Texas officials on Wednesday repeatedly blamed mental health issues for the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde that killed 19 children and 2 adults, saying that critics focusing on the state’s extraordinarily lax gun laws were “oversimplifying” the issue.
“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 news conference.
“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 two teachers were killed in the shooting Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a small city west of San Antonio. Seventeen others were injured, but the governor said their wounds are not life-threatening.
The gunman, identified 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. The grandmother then called 911. When he crashed the car just outside the elementary school, he ran toward 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, but 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.
Authorities broke windows around the school to evacuate 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 gunman first posted that he was going to shoot his grandma. Then he posted that he had shot his grandma. The 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 Abbott described were actually private DMs “discovered after the terrible tragedy occurred.” It’s unclear whom the shooter sent the messages to.
Officials have determined that the shooter acted alone. He also 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 Tuesday 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. 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 that 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 news 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 has 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 that mass shootings were far too complicated to be solved by restricting access to guns, and misleadingly compared mass shootings in Texas schools to gun violence in Chicago.
“I hate to say this, but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” he said.
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 healthcare facility in the area.
The school shooting comes days after the deadly mass shooting in a Black neighborhood 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.