Grief at the massacre of 19 small children at an elementary school in Texas spilled into confrontation Wednesday, as angry questions mounted over gun control — and whether this latest tragedy could have been prevented.
The tight-knit Latino community of Uvalde on Tuesday became the site of America’s worst school shooting in a decade, committed by a disturbed 18-year-old armed with a legally bought assault rifle.
Wrenching details have been steadily emerging since the tragedy, which also claimed the lives of two teachers.
Briefing reporters, Governor Greg Abbott revealed that teen shooter Salvador Ramos — who was killed by police — shot his 66-year-old grandmother in the face before heading to Robb Elementary School.
Ramos went on social media to share his plan to attack his grandmother — who though gravely injured was able to alert the police.
He then messaged again to say his next target was a school, where he headed clad in body armor and wielding an AR-15 rifle.
Pressed on how the teen was able to obtain the murder weapon, the Texas governor repeatedly brushed aside suggestions tougher gun laws were needed in his state — where attachment to the right to bear arms runs deep.
“I consider this person to have been pure evil,” Abbott said, articulating a position commonly held among US Republicans — that unfettered access to weapons is not to blame for the country’s gun violence epidemic.
Abbott’s stance was echoed by the powerful NRA gun lobby, which issued a statement labeling the shooter as “a lone, deranged criminal.”
But the governor was called out by a rival Democrat, who loudly interrupted the briefing to accuse him of deadly inaction.
“This is on you,” heckled Beto O’Rourke, a fervent gun control advocate who is challenging Abbott for his job come November.
“You are doing nothing!” Beto charged. “This is totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.”
O’Rourke’s interruption came a day after President Joe Biden, in an emotional address to the nation, called on lawmakers to take on America’s powerful gun lobby and enact tougher laws.
“When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” Biden, who plans to soon visit the scene of the shooting, asked.
– ‘Horror and pain’ –
In the shattered community of Uvalde, a small mainly Hispanic town about an hour from the Mexican border, there was anger, too, at how such a tragedy could have occurred.
“I’m sad, and I’m angry at our government, for not doing more about gun control,” Rosie Buantel, a middle-aged local resident, told AFP.
“We’ve gone through this one too many times. And still there’s nothing done.”
Aida Hernandez, a local woman in her 60s who knew the victims, was weeping as she left mass at Uvalde’s Sacred Heart church.
“I’m still in shock,” she said, describing her “horror and pain.”
As broken families shared their news on social media, the names of the murdered children, most of them of Latino heritage, began coming out: they included Ellie Garcia, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, Uziyah Garcia.
“My little love is now flying high with the angels above,” Angel Garza, whose daughter Amerie Jo Garza had just celebrated her 10th birthday, posted on Facebook.
“I love you Amerie Jo,” he wrote. “I will never be happy or complete again.”
More than a dozen children were also wounded at the school, attended by more than 500 students aged around seven to 10 years old, most of them economically disadvantaged.
There was little movement Wednesday around the school, in a neighborhood of modest single-story homes, with small yards and often a swing set and an outdoor grill for barbecues.
Wearing black, Ramos drove his grandmother’s vehicle a little over two miles (3.2 kilometers), before crashing it near the school.
There, he was confronted by a school resource officer, but was able to enter through a back door and made his way to two adjoining classrooms.
“That’s where the carnage began,” said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Details have emerged of Ramos as a deeply troubled teen — he was repeatedly bullied over a speech impediment that included a stutter and a lisp and once cut up his own face “just for fun,” a former friend, Santos Valdez, told The Washington Post.
In the days after turning 18 this month, Ramos purchased two assault rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a week later he staged his attack.
There have been more mass shootings — in which four or more people were wounded or killed — in 2022 than days so far this year, according to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive.
Despite that, multiple attempts at reform have failed in Congress, leaving states and local councils to strengthen — or weaken — their own restrictions.
The Uvalde school shooting was the deadliest since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut, in which 20 young children and six staff were killed.
“This town is heartbroken, devastated,” Adolfo Hernandez, whose nephew was at school when tragedy struck, told AFP.
“We feel like there’s a black cloud above this town,” he said. “You just want to pinch yourself and wake up from that horrible nightmare.”