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The gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde on Tuesday was confronted by a law enforcement officer before he entered the elementary school that became the site of his massacre, authorities said Wednesday.
But many questions remained about the circumstances that led up to his attack, after state leaders and law enforcement officers laid out a broad but horrific sequence of events during a tense press conference Wednesday. Authorities also revealed that 17 more people were injured in the rampage.
About 30 minutes before he entered Robb Elementary School, the gunman — Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old Uvalde resident — shared messages through Facebook that he was going to shoot his grandmother, Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters. Ramos then shot her in the face, confirming that in a Facebook message, Abbott said.
Soon after, he wrote on Facebook that he planned to shoot an elementary school, Abbott said. But Facebook’s parent company Meta, quickly clarified the messages Abbott described were “private one-to-one text messages that were discovered after the terrible tragedy occurred,” not public posts.
“We are closely cooperating with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation,” said Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Meta.
After shooting his grandmother, the gunman fled in her truck as she called police, Abbott said. He crashed near the school, about two minutes away from his grandmother’s home. Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at the press conference that the shooter approached a back door of the school and was confronted by a school resource officer who “engaged him at that time” but “the subject was able to make it into the school.” It’s unclear whether the school officer and the gunman exchanged gunfire.
“He went down a hallway, turned right and then turned left and there were two classrooms that were adjoining,” McCraw said. “And that is where the carnage began.”
All 19 children and two teachers killed were in the same classroom, a state law enforcement official said Wednesday morning.
The gunman barricaded himself inside a classroom and “began shooting anyone that was in his way,” Lt. Chris Olivarez, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson, said in an appearance on “The Today Show.”
Ramos was “able to make entry into a classroom, barricaded himself inside that classroom and … just began shooting numerous children and teachers that were in that classroom, having no regard for human life,” Olivarez said.
One fourth-grader boy hid under a table with four others during the attack, according to a Kens5 article.
“When he came in, he said, ‘It’s time to die,'” the boy recollected.
Law enforcement officers arriving on the scene could hear gunshots inside the classroom, Olivarez said. Officers tried to enter the school, but the shooter fired on them, hitting some of the officers, Olivarez said. At that point, police officers “began breaking windows around the school” in an attempt to evacuate children, teachers and staff, he said.
Officers were eventually able to force their way into the classroom and kill the shooter, who wore a tactical vest, Olivarez said.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent killed Ramos, Abbott said.
University Hospital in San Antonio admitted four patients from Uvalde, three children ages 9 and 10 and a 66-year-old woman. The woman and a 10-year-old girl are in serious condition while two girls age 9 and 10 are in good condition, the hospital system tweeted Wednesday morning.
“The reality is as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse,” Abbott said.
Investigators “don’t see a motive or catalyst right now” for the shooting, McCraw said.
More details about the shooter have come to light. Ramos had reportedly dropped out of high school, Abbott said, and had no known criminal history.
Ariana Diaz, a senior at Uvalde High School and one of Ramos’ former classmates, described Ramos as a “popular loner” — someone everyone knew and who had friends, but still kept to himself.
Ramos was bullied over his speech impediment, Diaz said, and would occasionally bully others.
Ramos missed a lot of school prior to the pandemic, Diaz said. The teacher in a leadership class they were in together sophomore year often harangued Ramos for his absences, Diaz recalled.
“I feel like right now we’re all just too in shock to like even think about why he could have done this,” Diaz said. “We’re still grieving and it’s difficult to know that he was one of our classmates back in the day and he did this to so many innocent children.”
Neither Facebook nor authorities said Wednesday who the shooter was messaging, but CNN reported the gunman sent messages to a 15-year-old girl he met online, telling her that he “just shot my grandma in her head” and planned to “shoot up” an elementary school.
On Monday, the shooter told the 15-year-old girl, who lives in Germany, that he had obtained a package of ammunition. When she asked him how he intended to use the ammunition, the gunman said it was a surprise and to “just wait for it,” CNN reported.
The Uvalde shooter legally bought two rifles along with 375 rounds of ammunition just after his 18th birthday earlier this month, according to a briefing state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston and chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, received from state authorities late Tuesday. One of the rifles was left in the truck, according to the briefing.
Emotions ran high as the small South Texas town reeled from tragedy and loss. During Wednesday’s press conference, Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November election, dramatically confronted the governor, yelling, “This on you.”
O’Rourke had called on Abbott on Tuesday night to ditch his planned appearance at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston this week and tell the gun advocacy group to move the gathering outside of Texas. Abbott said Wednesday he was unsure whether he would attend the meeting.
“As far as future plans are concerned, listen, I’m living moment to moment right now,” he said when asked about the convention during the news conference.
In the wake of the shooting, President Joe Biden has called for legislation addressing firearms, an ambition that has low expectations among Democrats on Capitol Hill after Republicans blocked most major efforts to address mass shootings over the last 10 years. Biden said Wednesday afternoon he plans to travel to Texas “in the coming days.”
Abbott, meanwhile, focused much of his solutions around boosting mental health services, noting that resources are sparse in the region around Uvalde.
Texas invests relatively little in mental health services. A recent report by Mental Health America ranked the state last in the country in access.
“We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” Abbott said.
He added that anyone who commits such a heinous crime has some kind of mental health issue. But he also conceded that authorities had so far found few signs of illness before the shooting.
“There is no known mental health history of the gunman,” he said.
Disclosure: Facebook has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.