The U.S. teenage gunman who killed at least 19 children and two adults Tuesday warned in a private message on a social network shortly ahead of time that he was about to shoot up an elementary school, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Wednesday.
Abbott described Salvador Ramos as an 18-year-old high school dropout. The governor blamed mental health issues for Ramos’ assault on the Robb Elementary School in the small city of Uvalde, Texas. A U.S. Border Patrol agent shot Ramos to death, ending his rampage.
But Abbott said officials had not discovered any mental health care concerns officially registered about Ramos, although news outlets reported that on occasion Ramos had randomly fired a BB gun at people along the streets of Uvalde and had thrown eggs at cars. Acquaintances said he was angered that he had not completed enough classes to graduate this week with his classmates.
Abbott said that 30 minutes before Ramos stormed into the school, he posted a message on Facebook saying, “I’m going to shoot my grandmother,” with whom he lived, and went on to fire a shot at her face. The woman, Celia Martinez, 66, survived the attack and was hospitalized, but was reported in serious condition.
Moments later, he said in another message, “I shot my grandmother.”
Then, in a third message, Ramos warned, “I’m going to shoot an elementary school,” Abbott recounted.
A Facebook spokesman clarified that the text messages were sent to one person but would not disclose which of Facebook’s platforms the gunman used.
After Ramos crashed his car in a ditch near the school, police officers employed by the school district “engaged with the gunman,” though no gunfire was exchanged. Ramos then carried an assault weapon into the school and killed all his victims in the same fourth-grade classroom, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Abbott said 17 others were injured in the mayhem, but that none of them had life-threatening injuries.
The issue of gun control and sales is one of the most contentious in U.S. politics, and Abbott’s news conference was no exception. As the governor, a gun rights advocate, finished speaking, Beto O’Rourke, his Democratic gubernatorial opponent in the November election, shouted at him, “You are doing nothing!” to prevent gun violence.
“Abbott made it easier to carry guns in public,” O’Rourke said on Twitter. “The moment to stop the next slaughter is right now.”
In the aftermath of the country’s latest mass killing, gun rights supporters and gun control advocates alike decried Tuesday's mayhem.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he and first lady Jill Biden would visit Texas "in coming days," adding that "the idea that an 18-year-old can walk into a store and buy weapons of war designed and marketed to kill is, I think, just wrong, just violates common sense."
"The Second Amendment is not absolute," Biden said as he called for new limits on guns. When the constitutional amendment was written, he said, "you couldn't own a cannon. You couldn't own certain kinds of weapons. There's always been limitations. But guess what — these actions we've taken before, they save lives. They can do it again."
It was not immediately clear that the latest mass killing changed the minds of any opposition Republican lawmakers in the Senate, who in the past have blocked restrictive gun measures favored by Biden and Democratic senators.
At least 10 Republican lawmakers would need to join all 50 Democrats in the chamber to pass restrictive gun control legislation.
Some lawmakers talked of trying to reach legislative compromises that would require further background checks of gun buyers, extend the time frame for such checks or ban the sale of guns over the internet.
The U.S. banned the sale of assault weapons, often used in mass killings and, according to police, deployed by the gunman in Tuesday’s attack, from 1994 to 2004. Congress then failed to renew the law.
Legislative attempts to tighten gun laws have been adamantly opposed by lobbyists for gun manufacturers and pro-gun lawmakers who cite Americans’ rights to gun ownership that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Biden said he learned about the shooting as he was returning from a trip to Asia.
“What struck me was these kinds of mass shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world,” Biden said. “Why? They have mental health problems. They have domestic disputes in other countries. They have people who are lost. But these kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency they happen in America. Why?”
He then called on lawmakers to stand up to the gun lobby.
Lydia Martinez Delgado wrote on Facebook that her niece, Eva Mireles, was a teacher at the school and among those killed.
“I’m furious that these shootings continue,” Martinez Delgado said in a statement. “These children are innocent. Rifles should not be easily available to all. This is my hometown, a small community of less than 20,000. I never imagined this would happen to especially loved ones.”
The school district’s superintendent, Hal Harrell, told reporters that grief counseling services were being made available for students and that the remaining few days of the school year were canceled.
“My heart is broken today,” Harrell said. “We’re a small community, and we’re going to need your prayers to get through this.”
Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest school shooting in Texas and the deadliest elementary school shooting since the 2012 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead, 20 of them schoolchildren.
Law enforcement officials say that Ramos legally purchased two assault weapons days after his 18th birthday a couple weeks ago, along with 375 rounds of ammunition. He posted pictures of the weapons on a social media account attributed to him.
Numerous political figures condemned the shootings, including U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who called Tuesday “a dark day.”
Both Abbott and Cruz were among a group of Republican figures, including former President Donald Trump, scheduled to appear Friday in Houston at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association, a gun rights group that has opposed gun control measures.
Cruz has also received $176,274 in campaign contributions from the NRA, according to Brady United, a nonprofit advocating for gun control.
The Texas elementary school has an enrollment of about 600 students in the second, third and fourth grades and sits in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes. The town has a population of about 16,000 people and is the seat of government for Uvalde County. It is about 135 kilometers west of San Antonio and about 120 kilometers north of the border with Mexico.
Texas has been the scene of several mass shootings over the past five years. One year before the Santa Fe school shooting in 2018, 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, another gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist attack.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.