A gunman killed 19 children at a Texas elementary school Tuesday in the deadliest shooting at a US grade school since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Wearing body armor and firing hundreds of rounds, the 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Chris Olivarez said. A US Border Protection agent, one of several responding to the scene, shot and killed the gunman, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told USA TODAY on Tuesday night.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Erick Estrada said the gunman also shot his grandmother before driving to Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where he was armed with a rifle and overpowered a school officer. Estrada said the grandmother had been airlifted to a hospital and was in critical condition.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier Tuesday that the woman had died.
Federal law enforcement officials told the Associated Press that the death toll was expected to rise. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release investigative details.
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“This was a tragic and senseless event today, and my heart was broke today,” said Hal Harrell, the school system superintendent, who said at a news conference that grief counselors would be available and classes were canceled for the year. “We’re a small community and we’ll need your prayers to get us through this.”
Abbott said two responding officers were struck by gunfire but weren’t seriously injured.
Officials have not revealed a motive for the shooting, but have said the shooter was a resident of the community. Abbott identified the gunman as Salvador Ramos.
The gunman appeared to have acted alone, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District District Chief of Police Pete Arredondo said at a news conference.
Uvalde is a city of about 16,000 people about 85 miles west of San Antonio. The shooting came four years after a gunman fatally shot 10 people at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area.
President Joe Biden in a Tuesday night news conference decried “another massacre” that had left pain parents in unfathomable pain: “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” he said.
Biden also called for a renewed push for gun control measures, lamenting the lack of progress despite repeated shootings.
“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he said. “Time to turn this pain into action.”
A US homeland security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said that the agent who killed the gunman was assigned to a local team within Customs and Border Protection’s special operations group, BORTAC or Border Control Tactical Unit. The agent was shot in the foot or lower leg when confronting the gunman, and was treated at a local hospital for his injuries, the DHS official said.
US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus issued a statement following the shooting late Tuesday.
“CBP responded immediately to the incident with local law enforcement. Many of our local CBP personnel live in Uvalde; they call this community home, and they work to protect their families, friends and neighbors every single day,” the statement read in part.
In Uvalde Tuesday, anxious parents were reuniting with surviving children all afternoon, with some seen in photos breaking down in tears near the school.
It was not immediately clear how many people, in addition to the dead, were injured in the shooting. Arredondo said there were “several injuries.”
The school includes students in second, third and fourth grades, he said.
“Families are being notified and we are providing services to them,” he said of those who lost children. “We want to keep all our families in the prayers.”
Multiple law enforcement agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were on scene Tuesday afternoon.
Outside the school, news video showed police in body armor, agents in FBI jackets, ambulances and yellow tape stretched around the property.
“We are aware of this tragic incident,” FBI Special Agent Carmen Portillo said in a statement. “At this time, it’s too soon to determine the extent of our involvement.”
Earlier, the district said that all schools in the district were locked down because of gunshots in the area.
Robb Elementary School has an enrollment of just under 600 students.
There were 249 shootings on school grounds last year – more than any other year since at least 1970 – and 137 so far this year, said David Riedman, lead researcher at the K-12 School Shooting Database at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.
Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday that American leaders need to take action to ensure another incident like the Uvalde school shooting does not happen again.
First lady Jill Biden said on Twitter: “Lord, enough. Little children and their teacher. Stunned. Angry. Heartbroken.”
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg asked residents on Twitter to join the city in flying flags at half-staff to remember lives lost. “Pray for the lost, their families, and Uvalde,” he wrote.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Josh Meyer, and Grace Hauck, USA TODAY, The Austin-American Statesman; The Associated Press;