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Uvalde grieves after school rampage while new details emerge about attack

Flowers lie against a sign for Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., on May 25, a day after a gunman killed at least 19 students and two teachers. (Sergio Flores for The Washington Post)
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UVALDE, Tex. — The gunman who opened fire at an elementary school here shared his intentions to carry out an attack in private social media messages shortly before slaughtering at least 19 children and two adults, officials said Wednesday.

Speaking a day after the gunman attacked Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., authorities laid out a bleak account of the carnage that had devastated this community. They said the gunman, wielding rifles he had purchased only days earlier, shot his grandmother in the face before storming the school, where he massacred small children — all of them, the officials said, inside a single classroom.

“Evil swept across Uvalde yesterday,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said at a news briefing on Wednesday.

The victims of the Uvalde shooting

This latest shooting rampage sent shock waves of horror and grief throughout Uvalde and across the country, as families were left mourning young lives cut brutally short.

The shooting was the country’s deadliest at a school since a gunman killed 26 people — 20 of them children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Nearly a decade later, a similar horror reached this small city about 80 miles west of San Antonio.

Officials identified the gunman as 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos, and said he was shot and killed by law enforcement officials. Investigators were still piecing together key details about the attack, including whether the gunman had any connections to the school, officials said Wednesday.

In addition to the victims who were killed, 17 others suffered wounds that did not appear life-threatening, authorities said.

As portraits of the victims slowly took shape and residents grappled with anguish and loss, investigators also provided new details Wednesday about the gunman. He had turned 18 on May 16, just eight days before the shooting, and quickly purchased two semiautomatic rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition, officials say.

More than 311,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine

On Tuesday, the gunman shot his grandmother in the face and fled her home, crashing her vehicle near Robb Elementary. His 66-year-old grandmother contacted police, officials said, and she was taken to a San Antonio hospital, where she remained in critical condition on Wednesday.

A woman who identified herself as Ramos’s mother said in a brief phone conversation Wednesday afternoon that she did not want to talk about her son. Her mother, the gunman’s grandmother, was expected to make a full recovery, the woman said.

After shooting his grandmother, the gunman rammed into a nearby railing, which spurred a 911 call from a resident who said the driver apparently had a rifle, said Travis Considine, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The attacker encountered a school police officer and shot and injured him before heading inside, officials said. When two Uvalde police officers showed up and tried to get inside, Considine said, they exchanged gunfire with the attacker and were both wounded.

The gunman then went to a fourth-grade classroom, barricaded himself and carried out “most, if not all, of his damage,” Considine said.

As the U.S. processes another school shooting in Uvalde, Tex., national video reporter Hannah Jewell explains how gun violence has evolved, by the numbers. (Video: Casey Silvestri, Hannah Jewell/The Washington Post)

A Border Patrol team responded to the scene and shot the gunman, killing him, officials said. Border Patrol agents, including some from its elite tactical unit, led the phalanx of the law enforcement officers that made their way into the classroom and fired at the gunman, according to two federal law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide preliminary details. The gunman had been firing at police out the windows, then fired at the agents as they stormed the classroom to confront him, one official said.

The exact timetable of the carnage — including how long the gunman was inside and precisely when he fired the fatal shots — remained unclear Wednesday.

After the shooting, one of the gunman’s rifles was found with him and the other in the vehicle he had driven to the scene.

Abbott said the attack could have been even worse, saying that law enforcement officials ran toward the gunfire and “were able to save lives. Unfortunately, not enough.”

The justice of the peace — an official akin to a county coroner — who is leading the inquest in the case said Wednesday that officials planned to release victims’ bodies to their families by Thursday. They also planned to conduct an autopsy of the gunman after finishing work on the victims, he said.

People who knew the gunman have said he lashed out violently and acted strangely over the years. They also said he had a difficult home life and had been bullied at school.

The gunman, Abbott said, apparently had no criminal history but may have had a juvenile record. That was still being determined, the governor said. Abbott also said the gunman had “no known mental health history.”

Abbott, an avowed supporter of gun rights, emphasized mental health in his remarks Wednesday. He said law enforcement officials, community leaders and others told him that there was “a problem with mental health illness in this community” and a significant need for more support on that front.

Despite public perception and misleading commentary from many elected officials, decades of research have found that people with mental illness are responsible for a tiny fraction of interpersonal and other gun violence.

Abbott described the social media messages as the lone warning of planned violence. Before the shooting, Abbott said, “the only information that was known in advance” came from those messages.

According to Abbott, the attacker posted about shooting his grandmother and then, less than 15 minutes before arriving at Robb, posted about intending “to shoot an elementary school.”

Though Abbott had said the gunman’s plans were posted on Facebook, a spokesman for parent company Meta described them in a tweet as “private one-to-one text messages” found after the shooting.

Another spokesman for the social media giant, which also operates Instagram and WhatsApp, both of which have messaging features, later clarified that the messages were sent privately but declined to say which of its social networks were used.

The rampage, which occurred 10 days after a gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, underscored America’s failure to curb the seemingly unending epidemic of mass shootings in which people have been cut down in schools, houses of worship, movie theaters, nightclubs, bars, music festivals and other locations.

Anger, anguish among Parkland and Newtown families after Texas shooting

This latest tragedy also highlighted the agonizing toll gun violence has taken on students in America, from the Sandy Hook attack nearly a decade ago to the shooting rampages four years ago that left 27 people dead in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Tex.

Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, more than 311,000 students have experienced gun violence at school, according to a Washington Post analysis.

“This didn’t hit close to home,” Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed in Sandy Hook, said of the shooting in Uvalde. “This is home.”

Gun violence has also risen in America in recent years. In 2020, firearms killed more children and adolescents than car accidents, long the leading cause of death for people in that age range, a Washington Post analysis found.

This latest shooting fueled yet another debate over gun-control measures, which reverberated from Capitol Hill to Uvalde. Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman and the Democratic gubernatorial nominee running against Abbott this year, interrupted the governor’s news briefing to say that he was “doing nothing” and “offering us nothing.”

FBI finds a rise in active shooter attacks in 2021, double pre-pandemic number

O’Rourke was escorted out while officials gathered near Abbott admonished him. Abbott did not address O’Rourke by name but raised his voice while admonishing people to “put aside personal agendas, think of somebody other than ourselves.”

Speaking to journalists afterward, O’Rourke said, “We owe the children in the next school where a gunman’s going to walk in with an AR-15 unless we intervene and stop that — we owe them something.”

Across Uvalde, the toll of the shooting was still taking excruciating shape. Ricardo Rodriguez, whose son left the school early following an awards assembly before the shooting, was one of the fortunate fathers. So he sought to comfort his friends, accompanying some to the town civic center where they were told to report.

He watched parents go, one by one, from a large room into a smaller one across the hall. That's where the screaming happened.

“Not my son!” they said, Rodriguez recalled. “Not my daughter!”

Officials led the broken families out a back door as they collapsed into one another’s arms.

“At that point, there’s no consoling,” he said.

The victims included Xavier Lopez, a 10-year-old who gleefully danced for his mother’s TikTok account, and Jose Flores, a 10-year-old who had just received an award for making the honor roll.

Two of the victims were players on a local basketball team that calls itself the Spurs, after the National Basketball Association franchise in San Antonio. Ellie Garcia and Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio “were kind, sweet, funny girls and made us proud,” said Erica Mena, whose husband coached the team.

Mena’s daughter is also in the fourth grade and on the team. When the gunman entered the classroom next door to hers, her teacher told students to stay at “level zero, please” — meaning to not make a sound. Mena said her daughter escaped by crawling out a window.

Irma Garcia, a fourth-grade teacher, was just finishing up her 23rd year as a teacher, all of them at Robb Elementary. Her students “were her lifeblood,” said Jose Garcia, 19, one of her sons. Authorities confirmed that she was dead on Tuesday evening, her family said.

Police officials told her family that she had died trying to protect her students, said John Martinez, 21, one of Garcia’s nephews.

“I want her to be remembered as someone who sacrificed her life and put her life on the line for her kids,” Martinez said.

For Felix Rubio, the grief came from all sides. His brother-in-law’s sister, Eliahana Torres, was killed. So was his father’s cousin, Irma Garcia, the teacher. And he lost his niece, Ellie Garcia, the basketball player.

The family did not learn Ellie was killed until a little before 10 p.m., hours after they asked her father — Steven Garcia, Rubio’s brother — for a DNA sample. Rubio said his brother went into the small room to hear the news and came out a destroyed man.

“I don’t even know what to tell my brother,” Rubio sobbed.

Javier Cazares said he was running an errand a half-mile away from his 9-year-old daughter Jacklyn's elementary school when heard about a commotion near the school.

Within minutes, Cazares said he and at least other four men who had children in the school were huddled near the building’s front door. Then they started hearing gunfire coming from the building, he said.

The fathers heard the gunfire, and police told them to move back, Cazares said.

“We didn’t care about us; we wanted to storm the building,” he said. “We were saying, ‘Let’s go,’ because that is how worried we were, and we wanted to get our babies out.”

It wasn’t until several hours later, after Jacklyn never emerged from the building, that Cazares learned she had been shot. She later died at the hospital.

Berman reported from Washington. Naomi Nix, Rachel Lerman, John Woodrow Cox, Nick Miroff, Nick Anderson, Lenny Bernstein, Dan Keating, Joanna Slater, Shawn Boburg, Meryl Kornfield, Hannah Knowles, Marisa Iati, Alice Crites, Razzan Nakhlawi, Monika Mather, María Luisa Paúl, Karina Elwood, Marissa J. Lang, Perry Stein, Jennifer Jenkins and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.