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Police officers stand at the scene of a mass shooting in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, US, on May 25 2022. Picture: REUTERS/NURI VALLBONA
Police officers stand at the scene of a mass shooting in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, US, on May 25 2022. Picture: REUTERS/NURI VALLBONA

Uvalde — Two days after a teenager gunned down 19 children and two teachers at a South Texas elementary school, many details about the massacre remain unclear, as town of Uvalde still reels from the deadliest such incident in almost a decade.

Chris Olivarez, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety,  said on Thursday that investigators were still trying to confirm the precise sequence of events, including how long 18-year-old Salvador Ramos remained barricaded in the classroom where the shootings place before officers breached it and killed him.

At least 17 people were also injured, including multiple children.

The shooting has reignited a national debate over America’s gun laws. President Joe Biden and fellow Democrats have vowed to push for new restrictions, despite resistance from Republicans.

There were few warning signs: Ramos, a high school dropout, had no criminal record or history of mental illness. Texas governor Greg Abbott said on Wednesday that Ramos had written an online message to someone minutes before the attack saying he was about to “shoot up an elementary school”.

Authorities said Ramos shot his grandmother in the face at the home they shared before fleeing and crashing his car outside Robb Elementary School at about 11.30am local time. His grandmother, who was later admitted to hospital in a in critical condition, managed to call police.

Outside the school, Ramos, armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, evaded a school police officer, dropping a bag of ammunition as he did so. Officials have offered conflicting accounts on whether Ramos and the officer exchanged gunfire before the teenager was able to enter the school.

“We’re trying to establish exactly what was his [the officer’s] role and how he encountered the shooter,” Olivarez told CNN.

Ramos wounded two responding officers inside a hallway before barricading himself inside a fourth-grade classroom, Olivarez said. The attack drew hundreds of law enforcement officers, who encircled the building and broke windows in an effort to evacuate children and staff.

Police set up a perimeter to prevent people, including parents, from entering the school, Olivarez said. Eventually, members of a US Border Patrol tactical unit breached the classroom and apparently killed Ramos, with one agent wounded in the crossfire, officials said.

Olivarez said the attack lasted between 40 and 60 minutes, though he could not say whether that time frame began when Ramos shot his grandmother or when the teenager arrived at the school. The FBI is working on obtaining surveillance video from the school’s cameras.

Ramos had bought two semi-automatic rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the days leading up to the attack.

His mother, Adriana Reyes, was quoted in an interview with the UK website DailyMail.com describing her son as someone who “kept to himself and didn't have many friends”.

Victims’ loved ones took to social media to express anguish over the loss of children.

“We told her we loved her and would pick her up after school,” Kimberly Mata-Rubio posted on Facebook in a remembrance of her daughter, Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, a fourth-grade student. “We had no idea this was goodbye.”

Gun-control debate

The shooting came 10 days after an avowed white supremacist shot 13 people at a supermarket in a mostly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York.

In Washington, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate appeared far from any compromise on new gun restrictions.

Biden, who has urged Congress to act, is scheduled to visit Uvalde.

The National Rifle Association’s annual meeting starts on Friday in Houston, where Republicans including Abbott, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former President Donald Trump were scheduled to address the gun rights group.

The NRA expressed sympathy for the victims but said the event would go ahead as planned.

According to data from the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security a gun was fired almost every day this year on school property.

The Texas rampage is the deadliest US school shooting since a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.

Uvalde has about 16,000 residents, almost 80% of whom are Hispanic or Latino, according to US Census data, and many residents personally knew victims, or their families, including the town official faced with the grim task of identifying the bodies.

The school remained cordoned off on Wednesday evening, as passers-by walked up periodically to hand flowers and stuffed animals to a police officer who carried it over to a makeshift memorial near the building.

Reuters

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