The gunman who opened fire at a primary school in Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers, barricaded himself in a classroom and “began shooting anyone that was in his way”, an official has said, as the attack fuels calls for gun control in the United States.
Lieutenant Chris Olivarez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, told NBC on Wednesday that the teenaged suspect entered a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and began firing at students and staff.
“The shooter was able to make entry into a classroom, barricaded himself inside that classroom and again, just began shooting numerous children and teachers who were in that classroom, having no regard for human life – just a complete evil person,” Olivarez told the US news outlet.
Olivarez said law enforcement officials who first arrived at the school in Uvalde, a small community about 130km (80 miles) west of San Antonio, were met with gunfire and could not immediately enter the building.
“Some of those officers were shot. At that point, they began breaking windows around the school, trying to evacuate children, teachers, anybody they could – trying to get them out of that building that school,” he said.
Eventually, officers were able to enter the barricaded classroom and the suspect was fatally shot, Olivarez said.
Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest school shooting in the US in a decade. It has spurred widespread public anger and renewed calls for US lawmakers to enact stricter gun control legislation.
US President Joe Biden also has urged Congress to “stand up” to powerful gun lobby groups, who for years have opposed efforts at the state and federal levels to put gun control measures in place.
On Wednesday, Biden said he was “sick and tired” of mass shootings across the country, calling for “courage” to reform gun laws.
“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,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called on all Texans to “come together in support [of] the families who have been affected by this horrific tragedy” in Uvalde and praised law enforcement officers for their response.
“They showed amazing courage, by running towards gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives,” he said during a news conference.
But critics have pointed out that Texas has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the US. In 2015, Abbott said he was “embarrassed” that Texas was ranked second in the country in new gun purchases after California. “Let’s pick up the pace Texans,” he tweeted.
Abbott, a Republican, is set to speak at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting, which begins on Friday in Houston, Texas. Former US President Donald Trump and Republican Senator Ted Cruz are also expected to speak during the event.
“Governor Abbott, if you have any decency, you will immediately withdraw from this weekend’s NRA convention and urge them to hold it anywhere but Texas,” Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat running for governor in Texas, wrote on Twitter.
O’Rourke briefly interrupted Abbott’s news conference on Wednesday. “You are doing nothing,” he can be heard saying, according to a video shared on social media.
Al Jazeera has reached out to the NRA about the criticism of its plan to hold the weekend event in Texas, but has not yet received a response.
In a statement shared on social media on Wednesday afternoon, the NRA said, “As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events [in Uvalde], pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members and pledge to redouble our commitments to making our schools secure.”
Governor Abbott, if you have any decency, you will immediately withdraw from this weekend’s NRA convention and urge them to hold it anywhere but Texas.
— Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) May 25, 2022
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So far, authorities in Texas have said the gunman’s motive is not yet clear.
During the news conference, Abbott said the information gathered so far indicates that the assailant, who authorities said lived with his grandparents in Uvalde, shot his grandmother in the face before fleeing in a car and eventually entering the school after a crash.
The governor said the gunman had posted on Facebook about 30 minutes before he reached Robb Elementary School that he intended to shoot his grandmother. “The second post was, ‘I shot my grandmother,’” Abbott said.
“The third post, maybe less than 15 minutes before arriving at the school, was, ‘I’m going to shoot an elementary school.’”
Spokespeople for Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, said they were private messages discovered after the shooting. The company declined to say who received the messages or which of Meta’s platforms, such as Messenger or Instagram, was used to send them.
Meanwhile, back in Uvalde, the loved ones of those killed are grappling with insurmountable loss.
For Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, teaching fourth graders at Robb Elementary was one of the joys of their lives. Relatives briefed by police said Garcia and Mireles died on Tuesday trying to protect their students after the gunman burst into their classroom.
Garcia, a married mother of four who taught at Robb Elementary for 23 years, was a “sweet, kind, loving” teacher who considered her students to be family, her relatives said. “She passed away with children in her arms trying to protect them,” her nephew John Martinez wrote on Twitter. “Those weren’t just her students they were her kids as well.”
The daughter of Mireles penned a tribute to her mother on Wednesday, which was to have been nearly the last day of the school year.
“I don’t know how to do this life without you, but I will take care of dad. I will take care of our dogs and I will forever say your name so you are always remembered, Eva Mireles, 4th grade teacher at Robb Elementary who selflessly jumped in front of her students to save their lives,” Adalynn Ruiz wrote on Facebook.