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Texas school killer first shot own grandmother before attack that killed at least 19 children

  • Salvador Ramos made threats online and used arms he bought legally after turning 18
  • Gunman shot and killed at least 19 children and two adults
  • US President Joe Biden delivered  an urgent call for new restrictions on firearms
  • First victim named is a fourth-grade teacher – her husband is a local police officer now investigating the crime 
  • Pope and Volodymyr Zelensky among those to offer condolences
  • Angry senator says firearms, not mental health to blame
  • Schoolmate says killer was ‘bullied hard’ before dropping out of school

US President Joe Biden delivered an urgent call for new restrictions on firearms after a gunman shot and killed at least 19 children at a Texas elementary school.

As the first victims’ identities began to emerge, the president demanded Congress take action after years of prevarication, asking: “Where is our backbone?”

Eva Mireles, a 44-year-old teacher, has been identified by her family as one of the two adults killed in the Texas school shooting.

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Eva Mireles

Eva Mireles

Eva Mireles

Three children who were killed in the attack have been named as eight-year-old Uziyah Garcia, 10-year-old Xavier Javier Lopez and 10-year-old Jose Flores.

The Pope and Ukraine president Voldymyr Zelensky were among those to offer their condolences.

Connecticut democractic senator Chris Murphy, who represents the state where the Sandy Hook elementary school massace happened in 2012, has delivered a passionate speech on the floor of the US senate, calling out his fellow congresspeople for failing to take action on gun violence.

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“Why do you spend all this time running for the United States senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority? If your answer is that as the slaughter increases as our kids run for their lives we do nothing. What are we doing?” he asked his colleagues.

“Why are you here? If not to solve a problem as existential as this. This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country, and nowhere else.”

“It is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue. What are we doing?”

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr Murphy said: “Spare me the bulls*** about mental health. We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world. You cannot explain this through a prism of mental illness because we’re not an outlier on mental illness.”

He continued: “We’re an outlier when it comes to access to firearms and the capacity of criminals and very sick people to get their arms on firearms. That’s what makes America different.”

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People react outside the Civic Centre following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

People react outside the Civic Centre following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

AP

People react outside the Civic Centre following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

The 18-year-old gunman killed at least 19 children as he went from classroom to classroom, officials said, in the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade and 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 - who last year signed off on further liberalisation of gun laws in the state - said one of the two was a teacher.

Many of the wounded were rushed to Uvalde Memorial Hospital, where staff members in scrubs and devastated victims' relatives could be seen weeping as they walked out of the complex.

Officials did not immediately reveal a motive, but they identified the assailant as Salvador Ramos, a resident of the community. Law enforcement officials said he acted alone.

Ramos had hinted on social media that an attack could be coming, according to state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who said he had been briefed by state police. He noted that the gunman “suggested the kids should watch out,” and that he had bought two “assault weapons” after turning 18.

Before heading to the school, Ramos shot his grandmother, Gutierrez said.

Other officials said later that the grandmother survived and was being treated, through her condition was not known.

It was not immediately clear how many people were wounded, but Uvalde Police Chief Pete 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.

Investigators believe Ramos posted photos on Instagram of two guns he used in the shooting, and they were examining whether he made statements online alluding to the attack in the hours before the assault, a law enforcement official said.

Law enforcement officers were serving multiple search warrants Tuesday night and gathering telephone and other records, the official said. Investigators were also attempting to contact Ramos' relatives and were tracing the firearms.

Texas gunman Salvador Ramos became a “different person” and “kept getting worse and worse” in the last few years, according to a school friend.

Stephen Garcia, 18, told the Washington Post, that he had been best friends with Ramos at school but fell out of touch with him. “I lost my friend a long time ago”, he said.

“He was the nicest kid, the most shyest kid. He just needed to break out of his shell, He was person like all of us - he was like a good friend of mine that has never made me any happier,” Mr Garcia said.

He described how Ramos had been “bullied hard” at school, “over social media, over gaming, over everything”.

Mr Garcia’s family moved away for his mother’s job and Ramos “just started being a different person,” he said.

Ramos dropped out of school and started wearing all black and large military boots, Mr Garcia said. Speaking about the shooting, Mr Garcia said: “I never expected him to hurt people. I think he needed mental help. And more closure with his family. And love.”

The attack began about 11:30 a.m., when the gunman crashed his car outside the school and ran into the building, according to Travis Considine, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. A resident who heard the crash called 911, and two local police officers exchanged gunfire with the shooter.

Both officers were shot. It was not immediately clear where on the campus that confrontation occurred or how much time elapsed before more authorities arrived on the scene.

Meanwhile, teams of Border Patrol agents raced to the school, including 10 to 15 members of a SWAT-like tactical and counterterrorism unit, said Jason Owens, a top regional official with the Border Patrol.

One 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 official said.

Owens confirmed that an agent suffered minor injuries, but would not provide details of that confrontation.

He said some area agents have children at Robb Elementary.

“It hit home for everybody," he said.

The tragedy in Uvalde was the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, and it 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.

The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston. Abbott and both of Texas’ U.S. senators were among elected Republican officials who were the scheduled speakers at a Friday leadership forum sponsored by the NRA’s lobbying arm.

Eva Mireles, a 44-year-old teacher, has been identified by her family as one of the two adults killed in the Texas school shooting.

Two of the 19 children killed in the attack on Robb Elementary School have also been named so far: eight-year-old Uziyah Garcia and Xavier Javier Lopez, 10.

Ms Mireles’s husband is an officer with the school district’s police force which is now investigating the massacre that began late in the morning on Tuesday and ended with the gunman being shot dead.

Confirming the teacher’s death in Facebook posts, her cousin and grandmother said they were devastated at the loss and furious over the gun violence that has gripped the country.

"My beautiful cousin! Such a devastating day for us all! My heart is shattered into a million pieces," Arizmendi Mireles, her cousin, said.

Ms Mireles was a bilingual special education teacher with 17 years of experience as an educator, and taught fourth-grade children in the school.

Describing herself on the school’s website, she said she was a mother of a college graduate and that she loved “running, hiking” with her “fun and loving” family.

Tuesday’s shooting is the deadliest in a US primary school in almost a decade, since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults were killed.

The shooter, named as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was wearing body armour and had a handgun and a rifle, all of which are commercially available in the state of Texas, which expanded access to guns as recently as last year.

The incident has rocked Uvalde, a small town of around 16,000 residents.

Grieving the death of her niece, Ms Mireles’s aunt Lydia Martinez Delgado demanded stricter gun laws and said rifles should not be so easily available.

"I’m furious that these shootings continue. 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," Ms Martinez Delgado said in a statement.

"All we can do is pray hard for our country, state, schools, and especially the families of all," the statement said.

Ms Mireles’ husband was involved in an active shooter drill at the Uvalde high school just two months ago. The chilling pictures shared on his Facebook page show Mr Ruiz and his fellow officers posing as active shooters while students played dead on the floor.

The identities of the child victims of the shooting are continuing to emerge, with the deaths of eight-year-old Uziyah and Xavier, 10, confirmed by their families late on Tuesday.

Uziyah’s grandfather Manny Renfro mourned the death of the eight-year-old, calling him “the sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known”.

“I’m not just saying that because he was my grandkid,” Mr Renfro said, adding Uziyah last visited him in San Angelo during spring break.

“We started throwing the football together and I was teaching him pass patterns. Such a fast little boy and he could catch a ball so good,” he recalled. “There were certain plays that I would call that he would remember and he would do it exactly like we practised.”

Lisa Garza, 54, of Arlington, Texas, said her cousin Xavier had been looking forward to a summer of swimming. The shooting took place two days before the end of the school year.

“He was just a loving 10-year-old little boy, just enjoying life, not knowing that this tragedy was going to happen today,” she said. “He was very bubbly, loved to dance with his brothers, his mom. This has just taken a toll on all of us.”

Lamenting the lax gun laws in the country, she said: “We should have more restrictions, especially if these kids are not in their right state of mind and all they want to do is just hurt people, especially innocent children going to the schools.”

Hours after the shooting some families were still clueless about the whereabouts of their children, posting pictures of them online and begging for information.

Adolfo Cruz, a 69-year-old air conditioning repairman, spend Tuesday night outside the school and hoped his 10-year-old great-granddaughter, Elijah Cruz Torres, was among the survivors.

He drove to the scene after receiving a tearful and terrifying call from his daughter shortly after the first reports that an 18-year-old gunman had opened fire at the school.

“I hope she is alive,” Mr Cruz said. “They are waiting for an update.”

In the wake of the massacre, Joe Biden demanded Congress take action to control guns, asking: “Where in God’s name is our backbone?” The president said a ban on assault-style weapons should be renewed as a matter of “common sense”.

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President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks about the mass shooting as first lady Jill Biden listens. Photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks about the mass shooting as first lady Jill Biden listens. Photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

AP

President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks about the mass shooting as first lady Jill Biden listens. Photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Biden spoke on Tuesday night from the White House barely an hour after returning from a five-day trip to Asia that was bracketed by mass shootings in the US.

He pleaded for action to address gun violence after years of failure — and bitterly blamed firearm manufacturers and their supporters for blocking legislation in Washington.

'“When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?" Biden said with emotion. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?"

With first lady Jill Biden standing by his side in the Roosevelt Room, the president, who has suffered the loss of two of his own children — though not to gun violence — spoke in visceral terms about the grief of the loved ones of the victims and the pain that will endure for the students who survived.

“To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” Biden said.

“There’s a hollowness in your chest. You feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out.”

He called on the nation to hold the victims and families in prayer — but also to work harder to prevent the next tragedy.

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A fire truck outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, after Tuesday's massacre. Photo: William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP

A fire truck outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, after Tuesday's massacre. Photo: William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP

AP

A fire truck outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, after Tuesday's massacre. Photo: William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP

 “It’s time we turned this pain into action," he said.

Pope Francis on Wednesday said he was "heartbroken" by the shooting, calling for greater controls on weapons.

The crowd in St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience applauded his appeal.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims of the Texas school shooting.

"I would like to express my condolences to all of the relatives and family members of the children who were killed in the awful shooting in a Texas elementary school," Zelensky said as he addressed an event on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos via video link.

"As far as I know, 21 people were killed, including 19 children. This is terrible, to have victims of shooters in peaceful time," he added.

It was just a week earlier that Biden, on the eve of his overseas trip, travelled to Buffalo to meet with victims' families after a racist, hate-filled shooter killed 10 Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

The back-to-back tragedies served as sobering reminders of the frequency and brutality of an American epidemic of mass gun violence.

“These kinds of mass shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world," Biden said, reflecting that other nations have people filled with hate or with mental health issues but no other industrialized nation experiences gun violence at the level of the US.

"Why?” he asked.

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A policeman talks to people asking for information outside Robb Elementary School . Photo: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

A policeman talks to people asking for information outside Robb Elementary School . Photo: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

AP

A policeman talks to people asking for information outside Robb Elementary School . Photo: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

It was much too early to tell if the latest violent outbreak could break the political logjam around tightening the nation's gun laws, after so many others — including the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 26, including 20 children — have failed.

“The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong," Biden said.

He has previously called for a ban on assault-style weapons, as well as tougher federal background check requirements and “red flag” laws that are meant to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health problems.

Late Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer set in motion possible action on two House-passed bills to expand federally required background checks for gun purchases, but no votes have been scheduled.

Biden was sombre when he returned to the White House, having been briefed on the shooting on Air Force One.

Shortly before landing in Washington, he spoke with Texas Gov Greg Abbott and offered “any and all assistance” needed, the White House said.

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A woman is escorted outside the SSGT Willie De Leon Civic Centre after a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Photo: Reuters/Nuri Vallbona

A woman is escorted outside the SSGT Willie De Leon Civic Centre after a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Photo: Reuters/Nuri Vallbona

REUTERS

A woman is escorted outside the SSGT Willie De Leon Civic Centre after a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Photo: Reuters/Nuri Vallbona

He directed that American flags be flown at half-staff through sunset Saturday in honour of the victims in Texas.

His aides, some of whom had just returned from Asia with the president, gathered to watch Biden’s speech on televisions in the West Wing.

“I’d hoped when I became president I would not have to do this, again," he said. "Another massacre.”

In a stark reminder of the issue's divisiveness, Biden's call for gun measures was booed at a campaign event in Georgia hosted by Herschel Walker, who won the Republican nomination for US Senate.

Speaking at an Asian Pacific American event that was intended to celebrate Biden's Asia trip, Vice President Kamala Harris said earlier that people normally declare in moments like this, “our hearts break — but our hearts keep getting broken ... and our broken hearts are nothing compared to the broken hearts of those families.”

“We have to have the courage to take action ... to ensure something like this never happens again,” she said.

Echoing Biden's call, former president Barack Obama, who has called the day of the Sandy Hook shooting the darkest of his administration, said, “It’s long past time for action, any kind of action."

“Michelle and I grieve with the families in Uvalde, who are experiencing pain no one should have to bear,” he said in a statement.

“We’re also angry for them. Nearly 10 years after Sandy Hook—and 10 days after Buffalo—our country is paralyzed, not by fear, but by a gun lobby and a political party that have shown no willingness to act in any way that might help prevent these tragedies.”

Congress has been unable to pass substantial gun violence legislation ever since the bipartisan effort to strengthen background checks on firearm purchases collapsed in the aftermath of the 2012 shooting.

Despite months of work, a bill that was backed by a majority of senators, fell to a filibuster — unable to to overcome the 60-vote threshold needed to advance.

In impassioned remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who represented Newton, Connecticut, in the House at the time of the Sandy Hook massacre, asked his colleagues why they even bother running for office if they’re going to stand by and do nothing.

“I’m here on this floor to beg — to literally get down on my hands and knees — to beg my colleagues,” he said.

Murphy said he was planning to reach out to Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn after the two had teamed on an earlier background check bill that never became law.

He said he would also reach out to Texas’ other Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

“I just don’t understand why people here think we’re powerless,” Murphy said. “We aren’t.”

Cornyn told reporters he was on his way to Texas and would talk with them later. Cruz issued a statement calling it “a dark day. We’re all completely sickened and heartbroken.”


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