Texas officials repeatedly blamed mental health issues for the mass shooting at an elementary school on Tuesday, saying people who focused on the state's extraordinarily lax gun laws were "oversimplifying" gun violence.
"The ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years. ... And why is it that for the majority of those 60 years we did not have school shootings. And why is it that we do now?" Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
"The reality is I don't know the answer to that question," he continued. "One thing that has substantially changed is the status of mental health in our communities."
At least 19 children - including a deputy sheriff's daughter, according to Abbott - and 2 teachers were killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a small town about an hour and a half west of San Antonio. Seventeen others were injured, but the governor said their wounds are not life-threatening.
The shooter, identified by officials as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent, Abbott said.
Officials said the gunman first shot his 66-year-old grandmother in the face before fleeing in her vehicle. His grandmother called 911, according to Abbott.
He crashed the car just outside the elementary school, then ran towards the building. Officers with the school district "engaged" with him before he entered the school and went into a classroom. Law enforcement officials then surrounded the classroom and one of them fatally shot the gunman.
Lt. Chris Olivarez, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, told CNN that all the victims were in one classroom. It's unclear exactly how many people were inside at the time.
"It's a small classroom. You can have anywhere from 25 to 30 students in there, plus there were two teachers in there," he said.
Law enforcement officials broke windows around the school to evacuate the children and teachers, Olivarez said.
Even as he stressed mass shootings as a mental health issue, Abbott acknowledged that the shooter "had no known mental health history." He also said officials had "no meaningful forewarning of the crime" other than several Facebook posts that the gunman posted approximately 30 minutes before he reached the school.
According to Abbott, the shooter first posted that he was going to shoot his grandma. Then he posted that he had shot his grandma. His third post said he was going to shoot a school. Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Facebook's parent company Meta, later clarified to BuzzFeed News that the posts that Abbott described were actually private DMs "discovered after the terrible tragedy occurred." It's unclear who the shooter sent those messages to.
Officials have determined that the shooter acted alone. He legally bought two AR platform rifles within the past week, according to state Sen. John Whitmore, one of which he brought into the school. The other remained in his vehicle, Whitmore said.
State Sen. Ronald Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, told CNN that the shooter bought the two weapons on his 18th birthday.
The gunman's grandfather, Rolando Reyes, 72, told ABC News that he did not notice anything unusual on Tuesday morning when he interacted with his grandson. He also said he did not know his grandson owned or knew how to use guns.
The shooting took place two days before the end of the school year on Thursday. Some of the children had received honor roll certificates that morning, just hours before they were killed.
It is the deadliest shooting at a grade school since a gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.
Throughout the day, authorities directed families to the convention center for news about their children. Some submitted their DNA samples to help identify the remains, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Hours later, long after the sun had set, people were still waiting at the convention center. Journalists at the scene reported hearing families crying.
The school district announced late on Tuesday that the remaining two days of the school year have been canceled, and the graduation ceremony will be "addressed at a later time." Families, students, and faculty members will be provided counseling at the convention center Wednesday, the district said.
The school district also started a fund for donations to the families.
At the press conference Wednesday, Abbott - who in 2021 signed into law a slate of gun bills that further expanded gun rights - repeatedly returned to the issue of mental health, particularly when asked about the availability of guns in his state.
Texas some of the loosest gun laws in the country. Anyone 21 or older can purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer, and anyone 18 or older can carry a rifle as long as they are not prohibited from doing so by law. A permit is not required to carry a rifle.
Abbott suggested at the press conference that mass shootings were far too complicated to be solved by restricting access to guns, and misleadingly equivocated mass shootings in Texas schools to gun violence in Chicago.
"I know people like to try and oversimplify this," he said. "Let's talk about some real facts. And that is, there are, quote, real gun laws in Chicago. There are, quote, real gun laws in New York. There are, quote, real gun laws in California. I hate to say this but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas. We need to realize that people who think that, Maybe we just implements tougher gun laws, [it's] going to solve it, Chicago and LA and New York disprove that thesis."
He also lamented the lack of mental health hospitals and "beds for mental health" in the Uvalde region. Abbott said his "one takeaway" was that the need for a mental health care facility in the area.
The school shooting comes days after the deadly mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, where a gunman killed 10 people, most of them older adults.
There have been 213 mass shootings in the US this year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, 21 of which happened in Texas. The American Public Health Association says gun violence in the US is a public health crisis. It is a leading cause of premature death in the country, responsible for more than 38,000 deaths. Data from the Gun Violence Archive shows that at least 17,199 people have died from gun violence so far this year.
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