishing his remarks, O'Rourke approached the stage, pointed to the governor and said, "This is on you."
"You are doing nothing. You are offering us nothing," O'Rourke told Abbott, as a police officer held out his arm, as if to stop the candidate from storming the stage. Some on the stage yelled back at O'Rourke, with Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, a Republican, calling him a "sick son of a bitch."
As officers escorted O'Rourke out of the auditorium, some in the gathered crowd jeered him while one woman chanted, "Let him speak." Some people cried.
"This is on you until you choose to do something different," O'Rourke said. "This will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday."
The child victims of the shooting that claimed the lives of 21 people were all gathered in the same classroom, an official said earlier Wednesday.
Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN that all victims were in the same fourth-grade class at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The gunman barricaded himself inside a classroom, "shooting anyone that was in his way," he said.
Law enforcement officers eventually broke into the classroom and killed the gunman. Police and others responding to the attack also broke windows at the school to enable students and teachers to escape.
Investigators did not immediately disclose a motive. But in chilling posts on social media in the days and hours before the massacre, an account that appeared to belong to Ramos displayed photos of his guns and seemed to indicate something was going to happen.
The attack in the predominantly Latino town of Uvalde was the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.
'My heart is broken'
In the aftermath of the shooting, families waited hours for word on their children. At the town civic centre where some gathered, the silence was broken repeatedly by screams and wailing. "No! Please, no!" one man yelled as he embraced another man.
"My heart is broken today," said Hal Harrell, the school district superintendent, on Tuesday evening. "We're a small community, and we're going to need your prayers to get through this."
It was the latest traumatic moment for a country scarred by a string of massacres, coming just 10 days after a deadly, racist rampage at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket.
U.S. President Joe Biden called for new gun restrictions in an address to the nation Tuesday night.
"As a nation we have to ask, when in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God's name are we going to do what has to be done?" Biden asked. "Why are we willing to live with this carnage?"
Uvalde, home to about 16,000 people, is about 120 kilometres from the border with Mexico. Robb Elementary, which has nearly 600 students in second, third and fourth grades, is in a mostly residential neighbourhood of modest homes.
The attack came as the school was counting down to the last days of the school year with a series of themed days. Tuesday was to be "Footloose and Fancy," with students wearing nice outfits.
Latest of grim tragedies
Condolences poured in from leaders around the world, including Pope Francis, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine, which is at war with Russia.
Sports leagues observed a moment of silence before games on Tuesday night, as did the New York Stock Exchange before the opening bell on Wednesday morning.
The tragedy in Uvalde was the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, and added to a grim tally in the state, which has been the site of some of the deadliest shootings in the U.S. over the past five years.
In 2018, a gunman fatally shot 10 people at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area. A year before that, a gunman at a Texas church killed more than two dozen people during a Sunday service in the small town of Sutherland Springs. In 2019, a gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist attack targeting Hispanics.
The latest shooting came days before the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention was set to begin in Houston.
Abbott and both of Texas' U.S. senators were among elected Republican officials who were scheduled speakers at a Friday leadership forum sponsored by the NRA's lobbying arm.
In the years since Sandy Hook, the gun control debate in Congress has waxed and waned. Efforts by lawmakers to change U.S. gun policies in any significant way have consistently faced roadblocks from Republicans and the influence of outside groups such as the NRA.
New gun legislation put in motion
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer swiftly set in motion a pair of background-check bills for gun buyers Wednesday in response to the school massacre in Texas. But the Democrat acknowledged Congress' unyielding rejection of previous legislation to curb the national epidemic of gun violence.
Schumer implored his Republican colleagues to cast aside the powerful gun lobby and reach across the aisle for even a modest compromise bill. But no votes are being scheduled.
"Please, please, please dammit. Put yourselves in the shoes of these parents just for once," Schumer said as he opened the Senate.
He threw up his hands at the idea of what might seem an inevitable outcome: "If the slaughter of schoolchildren can't convince Republicans to buck the NRA, what can we do?"
In many ways, the end of any gun violence legislation in Congress was signalled a decade ago when the Senate failed to approve a firearms background-check bill after the Sandy Hook shooting.
Even the targeting of their own failed to move Congress to act. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head at a Saturday morning event outside a Tucson grocery store in 2011, and several Republican lawmakers on a congressional baseball team were shot years later during morning practice.
"The conclusion is the same," said Sen. Cory Booker. "I'm not seeing any of my Republican colleagues come forward right now and say, 'Here's a plan to stop the carnage.' "
It's "nuts to do nothing about this," Sen. Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, said Wednesday using an expletive.
Republicans quickly pushed forward a bill championed by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that would create a nationwide database of school safety practices. But Schumer objected to its immediate consideration, vowing a much broader debate and votes.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has declined to publicly comment on potential legislation, and few others added their voices to the mix. The Texas shooting was a secondary topic at the senators' private Republican lunch Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she too had spoken to Murphy and that Congress should focus on "what some states have done red or yellow flag laws" — which are designed to keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others.
Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona, told reporters Wednesday she'll start having conversations with senators on "red flag" laws or others.
"People at home all across America are just, they're scared," Sinema said. "They want us to do something."
WIth files from CBC News and Reuters