A tight-knit Latino community in Texas was wracked with grief Wednesday after a teenager wearing body armor marched into an elementary school and killed 19 children and two teachers — the latest spasm of America’s gun violence crisis.
Details of the atrocity, the victims and the 18-year-old gunman — who was killed by police — emerged as America grappled with its deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut a decade ago.
“This town is heartbroken, devastated,” said Adolfo Hernandez, whose nephew was at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, a small mainly Hispanic town about an hour from the Mexican border, during the Tuesday shooting.
“We feel like there’s a black cloud above this town,” he told AFP. “You just want to pinch yourself and wake up from that horrible nightmare.”
Grief-stricken and angry, President Joe Biden addressed the nation in the hours after the attack, calling on lawmakers to take on America’s powerful gun lobby and enact tougher laws to curb gun violence.
“When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” Biden asked, his voice slow and heavy with emotion.
In Uvalde, police blocked off the area around the school on Wednesday and there was little traffic or pedestrian movement. The neighborhood is one of modest single-story homes, with small yards and often a swing set and an outdoor grill for barbecues.
Identified as Salvador Ramos, the gunman was a resident of the town and a US citizen.
According to Texan officials, Ramos shot his grandmother before heading to Robb Elementary School around noon where he abandoned his vehicle and entered with a rifle.
Law enforcement officers at the school engaged Ramos with gunfire but he managed to get into a classroom and lock it to barricade himself, then started shooting kids and the two teachers, said Chris Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
All the fatalities occurred in the one classroom, until police managed to shoot and killed Ramos.
“Just goes to show you complete evil from this shooter,” Olivarez told CNN.
– Gunman’s troubled past –
Details have emerged of the gunman as a deeply troubled teen — he was repeatedly bullied over a speech impediment that included a stutter and a lisp and once cut up his own face “just for fun,” a former friend of Ramos, Santos Valdez, told The Washington Post.