The gunman who massacred 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Texas had warned in private online messages minutes before the attack that he had shot his grandmother and was going to shoot up a school, the governor said Wednesday.
The 18-year-old shooter then barricaded himself inside a classroom and fired indiscriminately, using an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in the bloodshed Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that ended with officers storming the class and killing him. He had legally bought two such rifles just days before, soon after his birthday, authorities said.
Investigators shed no light on the motive for the attack, which also left 17 people wounded. Gov. Greg Abbott said the gunman, a resident of the small town about 85 miles west of San Antonio, had no known criminal or mental health history.
But about 30 minutes before the bloodbath, the gunman sent three private Facebook messages to another user: first saying that he was going to shoot his grandmother, then that he had shot the woman, and finally that he was going to shoot up an elementary school, according to Abbott. It was not clear whether he specified which school.
A Meta spokesman said the private one-to-one text messages were “discovered after the terrible tragedy.” Spokesman Andy Stone Facebook is cooperating with investigators.
Amid calls around the U.S. for tighter restrictions on firearms, Abbott instead repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among Texas young people and brought up laws in New York, Chicago and California to argue that tougher gun laws don't prevent violence.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor this year, interrupted the governor's news conference, calling the Republican’s response to the tragedy “predictable.”
As details of the latest mass killing to rock the U.S. emerged, grief engulfed Uvalde, population 16,000.
The dead included an outgoing 10-year-old, Eliahna Garcia, who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; a fellow fourth grader, Xavier James Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, with 17 years’ experience whose husband is an officer with the school district’s police department.
“I just don’t know how people can sell that type of a gun to a kid 18 years old,” Eliahna’s aunt, Siria Arizmendi, said angrily through tears. “What is he going to use it for but for that purpose?”
Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety told NBC's "TODAY" show the shooter "was able to make entry into a classroom, barricaded himself inside that classroom, and again, just began shooting, numerous children and teachers who were in that classroom, having no regard for human life."
He "just began shooting anyone that was in his way," he added.
Abbott said two classrooms were adjoined.
Police and others responding to the attack also went around breaking windows at the school to enable students and teachers to escape. Law enforcement officers eventually broke into the classroom and killed the gunman, identified as Salvador Ramos, in one last exchange of gunfire, authorities said.
The attack in the predominantly Latino town was the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
The bloodshed was the latest in a seemingly unending string of mass killings at churches, schools, stores and other sites in the U.S. Just 10 days earlier, 10 Black people were shot to death in a racist rampage at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
In a somber address to the nation hours after the attack in Texas, President Joe Biden pleaded for Americans to “stand up to the gun lobby” and enact tougher restrictions, saying: “When in God’s name are we going to do what has to be done?”
But the prospects for any reform of the nation’s gun regulations appeared dim. Repeated attempts over the years to expand background checks and enact other curbs have run into Republican opposition in Congress.
Texas, which has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the nation, 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, with the governor and both of Texas’ U.S. senators scheduled to speak.
On social media in the days and hours before the massacre, the gunman appeared to drop hints that something was going to happen.
On the day he bought his second weapon last week, an Instagram account that investigators say apparently belonged to him carried a photo of two AR-style rifles. That post tagged another Instagram user, one with more than 10,000 followers, asking her to share the picture.
“I barely know you and u tag me in a picture with some guns,” replied the Instagram user, who has since removed her profile. “It’s just scary.”
On the morning of the attack, the account linked to the gunman replied: “I’m about to.”
Instagram confirmed to The Associated Press that it is working with law enforcement to review the account but declined to answer questions about the postings. Investigators are also looking at an account on TikTok, possibly belonging to the shooter, with a profile that reads: “Kids be scared IRL,” an acronym meaning “in real life.” The profile is not dated.
Investigators do not yet know why Ramos targeted the school, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“We don’t see a motive or catalyst right now,” he said.
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Officers found one of the rifles in the gunman's truck, and the other in the school, according to the briefing given to lawmakers. He was wearing a tactical vest, but it had no hardened body-armor plates inside, lawmakers were told. He also dropped a backpack containing several magazines full of ammunition near the school entrance.
One of the guns was purchased at a federally licensed dealer in the Uvalde area on May 17, according to state Sen. John Whitmire, who was briefed by investigators. The shooter bought 375 rounds of ammunition the next day, then purchased the second rifle last Friday.
On Tuesday morning, the 18-year-old shot and wounded his grandmother at her home, then left, as she called 911.
He then crashed his truck through a railing on the school grounds, and a Uvalde school district officer exchanged fire with him and was wounded, Considine said. Ramos went inside and exchanged more gunfire with two arriving Uvalde police officers, who were still outside, Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine said. Those officers were also wounded.
Dillon Silva, whose nephew was in a nearby classroom, said students were watching the Disney movie “Moana” when they heard several loud pops and a bullet shattered a window. Moments later, their teacher saw the attacker stride past the door.
“Oh, my God, he has a gun!” the teacher shouted twice, according to Silva. “The teacher didn’t even have time to lock the door,” he said.
On Wednesday morning, volunteers were seen arriving at the town civic center with Bibles and therapy dogs. Three children and an adult remained at a San Antonio hospital, where two of them — a 66-year-old woman and 10-year-old girl — were listed in serious condition.
Uvalde, home to about 16,000 people, is about 75 miles from the Mexican border. Robb Elementary, which has nearly 600 students in second, third and fourth grades, is a single-story brick structure in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
The close-knit community, built around a shaded central square, includes many Hispanic families who have lived there for generations. It sits amid fields of cabbage, onions, carrots and other vegetables. But many of the steadiest jobs are supplied by companies that produce construction materials.
The attack came as the school was counting down to the last days of the school year with a series of themed days. Tuesday was to be “Footloose and Fancy,” with students wearing nice outfits.
Correction (May 27, 2022, 4:30 p.m ET): This story was corrected to reflect the correct middle name of one of the victims. Xavier Lopez's middle name is James, not Javier.