This article contains references to family violence.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has avoided the issue of whether tougher gun laws are needed after at least 19 children and two teachers were murdered by a shooter at a primary school in his state, instead saying it’s a case of improving mental health care.
“We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” he said at a news conference.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) – a powerful lobby that has been instrumental in thwarting efforts to tighten US gun laws – took a similar tack, saying the shooting was the work of a “lone, deranged criminal.”
Mr Abbott had noted the shooter, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, did not appear to have any criminal record or history of mental health problems.
Ramos posted on social media that he was going to shoot up a primary school about 15 minutes before his rampage, Mr Abbott said, as harrowing details about the attack continued to emerge.
The high school dropout also wrote a message saying he was going to shoot his grandmother and another one confirming he had done so, Mr Abbott said. His grandmother, whom Ramos shot in the face shortly before attacking the school, survived and called the police.
Ramos fled the home he shared with his grandmother and crashed his car near Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. He entered the school through a back door carrying an AR-15 assault-style rifle and wearing tactical gear.
He barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom, authorities said, and killed students and teachers before he was fatally shot by a US Border Patrol officer, Mr Abbott said. An additional 17 people suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
People walk carrying flowers to honour the victims of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in Texas. Source: AP / Jae C. Hong/AP
The online messages were the only advance warning, Mr Abbott said.
Mr Abbott said the posts were made on Facebook, but spokespeople for Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, said they were private messages discovered after the shooting.
The company declined to say who received the messages or which of Meta’s platforms, such as Messenger or Instagram, was used to send them.
Ramos purchased two rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition in March, according to authorities.
The attack, which came 10 days after an avowed white supremacist shot 13 people at a supermarket in a mostly African-American neighbourhood of Buffalo, has reignited a national debate over US gun laws.
In a sign of the charged political atmosphere, Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate challenging Mr Abbott in a November election, interrupted the news conference to confront Abbott for loosening, rather than restricting, the state’s gun laws.
Several officials yelled at Mr O’Rourke, with one calling him a “sick son of a bitch” for allegedly politicising the shooting, though it was not clear who.
Mr O’Rourke was escorted out of the building and spoke to reporters outside, calling it “insane” that an 18-year-old was legally permitted to acquire an AR-15 and vowed to pursue gun limits.
“We can get that done if we had a governor that cared more about the people of Texas than he does this own political career or his fealty to the NRA,” he said, referring to the National Rifle Association, a gun-rights advocacy organisation.
Texas has some of the country’s most permissive firearm laws.
In a prime-time address on Tuesday evening, US President Joe Biden called for new gun safety restrictions.
“As a nation, we have to ask when in God’s name we’re going to stand up to the gun lobby,” he said, his voice rising.
But new legislation appeared unlikely to pass in Washington. Virtually all Republicans in Congress oppose new gun restrictions, citing the US constitution’s guarantee of a right to bear arms, and there was no sign the massacre would alter that position.
White House officials were planning a trip to Texas for Mr Biden, a senior administration official said.
World leaders expressed shock and sympathy. Pope Francis on Wednesday said he was “heartbroken” and called for an end to “the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons.”
The Texas rampage stands as the deadliest US school shooting since a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.
‘I will miss your laugh forever’
Uvalde, a community deep in the state’s Hill Country region about 130 km west of San Antonio, has about 16,000 residents, nearly 80 per cent of them Hispanic or Latino, according to US Census data.
Community members set up fundraisers for the families of the victims to cover funeral costs, while some relatives mourned their losses on social media.
“My little love is now flying high with the angels above,” Angel Garza, whose daughter, Amerie Jo Garza, was killed, wrote on Facebook. “Please don’t take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them.”
The two staff members killed were identified as Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, fourth-grade teachers trapped in the classroom with their students when the shooting began.
“My best friend, my twin was taken from me,” Ms Mireles’ daughter, Adalynn Ruiz, wrote on Facebook. “Everyone who knows you knows how outgoing and funny you were and I will miss your laugh forever.”
Democrats in Washington renewed calls for stronger gun safety laws. US Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a leading advocate on the issue, told reporters: “You know, guns flow in this country like water. And that’s why we have mass shooting after mass shooting.”
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives last year passed two bills expanding background checks on firearm purchases. But the legislation has not advanced in the Senate, where at least 10 Republican votes are needed.
Mr Abbott said stricter laws would not prevent violence, citing states such as California and New York that have stringent limits. Instead, he said, the focus should be on mental health treatment and prevention.
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