A gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school in one of the deadliest school massacres in U.S. history barricaded himself inside a fourth-grade classroom, where all the fatalities and injuries occurred, state and federal officials said Wednesday.
“The shooter was able to make entry into the classroom, barricaded himself inside that classroom and again just began shooting numerous children and teachers that were in that classroom,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, said on NBC’s “Today” show.
A federal official told the Los Angeles Times that all the victims were in a single classroom when the attacker opened fire.
Police and border patrol officers shattered the school’s windows, Olivarez said on “Today,” in an attempt to offer students and teachers an escape route.
The massacre in the predominantly working-class Latino city of about 16,000 people, roughly 50 miles from the Mexico border, involved the most fatalities of any U.S. school shooting since 2012, when 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Two teachers were among the dead, and several children were injured in the massacre, including a 10-year-old who remained in critical condition.
The gunman, whom officials identified as Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old who attended a nearby high school, was fatally shot at the scene.
After shooting and wounding his 66-year-old grandmother at her home in Uvalde, Ramos got into his SUV and then crashed it into a ditch before arriving at the elementary school, according to a law-enforcement source. Clad in black and reportedly wearing body armor, the gunman was captured on a security camera with at least one weapon visible as he approached the school.
The children at Robb Elementary School were two days away from their summer break when the attacker burst into their classroom. Tuesday’s theme at the school was “Footloose and Fancy,” and students were supposed to wear special outfits with fun or fancy shoes.
Among the victims was Amerie Jo Garza, 10. Just that morning, she had posed at school for a photo, smiling as she clutched a bright certificate celebrating her “A-B” honor roll.
“Thank you everyone for the prayers and help trying to find my baby,” her father, Angel Garza, wrote on Facebook shortly after midnight. “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.”
Henry Becerra, a pastor with City Church, which is based in Los Angeles and San Antonio, traveled to Uvalde after the shooting to pray with families overnight and into Wednesday morning.
After meeting them at the civic center, Becerra went to some of their homes to pray with relatives in living rooms as mourners spilled into the yards.
“How many more moments of silence do we have to go through?” Becerra said as he stood with a half-dozen members of his church outside the civic center late Tuesday.
“The last few days, the vulnerable people have been taken advantage of: a grocery store, a church and a school,” he said, alluding to recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Laguna Niguel, in Southern California.
“We need to take action,” Becerra said, but “I don’t have an answer.”
Becerra said he saw families in the civic center being notified that their children had died in the attack.
“They screamed, they cried, they pulled their hair, they yelled, ‘Why?’ ” he said.
Uvalde’s mayor, Don McLaughlin, asked for prayers for the families of those who lost their lives so “God could surround them with his love and comfort.”
“My heart is broken for them all,” he said in a Facebook post early Wednesday. “To our community — I know your hearts are broken.”
The Rev. Mike Marsh of St. Philips Episcopal Church in Uvalde, who met at the local hospital Tuesday with relatives of those unaccounted for, said local funeral homes planned to cover funeral costs. He said the city was paying for the burials, and a community memorial was planned at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the nearby fairgrounds.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotional trauma for students, teachers and parents that needs to be addressed,” he said. “There’s no good answers.”
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.