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UVALDE, Texas — The gunman who massacred 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Texas had warned in online messages just before the attack that he had shot his grandmother and was going to shoot up a school, the governor said Wednesday.
Salvador Ramos, 18, used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in the bloodshed Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that ended with police storming a fourth-grade classroom and killing him. He had legally bought two such rifles just days before.
"Evil swept across Uvalde yesterday. Anyone who shoots his grandmother in the face has to have evil in his heart," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said. "But it is far more evil for someone to gun down little kids."
Investigators shed no light on the motive for the attack, which also left at least 17 people wounded. The governor said Ramos, a resident of the small town about 85 miles west of San Antonio, had no known criminal or mental health history.
But about a half-hour before the bloodbath, Ramos sent three messages online, Abbott said. Ramos wrote in the first 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 a school.
Ramos sent text messages on Facebook that were "discovered after the terrible tragedy," company spokesman Andy Stone said.
Amid calls around the nation for tighter restrictions on firearms, the Republican governor repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among Texas young people and argued that tougher gun laws in Chicago, New York and California are ineffective.
Democrat Beto O'Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor, interrupted Abbott's news conference and called the tragedy "predictable." Pointing his finger at Abbott, he said: "This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen." O'Rourke was escorted out as members of the crowd yelled at him, with one man calling him “sick.”
As details of the latest mass killing 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 Javier 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.
"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 CNN that all of those killed were in the same fourth-grade classroom. The killer "barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom," Olivarez said.
Police and others responding to the attack went around the school to break windows to enable students and teachers to escape. Officers eventually broke into the classroom and killed Ramos.
The bloodshed was the latest in a seemingly unending string of mass killings at churches, schools, stores and other sites in the nation. Just 10 days earlier, 10 Black people were shot to death in a racist rampage at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket.
In a somber address to the nation, 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.
On social media in the days and hours before the massacre, Ramos 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. 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."
Officers found one of the rifles in Ramos' truck, the other in the school, according to the briefing for lawmakers. Ramos was wearing a tactical vest but it had no hardened body-armor plates inside, lawmakers were told. He also dropped a backpack containing 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. Ramos bought 375 rounds of ammunition the next day, then purchased the second rifle Friday.
On Tuesday morning, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at her home, then left. Neighbors called police when she staggered outside and they saw she had been shot in the face, Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine said.
Ramos then crashed his truck through a railing on the school grounds, and an Uvalde school district officer exchanged fire with him and was wounded, Considine said. Ramos went inside and exchanged more gunfire with two arriving Uvalde officers, who were still outside, 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.