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UVALDE, Texas — An 18-year-old gunman opened fire Tuesday at a Texas elementary school, killing at least 19 children, officials said, and the gunman was dead.
The death toll also included three adults, according to state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who said he was briefed by state police on the fatalities. But it was not immediately clear whether that number included the assailant.
It was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. grade school since the shocking attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman fatally shot 20 children and six adults in December 2012. And it came just 10 days after a gunman in body armor killed 10 Black shoppers and workers at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. in what authorities say was a racist attack.
Federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday’s death toll was expected to rise
The gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde with a handgun and possibly a rifle, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters. Officials did not immediately reveal a motive, but the governor identified the assailant as Salvador Ramos and said he was a resident of the heavily Latino community about 85 miles west of San Antonio.
Abbott said the shooter was likely killed by police officers but that the events were still being investigated. The school district's police chief, Pete Arredondo, said that the attacker acted alone.
The massacre of young children was another gruesome moment for a country scarred by an almost ceaseless string of mass killings at churches, schools and stores.
The gunman in Uvalde "shot and killed, horrifically, incomprehensibly, 14 students, and killed a teacher," the governor told reporters before the death toll was later updated, adding that two officers were also wounded but expected to survive.
"Pray for the lost, their families, and Uvalde," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a tweet.
It was not immediately clear how many people, in addition to the dead, were wounded, but Arredondo said there were "several injuries." Earlier, Uvalde Memorial Hospital said 13 children were taken there. Another hospital reported a 66-year-old woman was in critical condition.
Robb Elementary School has an enrollment of just under 600 students, and Arredondo said it serves students in the second, third and fourth grade. He did not provide ages of the children who were shot.
A heavy police presence surrounded the school Tuesday afternoon, with officers in heavy vests diverting traffic and FBI agents coming and going from the building.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was briefed on the shooting on Air Force One as he returned from a five-day trip to Asia. Biden was scheduled to deliver remarks Tuesday evening at the White House.
Vice President Kamala Harris said that people normally say in a moment like this, "our hearts break but our hearts keep getting broken … and our broken hearts are nothing compared to the broken hearts of those families."
"We have to have the courage to take action … to ensure something like this never happens again," she said.
Uvalde is home to about 16,000 people and is the seat of government for Uvalde County. The town is about 75 miles from the border with Mexico. Robb Elementary is in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
A Border Patrol agent who was among the first law enforcement officers on the scene was shot and wounded by the gunman, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke to the Associated Press. The agent was hospitalized in good condition.
The tragedy in Uvalde added to a grim tally of mass shootings in the state that have been among the deadliest in the United States. over the past five years. In 2018, a gunman fatally shot 10 people at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area. A year before that, a gunman at a Texas church killed more than two dozen people during a Sunday service in the small town of Sutherland Springs. In 2019, another gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist attack.
The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston. Abbott and both of Texas' U.S. senators were among elected Republican officials who were the scheduled speakers at a Friday leadership forum sponsored by the NRA's lobbying arm.
In the years since Sandy Hook, the gun control debate in Congress has waxed and waned. Efforts by lawmakers to change U.S. gun policies in any significant way have consistently faced roadblocks from Republicans and the influence of groups such as the NRA.
A year after Sandy Hook, Sens. Joe Manchin a West Virginia Democrat, and Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, negotiated a bipartisan proposal to expand the nation's background check system. But as the measure was close to being brought to the Senate floor for a vote, it became clear it would not get enough votes to clear a 60-vote filibuster hurdle.
Then-President Barack Obama, who had made gun control central to his administration's goals after the Newtown shooting, called Congress' failure to act "a pretty shameful day for Washington."
Last year, the House passed two bills to expand background checks on firearms purchases. One bill would have closed a loophole for private and online sales. The other would have extended the background check review period. Both languished in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats need at least 10 Republican votes to overcome objections from a filibuster.