UVALDE, Texas: The 19 children and two teachers massacred at a South Texas elementary school were in a single fourth-grade classroom where the gunman barricaded himself, authorities said on Wednesday (May 25), as the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade reignited a national debate over America's gun laws.
Police circled Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, breaking windows in an effort to evacuate children and staff, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Chris Olivarez told CNN.
Officers eventually breached the classroom and killed the gunman, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.
Ramos began his rampage by shooting his grandmother at home. He then drove to the nearby school where he crashed his car and entered the building wearing tactical gear and carrying a rifle, authorities said.
His grandmother survived but is in critical condition. Investigators hope she can shed light on a motive for the shooting.
Multiple children were also injured, Olivarez told Fox News, though he did not have an exact tally.
The attack, which came 10 days after an avowed white supremacist shot 13 people at a supermarket in a mostly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, prompted President Joe Biden to call for stricter gun safety laws in a prime-time address to the American people.
"As a nation, we have to ask when in God's name we're going to stand up to the gun lobby, when in God's name we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done," he said, his voice rising in a crescendo.
Biden ordered flags flown at half-staff daily until sunset on Saturday in observance of the tragedy.
"I am sick and tired of it. We have to act," Biden, a Democrat, said, without proposing specific legislation.
But the prospects for legislation remained dim in Washington. Virtually all Republicans in Congress oppose new gun restrictions, citing the US Constitution's guarantee of a right to bear arms.
World leaders expressed shock and sympathy. Pope Francis on Wednesday said he was "heartbroken" by the Texas shooting and called for an end to "the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons".
The Texas rampage stands as the deadliest school shooting since a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.
Uvalde, a community deep in the state's Hill Country region about 130km west of San Antonio, has about 16,000 residents, nearly 80 per cent of them Hispanic or Latino, according to US Census data.
"We’re a small community and we need your prayers to get us through this," Hal Harrell, the school district superintendent, told reporters on Tuesday, his voice quaking with emotion.
The two staff members killed were identified as Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, fourth-grade teachers who worked in the same classroom.
Mireles, who loved running and hiking, had an adult daughter and a husband who works as a police officer in the schools. Garcia, who worked at the school for more than two decades, had four children.
'GUNS FLOW LIKE WATER'
Democrats in Washington renewed calls for stronger gun safety laws. US Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a leading advocate for legislation to restrict the proliferation of guns, told reporters: "I just don't understand why people here think we're powerless."
"You know, guns flow in this country like water. And that's why we have mass shooting after mass shooting," he said.
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives last year passed two Bills expanding background checks on firearm purchases, including closing a loophole that exempts online and private sales.
But the legislation has not advanced in the Senate, where at least 10 Republican votes are needed.
In the wake of the shooting, at least two Texas Republican elected officials called for beefing up security at schools and arming teachers, an approach opposed by gun control advocates.
"The reality is that we don't have the resources to have law enforcement at every school," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Fox News on Tuesday. "Nothing is going to work perfectly."
The shooting took place days before the National Rifle Association, the gun industry's main lobbying group, was set to hold its annual meeting in Houston.
Several prominent Texas Republicans, including Governor Greg Abbott and US senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, were scheduled to speak to attendees.
The non-profit Gun Violence Archive, which tracks mass shootings, has counted more than 200 incidents so far this year, defined as those in which four or more people were killed or injured.
In Texas, a gunman killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017.
A mass shooting killed 10 people at a Houston-area high school the next year, and 23 people died at a Walmart in El Paso in a 2019 attack motivated by racial hatred.