UVALDE, Texas — At least 19 children and two teachers were killed Tuesday when a gunman opened fire in a Texas elementary school, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The suspected shooter, who might have had a handgun and a rifle, was also killed when law enforcement confronted him at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, about 83 miles west of San Antonio, Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference.
"It is believed that he abandoned his vehicle, then entered into the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde with a handgun, and he may have also had a rifle," Abbott said.
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"He shot and killed, horrifically and incomprehensibly, 14 students and killed a teacher," the governor said before additional deaths were confirmed.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said later that 19 children and two teachers were killed, in addition to the suspected shooter.
Multiple survivors — the exact number was not released — were being treated at regional hospitals.
It was yet another mass shooting targeting children and educators at an American school campus.
Tuesday's attack recalls the deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999; Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018; and Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, later in 2018.
It might have particular resonance for those shaken by the Dec. 14, 2012, attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when a 20-year-old man killed 20 children and six adults.
Suspect acted alone, shot grandmother, authorities say
Lt. Chris Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety said the suspect shot his grandmother, who was hospitalized in critical condition, before he drove toward the school.
After he apparently crashed nearby, he went to the campus and opened fire, Olivarez said in a news conference at the scene.
"He started shooting every single person that was in front of him," the lieutenant said.
Olivarez said Wednesday on NBC's "TODAY" show that the gunman barricaded himself in a classroom. Officers outside could hear gunshots but couldn't get in as they were met with a barrage of gunfire. Some were wounded.
They eventually resorted to breaking windows to evacuate the children and staffers that they could.
The Texas Department of Public safety said the shooter was wearing body armor and carried a rifle. But Olivarez said on MSNBC that they believe the shooter wore a type of vest that tactical teams use. It's not clear if the shooter added ballistic protection to the vest.
Olivarez also said the shooter did not have any criminal history and "was unemployed" with "no friends, no girlfriend, we can identify."
The attack was reported as a mass casualty incident shortly after 11:30 a.m., authorities said.
The suspected shooter was identified as Salvador Rolando Ramos, 18, multiple senior law enforcement sources said.
Olivarez called the suspect an "evil person." He had attended one of the high schools in the community, Olivarez said.
"The investigation is leading to tell us the suspect did act alone during this heinous crime," Pete Arredondo, the chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, said at a news conference.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat, said the shooter purchased two semiautomatic rifles on his 18th birthday at an Uvalde-area gun store. It was not clear whether either of those weapons was used in the attack.
FBI agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel were assisting local law enforcement with the investigation into the suspect's motives and background, authorities said. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also responded to assist.
Teacher identified among victims; families still wait for answers
Meanwhile, families of the deceased were being notified, the governor said.
At least six victims had been publicly identified by family members.
Third grade student Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10; and fourth graders Uziyah Garcia; Xavier Lopez, 10; and Amerie Jo Garza, 9; were among the 19 students killed, relatives confirmed to news outlets.
Family members also identified the two teachers as Eva Mireles, a 17-year educator who taught fourth grade, and Irma Garcia, who taught at the school for 23 years.
"I'm furious that these shootings continue. These children are innocent. Rifles should not be easily available to all," Mireles' aunt, Lydia Martinez Delgado, told KSAT-TV of San Antonio.
Amid the chaos, parents were searching for children they had not heard from. One mother, Maria Garcia, was near the school questioning a law enforcement officer early in the afternoon because she was still looking for her 10-year-old daughter.
Her voice quivered as she tried to get answers to her string of questions, suggesting maybe her daughter was hiding in fields nearby.
Rosa Arizmendia and Roland Arizmendia's daughter was safe, they said, because they had picked her up early after an awards ceremony at the school. But they did not know where their niece was.
They had seen her when they picked up their daughter, and Roland Arizmendia said he yelled out, "Hi, mija!" to her. But he had not heard news of her since the shooting, and their whole family was searching for her.
"It's like a horror movie," Rosa Arizmendia said. "If it's not our kid, someone we know. It's our neighbors."
Outside SSGT Willie De Leon Civic Center, family and friends were sitting on concrete blocks.
A man walked out from the and center shared news with one of the waiting groups; some broke into sobs and others walked away. One woman got in her car and let out screams.
Addressing the nation from the White House on Tuesday night, President Joe Biden seemed crestfallen and exasperated.
He asked when America as a collective would stand up and support limits on powerful weapons and buyers with ill intent after yet another school shooting claimed the lives of "beautiful, innocent second, third, fourth graders."
The president, who lost a young daughter, Naomi, in a car crash and an adult son, Beau, to a brain tumor, said he knows the pain of the parents in Uvalde whose children will never return home. "May God bless the loss of innocent life on this sad day," he said.
On Tuesday evening, Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at federal buildings and military posts through Saturday.
Uvalde Memorial Hospital received 14 patients, 11 of whom were described as children ages 8 to 10, CEO Tom Nordwick said Tuesday evening.
Four patients have been released. Two, described only as a male and a female, were dead on arrival, Nordwick said.
Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston said it was treating two adult victims who were in critical condition.
University Health, based in San Antonio, said in a tweet that it was treating four patients: a 10-year-old girl and a 66-year-old woman who were in critical condition, a 9-year-old girl in fair condition and a 10-year-old girl in good condition.
Two officers were struck when they apparently exchanged gunfire with the shooter and had injuries not thought to be life-threatening, Abbott said.
On- and off-duty Border Patrol agents were among the law enforcement officials who responded. At least one agent was wounded in the exchange of gunfire, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
"Risking their own lives, these Border Patrol Agents and other officers put themselves between the shooter and children on the scene to draw the shooter's attention away from potential victims and save lives," Marsha Espinosa, DHS's assistant secretary for public affairs, said in a tweet.
The agents also helped transfer students to their families and provide medical support, she said.
Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell said the shooting was a tragic and senseless event.
"My heart was broken today," he said at a news conference Tuesday evening, his voice shaking. "We're a small community, and we'll need your prayers to get through this."
The school year, which was scheduled to end Thursday, is over, he said.
Uvalde, incorporated in 1888 as a ranch and crossroads town, has a population of 8,921, according to the census.
The school serves second through fourth grades in a city that is nearly half non-English speaking, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to district data, almost 90 percent of Robb Elementary School's 574 students are Latino, while almost 9 percent are white.
About 87 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged.
The shooting occurred after new FBI statistics released Monday showed active shooter incidents last year surged by more than 50 percent from 2020 and by nearly 97 percent from 2017.