CNN

Uvalde school shooter was in school for up to an hour before law enforcement broke into room where he was barricaded and killed him

May 25, 2022, 9:19 PM | Updated: May 26, 2022, 7:54 am
uvalde police...
FILE: Law enforcement personnel walk outside Uvalde High School after shooting at Robb Elementary School, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)
(William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)

(CNN) — The gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school Tuesday was on the premises for up to an hour before law enforcement forcibly entered a classroom and killed him, officials said Wednesday.

“It’s going to be within, like 40 minutes or something, (within) an hour,” Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw told CNN’s Ed Lavandera at a news conference.

The 18-year-old shooter, Salvador Ramos, was in a standoff with law enforcement officers for about a half-hour after firing on students and teachers, Rep. Tony Gonzales, whose district includes Uvalde, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, citing a briefing he was given.

“And then (the shooting) stops, and he barricades himself in. That’s where there’s kind of a lull in the action,” Gonzales said. “All of it, I understand, lasted about an hour, but this is where there’s kind of a 30-minute lull. They feel as if they’ve got him barricaded in. The rest of the students in the school are now leaving.”

Ramos was killed by a law enforcement officer Tuesday, ending the second deadliest shooting at a K-12 school in the United States since 2012, when 26 children and adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was at least the 30th shooting at a K-12 school in 2022, according to a CNN tally.

LIVE UPDATES: Deadly shooting at Texas elementary school

The gunman was a local high school dropout with no criminal history and no known mental health history, officials said. He had just turned 18 and legally bought two AR-15-style rifles and ammunition for his birthday. His grandfather said Wednesday he didn’t know Ramos had guns.

“If I had known I would have reported him,” Rolando Reyes said.

Gunman allegedly texted teenaged girl on day of shooting

The gunman allegedly texted a girl who lives in Germany about his intentions just before he shot his grandmother in her home and left for the school in her pickup..

According to screenshots reviewed by CNN and an interview with the 15-year-old girl — who said she had been in contact with the gunman for weeks — Salvador Ramos complained about his grandmother being “on the phone with AT&T abojt (sic) my phone.”

“It’s annoying,” he texted.

Six minutes later, he texted: “I just shot my grandma in her head.” Seconds after that, he said, “Ima go shoot up a(n) elementary school rn (right now).”

The last message was sent at 6:21 p.m. Central European Time, which was 11:21 a.m. in Texas.

The girl, who lives in Frankfurt, said she began chatting with Ramos on a social media app on May 9. Ramos sent the girl selfie videos and discussed a plan to go visit her in Europe, according to videos and text messages.

The girl, whose mother gave permission for her to be interviewed, said she spoke to Ramos daily on FaceTime. She said she also communicated with him via a social livestreaming app called Yubo and played games with him on a gaming app named Plato. In their conversations, she said he asked about her life in Germany. “He looked happy and comfortable talking to me,” the girl said.

The texts to the girl are similar to messages that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Ramos wrote on Facebook.

Those disturbing writings, Abbott said, came as the suspect indeed shot his grandmother, drove to nearby Robb Elementary School, forced his way inside adjoining classrooms and opened fire at a group of kids and faculty. Officers eventually forced their way into the barricaded room and a Border Patrol officer fatally shot him, Abbott said.

A spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said the gunman’s messages were made in private one-to-one texts that were discovered after the shooting.

Now, the city of Uvalde, about 90 miles west of San Antonio and just east of the US-Mexico border, finds itself on the long list of American communities devastated by mass shootings.

So far, five 10-year-olds and a fourth-grade teacher have been named publicly by relatives as among the dead.

Parents waited late into Tuesday night at a civic center to learn whether their children had survived, some having given DNA to help authorities identify victims, they told CNN. Authorities have since identified all the victims, whose remains have been removed from the murder scene, and notified their families, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Chris Olivarez said.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday he will visit Uvalde soon.

“As a nation, I think we all must be there for them,” Biden said. “And we must ask when in God’s name will we do what needs to be done to if not completely stop, fundamentally change the amount of the carnage that goes on in this country.”

Sympathy also poured in from across the globe, including Pope Francis, who pushed for stronger gun control. Leaders of France, Germany and Spain shared condolences, too, along with the President of war-torn Ukraine, who called it “terrible to have victims of shooters in peaceful time.”

How the shooting unfolded

The gunman shot his grandmother in the face before driving to Robb Elementary, a second through fourth grade school, to carry out the attack, Gov. Abbott said. Officials said the grandmother, who called 911, remains in a hospital — as do five victims from the school.

Soon after that initial shooting, police got a 911 call about a vehicle that had crashed near the school and someone armed with a rifle heading inside, Olivarez told CNN in an interview Wednesday morning. The man was wearing a “tactical vest carrier with no ballistic panels,” Olivarez said.

Sgt. Erick Estrada of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN that when the shooter got to the school, he encountered a school resource officer, dropped a black bag with ammunition inside and entered the school.

The shooter barricaded himself inside adjoining classrooms and opened fire on the children and two teachers, Olivarez said, calling the act “complete evil.”

With the shooter barricaded inside, officers were at a disadvantage, he said.

“There was not sufficient manpower at that time, and their primary focus was to preserve any further loss of life,” he told CNN. “They started breaking windows around the school and trying to rescue, evacuate children and teachers while that was going on.”

A tactical team of local and federal officers arrived, forced its way into the classroom and shot the gunman dead, Olivarez said. One law enforcement officer was wounded and expected to survive.

Authorities continue to investigate the shooting and events that led to it, Olivarez told CNN.

Community shattered by sudden tragedy

As the last day of school was drawing near, Robb Elementary students were celebrating with special themed dress days, including Tuesday’s theme of “Footloose and Fancy.” Students were encouraged to come dressed in nice outfits and show off their fun footwear, according to a post on the school’s Facebook page.

But by Tuesday afternoon, shaken students were being bused to the civic center-turned-reunification site. As the evening stretched on, some parents began to learn their young children had not survived.

“We see people coming out just terrorized. They’re crying one by one. They’re being told that their child has passed on,” state Sen. Roland Gutierrez told CNN on Tuesday night from the site.

As news of the shooting broke in Uvalde, Robb Elementary parents were told students were being taken to the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center, according to a post on the school district’s Facebook page. The site quickly became the epicenter for families looking for their children, and scenes of devastation began to play out as victims were identified.

Parents were asked for DNA swabs to confirm their relationships to their children and instructed to wait an hour for an answer, at least four families told CNN.

A father, who had just learned his child was dead, fought tears as several of his cousins embraced him. A few yards away, a grandmother who had just driven from San Antonio said she would not stop praying for her 10-year-old granddaughter as they waited for the DNA results.

Inside, city workers handed out pizza, snacks and water to families. Some parents waited in silence, while others sobbed quietly as a group of children sat on the floor playing with teddy bears. A group of local pastors and chaplains arrived and offered their support to the families.

“It’s a small town,” said Lalo Diaz, a county justice of the peace. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows each other, Diaz said, noting he knows the families of several victims.

In his civic role, Diaz coordinates processing of the deceased. Until now, he’s only dealt at once with four people killed in a car crash, he said.

“When I have to sign 21 death certificates,” Diaz said, “my heart will drop.”

Robb Elementary includes second through fourth grades and had 535 students in the 2020-21 school year, state data shows. About 90% of students are Hispanic, according to the data. Uvalde County had a population of about 25,000 in the 2020 census.

10-year-olds, co-teachers identified as victims

Five of the children and two teachers killed have been identified publicly by their families.

Teacher Irma Garcia was identified through a GoFundMe campaign. She was a wife and mother to four children, according to the campaign.

“Sweet, kind, loving. Fun with the greatest personality. A wonderful 4th grade teacher at Robb Elementary that was a victim in a Texas school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. She sacrificed herself protecting the kids in her classroom, she was a hero. She was loved by many and will truly be missed,” the campaign said.

Garcia was in her fifth year co-teaching with Eva Mireles, whose aunt confirmed her death.

Mireles had been an educator for 17 years and in her off time enjoyed running, hiking, biking and spending time with her family, according to her profile on the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District website.

Ten-year-old Xavier Lopez’s mother confirmed her son was killed and recalled her fourth grader’s unforgettable smile. Xavier was days away from finishing elementary school and “couldn’t wait” to attend middle school, his mother told the Washington Post.

Martinez had been at the school earlier Tuesday to cheer on Xavier during the honor roll ceremony, at which he got a certificate. She took a picture of her boy and told him she was proud of him and loved him, she said. Then, she hugged her “mama’s boy” goodbye.

Elsewhere in the hours after the shooting, Angel Garza pleaded on Facebook for help finding his daughter, 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza.

He followed up early Wednesday morning: “She’s been found. My little love is now flying high with the angels above.”

“Please don’t take a second for granted,” Garza wrote. “Hug your family. Tell them you love them.”

Jose Flores Jr., 10, was killed, as well, his father told CNN. The brother of two younger siblings, Jose loved baseball and video games and “was always full of energy,” Jose Flores Sr. said.

And 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia was among the slain, his family told CNN. The fourth grader was “full of life” and “loved anything with wheels,” his uncle Mitch Renfro told CNN.

Uziyah’s grandfather remembered throwing the football with his grandson and teaching him pass patterns and plays, Manny Renfro recalled. He was the “sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known,” the grandfather said in an interview with CNN affiliate KSAT.

What we know about the shooter

Ramos had stopped regularly attending school at Uvalde High School, one of his former classmates told CNN. “He barely came to school,” said the friend, who did not wish to be identified. Ramos had recently sent him a picture of an AR-15-style rifle, a backpack with rounds of ammunition and several magazines, the friend added.

“I was like, ‘Bro, why do you have this?’ and he was like, ‘Don’t worry about it,'” the friend said. “He proceeded to text me, ‘I look very different now. You wouldn’t recognize me.'”

The shooter also sent ominous Instagram messages to another user hours before the shooting, screenshots show.

Three days before the attack, an account linked to the shooter posted a photo of two rifles lying on a carpet in a story that tagged another Instagram account by name. The owner of the tagged account wrote in a story posted after the shooting that Ramos had tagged her and messaged her out of the blue.

The girl, who did not include her name on her account and has since made her account private, posted a series of screenshots of messages she said she exchanged with the shooter in the days before the massacre.

In one message that appeared to be sent the morning of the shooting, Ramos wrote “I’m about to” — but didn’t say what he would do. “I got a lil secret,” he wrote in another message. “I wanna tell u.”

In messages posted to her story before it went private, the girl said that she didn’t live in Texas and didn’t know Ramos.

Ramos had a history of fighting with others, according to a former friend and a video obtained by CNN that depicts Ramos repeatedly throwing punches. The former friend said the video, which he received more than a year ago, depicts Ramos fighting with someone else, which the former friend said was not out of the ordinary.

“He would always get in fights in school,” the former classmate said

CNN has reached out to the Uvalde school district for more information, but received no response.

Communities that have endured shootings express solidarity

The victims’ loved ones and community members grieving the loss of 21 Uvalde residents join a growing number of Americans whose lives have been ravaged by mass shootings — and school shootings in particular. It’s a “club that no one wants to be a part of,” said Erica Lafferty, whose mother, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.

So far, there have been more mass shootings than days in 2022 — including the racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store a little over a week ago that left 10 dead. At least 213 mass shootings had been recorded this year as of Tuesday, the 144th day of the year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. CNN and the archive each define a mass shooting as one in which four or more people were injured or killed, not including the shooter.

Parents of children who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary and Parkland, Florida, school shootings expressed support for the Uvalde community and aired frustrations about the shared language of loss that gun violence has created for so many families.

Fred Guttenberg’s daughter Jaime was one of 17 people killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“I can’t stop thinking about these families today who need to figure out how they’re going to bury their children, who need to figure out how they are going to console their other children,” he said. “And I can’t stop thinking about this community that needs to figure out how they’re all going to rally, how they’re all going to take care of one another in this aftermath.”

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Uvalde school shooter was in school for up to an hour before law enforcement broke into room where he was barricaded and killed him