On Tuesday, America saw its deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade. Nineteen elementary school children and two teachers lost their lives after an 18-year-old, who is also dead, opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The school has only 575 students from grades two to four, which typically includes children aged seven to ten. Among kids of this age group, guns have become the leading cause of death in the United States, according to a new report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Here’s what we know so far.
In the days before the incident, the shooter seemingly hinted online about the violent attack he was about to commit.
The shooter is a resident of the small town of Uvalde, 135 kilometers west of San Antonio, according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. He had no known criminal or mental health history, Abbott said.
On May 17, just after the shooter’s birthday, he legally purchased a rifle at a federally licensed gun dealer in the Uvalde area, according to a state police briefing to Texas Sen. John Whitemire.
A day later, May 18, he bought 375 rounds of ammunition. Then, on May 20, he purchased a second rifle.
The AR-15-type rifle used in the attack is known as a “DDM4 Rifle,” modelled after the M4 carbine, the U.S. military’s go-to rifle, according to a blog post by Daniel Defense, the gun’s maker.
These type of guns can be bought for as little as $400, but the Daniel Defense rifle can be around $2,000 or more.
Although the Daniel Defence rifle is not sold with sights, the shooter appears to have purchased a battery-powered holographic sight that typically sells for approximately $725. A holographic sight is designed to speed up the process of short range shooting by helping to fix on targets more quickly.
Texas has some of the country’s least restrictive gun laws. Just last year, a law was signed by Governor Greg Abbott to allow Texans to carry handguns without a license or training.
Approximately 30 minutes before the shooting, which police say took place at approximately 11:32 a.m., the shooter sent three online messages, Abbott noted.
The first said he was going to shoot his grandmother. The second said he shot her. Finally, the third said he was going to open fire at an elementary school, according to Abbott, though it was not clear whether he specified which school.
“Evil swept across Uvalde yesterday. Anyone who shoots his grandmother in the face has to have evil in his heart,” Abbott said in a news conference.
The messages were private one-to-one messages from the shooter and sent to another user on Facebook. They were “discovered after the terrible tragedy,” according to a company spokesperson, Andy Stone, who noted Facebook is cooperating with investigators.
As also confirmed by Texas Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and other officials, the attacker shot his 66-year-old grandmother in the face at their home in Uvalde, a heavily Latino community, before moving on to the elementary school.
After wounding his grandmother, he fled in her truck as she called for help.
The shooter crashed the truck near Robb Elementary, got out with the rifle, carrying multiple magazines, and approached a back door of the building, according to officials.
An officer assigned to the school “engaged” the shooter but he got into the building.
He wore a tactical vest, according to state senators who said they were briefed on the incident.
After entering the school, he moved down a hallway to a fourth-grade classroom.
He locked himself inside the classroom and opened fire.
The door was ultimately forced open by local police and Border Patrol agents, who killed the shooter after he fired at them.
At least one Border Patrol Agent was wounded by the shooter during the exchange of gunfire, according to Marsha Espinosa, assistant secretary of public affairs for the Department of Homeland Security.
“Upon entering the building, agents and other law enforcement officers faced gunfire from the subject, who was barricaded inside,” she said online, adding both agents and officers put themselves between the shooter and the children on the scene to “draw the shooter’s attention away from potential victims and save lives.”
On-and-off duty agents were also on scene to assist with transferring students safely to their families and providing medical support.
Some of the school’s windows were shattered by other officers and responders so teachers and students could escape.
The second AR-15-style rifle was found inside the truck the shooter drove and crashed. Near the school’s entrance, a backpack stuffed with several magazines was also discovered.
Media reports Thursday, coupled with cellphone video of the civilian pandemonium outside, detailed how parents and bystanders, well aware of the imminent threat inside the building, were frantically trying to get officers to go into the school to confront the gunman.
A Wall Street Journal report detailed how one of the parents on the scene was handcuffed by federal marshals who accused her of interfering with a police investigation. After local officers convinced their colleagues to set her free, she ran into the school and emerged with her two kids, the paper reported.
Although authorities have yet to release the names of the victims, information has emerged from their families. Many had to wait for hours to learn if their child was dead or alive.
The victims include a “loving 10-year-old little boy” and “adventurous” teacher who was a caring mother and wife.
All were in the same fourth grade classroom.
Amerie Jo Garza, 10, was identified by her father, Angel, as one of the victims in a Facebook post that has now gone viral.
“Thank you everyone for the prayers and help trying to find my baby. She’s been found. My little love is now flying high with the angels above. Please don’t take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them. I love you Amerie Jo. Watch over your baby brother for me,” he said.
Ellie Garcia “was a doll and was the happiest ever,” according to her father, Steven Garcia, on Facebook.
“I was gonna DJ for her at her party like she wanted me too,” Garcia said about his 10-year-old daughter.
Photos shared on his feed show a young girl who loved basketball and church.
Uziyah Garcia was the “sweetest little boy” Manny Renfro has ever known.
“I’m not just saying that because he was my grandkid,” Renfro told The Associated Press about the eight-year-old boy who was among those killed.
Renfro last saw Uziyah, 10, in San Angelo, Texas during spring break.
“We started throwing the football together and I was teaching him pass patterns — such a fast little boy and he could catch a ball so good,” he said.
“There were certain plays that I would call that he would remember and he would do it exactly like we practiced.”
Swift-footed Layla Salazar, 10, had won six races at the school’s field day.
“She was just a whole lot of fun,” her father, Vincent Salazar, said to the Associated Press, remembering how she danced to TikTok videos and sang along with him to the Guns N’ Roses song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” every morning on the way to school.
Jaliah Nicole Silguero, 10, did not want to go to school on Tuesday, her mother Veronica Luevanos told Univision. She seemed to sense something was going to happen that day, Veronica added.
Luevanos wrote on Facebook on Wednesday she was “heartbroken.” Jaliah’s cousin also died in the shooting.
“I’m so heartbroken. My baby I love u so much mamas don’t ever forget that watch over me daddy and your sisters and big bro,” she wrote. “Fly high baby girl.”
Tess Marie Mata was named by her sister on Twitter as one of the victims in Tuesday’s massacre.
“My precious angel you are loved so deeply. In my eyes you are not a victim but a survivor,” Faith Mata said in what is now a viral post. “I love you always and past forever baby sister, may your wings soar higher then you could ever dream. Till we meet again Tess Marie, love your big sissy.”
Eva Mireles was a Grade 4 teacher at Robb Elementary School, the institution’s website said. The 44-year-old mother and wife was an educator for 17 years. She loved running and hiking.
“She was adventurous. I would definitely say those wonderful things about her,” said 34-year-old relative Amber Ybarra, of San Antonio. “She is definitely going to be very missed.”
Mireles’ daughter, Adalynn, posted on Twitter Wednesday a tribute to her mom.
“I will take care of our dogs and I will forever say your name so you are always remembered, Eva Mireles, 4th grade teacher at Robb Elementary who selflessly jumped in front of her students to save their lives,” she wrote.
“My heart will forever be broken. My best friend, my twin was taken from me. Thank you for loving me in the best ways and for raising me to become so strong.”
Mother of four, Irma Garcia, was in her 23rd year of teaching at Robb Elementary. She was married to her husband for 24 years. She loved to barbecue with him. She also loved music and taking country cruises to Concan, Texas.
Xavier James Lopez was a “loving 10-year-old little boy, just enjoying life,” his cousin Lisa Garza told The Associated Press.
He was eagerly awaiting a summer full of swimming.
“He was very bubbly, loved to dance with his brothers, his mom,” said Garza. “This has just taken a toll on all of us.”
Like Lopez, Makenna Lee Elrod, 10, was a fourth grader at Robb Elementary.
“My sweet innocent baby sister… my heart will forever break for you my love… I love you with my whole heart …. have fun with your angels up in heavy baby girl,” Elrod’s older sister wrote on Twitter.
The death of Jayce Carmelo Luevanos was confirmed by his aunt, BBC reported. His cousin Jailah Nicole Silguero was also killed in the shooting.
“Still can’t believe that we’re never gonna see you again,” she wrote on Facebook, according to BBC.
After posting on Facebook about trying to find his daughter, Alithia Ramirez, by calling “all the hospital,” Ryan Ramirez changed his profile picture to a photo of her with angel wings.
“My heart hurts and I’m just torn with all the evil in this world,” wrote Ernesto Morales, a relative, who has created a GoFundMe page, for the family.
Nevaeh Bravo was also among the victims, as confirmed by a cousin in a Facebook post Tuesday.
“Thank you everyone for the prayers, our Nevaeh has been found! She is flying with the angels above. We love you Nevaeh very much princess! Please everyone continue to keep her parents and our family in your prayers,” wrote Emily Grace Ayala.
Hours before she was shot dead in her classroom, fourth grader Alexandria Aniyah Rubia, was see in in a family photo posted on Facebook holding up an “A” Honor Roll certificate she achieved for her excellent grades at school.
“We told her we loved her and would pick her up after school,” said Alexandria’s mother Kimberly Mata-Rubio in the Facebook post. “We had no idea this was goodbye.”
Calls for gun control
A growing call for gun control in the United States has been seen from politicians, advocates and everyday citizens.
“When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name are we going to do what needs to be done?” President Joe Biden asked Tuesday evening while addressing the nation from the White House after the shooting. “The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong.”
“What struck me is these kinds of mass shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world,” Biden added. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? It’s time to turn this pain into action.”
The president will travel to Uvalde on Sunday to “offer comfort” to the families of the victims and meet with community leaders, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday as she urged Congress to take meaningful steps toward tougher gun restrictions.
“We need the help of Congress ? we cannot do this alone,” she said. “We need them to step in and to deal with this gun violence that we’re seeing, that’s tearing up not just families but communities across the country.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he’s asked Texas Sen. John Cornyn to meet with Democrats to talk about legislation, but offered no details about what he hopes to see, beyond “an outcome that can actually pass and become law.”
Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke about the incident Tuesday saying, “We have to have the courage to take action … to ensure something like this never happens again.”
On Tuesday, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Congress to recommit itself to passing gun control reform, pointing to multiple bills already passed by the House last year.
“For too long, some in Congress have offered hollow words after these shootings while opposing all efforts to save lives. It is time for all in Congress to heed the will of the American people and join in enacting the House-passed bipartisan, commonsense, life-saving legislation into law,” she said.
History of mass shootings in the U.S.
Less than 24 hours after the Uvalde shooting, police in the same state arrested a suspect walking towards a Richardson, Texas, high school, with what appeared to be a rifle.
The suspect was found inside the school with no weapons, however, what appeared to be an AK-47-style gun and a replica AR-15-style Orbeez rifle were found inside a vehicle used by the suspect near Berkner High School.
The shooting also comes 10 days after an 18-year-old gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York.
Between 2019 to 2020 in the U.S., the relative increase in the rate of gun related deaths among children and adolescents between the ages of one and 19 was more than twice as high as the relative increase in the general population, sitting at a nearly 30 per cent jump, according to the New England Journal of Medicine report.
Gun related deaths for this age group exceed all other causes of death including cancer, drowning, and motor vehicle crashes, the report, which was released May 19 and looks at data between 1999 and 2020, found.
Tuesday’s shooting is the deadliest in Texas since May 18, 2018, when a gunman killed 10 people and wounded 13 others at Sante Fe High School.
Since the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, more than 300,000 children have experienced shootings at 320 schools, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. Those shootings have led to the deaths of at least 163 children, educators and other people.
The U.S. government does not keep track of school shooting events, leaving most tallies to be done by independent advocacy groups and media reports.
The shooting also 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.
This story has been updated to correct the middle name of Xavier Lopez from Javier to James
— With files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea, Saba Aziz & The Associated Press