UVALDE, Texas (AP) — An 18-year-old gunman opened fire Tuesday at a Texas elementary school, killing at least 19 children as he went from classroom to classroom, officials said, in the latest gruesome moment for a country scarred by a string of massacres. The attacker was killed by law enforcement.
The death toll also included two adults, authorities said. Gov. Greg Abbott said one of the two was a teacher.
It was the deadliest shooting at a US grade school since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, almost a decade ago. And it came just 10 days after a gunman in body armor killed 10 Black shoppers and workers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in what authorities say was a racist attack.
“My heart is broken today,” said Hal Harrell, the school district superintendent, announcing that all school activities were canceled until further notice. “We’re a small community and we’re going to need you prayers to get through this.”
The gunman, who was wearing body armor and had hinted on social media of an upcoming attack, crashed his car outside the school and went inside armed, Sgt. Erick Estrada of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN.
He shot his grandmother before heading to the school with two military-style rifles he had purchased on his birthday, Gutierrez said. CNN said she was in critical condition.
“That was the first thing he did on his 18th birthday,” Estrada said.
Officials did not immediately reveal a motive, but the governor identified the assailant as Salvador Ramos and said he was a resident of the community about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of San Antonio.
A Border Patrol agent who was working nearby when the shooting began rushed into the school without waiting for backup and shot and killed the gunman, who was behind a barricade, according to a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about it.
The agent was wounded but able to walk out of the school, the law enforcement source said.
The school district’s police chief, Pete Arredondo, said that the attacker acted alone.
Footage showed small groups of children weaving through parked cars and buses, some holding hands as they fled under police escort from the school.
It was the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. It occurred four years after a gunman fatally shot 10 people at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area and less than two weeks after a gunman opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 Black shoppers and workers in what officials have described as a hate crime.
”He shot and killed, horrifically, incomprehensibly, 14 students and killed a teacher,” said the governor, adding that two officers were shot and wounded but were expected to survive.
It was not immediately clear how many people, in addition to the dead, were wounded, but Arredondo said there were “several injuries.” Earlier, Uvalde Memorial Hospital said 13 children were taken there. Another hospital reported a 66-year-old woman was in critical condition.
Robb Elementary — which teaches more than 500, mostly Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students from second through fourth grade — called on parents not to pick up their children until all were accounted for.
“Please do not pick up students at this time. Students need to be accounted for before they are released to your care. You will be notified to pick up students once all are accounted for,” the school said on its website.
A heavy police presence surrounded the school Tuesday afternoon, with officers in heavy vests diverting traffic and FBI agents coming and going from the building.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden has been briefed on the school shooting on Air Force One as he returns from a five-day trip to Asia and would continue to receive updates. Jean-Pierre said Biden will deliver remarks Tuesday evening at the White House.
Uvalde is home to about 16,000 people and is the seat of government for Uvalde County. The town is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the border with Mexico. Robb Elementary is in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
A Border Patrol agent who was among the first law enforcement officers on scene was shot and wounded by the gunman, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. The agent is hospitalized in good condition, the official said.
The tragedy in Uvalde added to a grim tally of mass shootings in Texas that have been among the deadliest in the US over the past five years. One year before the Santa Fe school shooting in 2018, a gunman at 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.
The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston. Abbott and both of Texas’ US senators were among elected Republican officials who were the scheduled speakers at a Friday leadership forum sponsored by the NRA’s lobbying arm.
Despite recurring mass-casualty shootings and a nationwide wave of gun violence, multiple initiatives to reform gun regulations have failed in the US Congress, leaving states and local councils to enact their own restrictions.
The US suffered 19,350 firearm homicides in 2020, up nearly 35 percent compared to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its latest data.
AFP contributed to this report