HOUSTON (REUTERS) – A gunman opened fire at an elementary school in South Texas on Tuesday (May 24), killing 14 students and one teacher, before the suspect himself died, Governor Greg Abbott told reporters, in the latest spasm of mass shootings sweeping the United States.
Abbott said the gunman, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, apparently was killed by police officers responding to the scene, and that two of those officers were struck by gunfire, though the governor said their injuries were not serious.
Authorities said the suspect acted alone.
The latest episode of gun violence unfolded 10 days after another 18-year-old youth opened fire with an assault-style rifle at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people in what authorities called a racially motivated hate crime.
The motive for Tuesday’s carnage in Texas was not immediately known.
Official details about the circumstances of the late morning shooting also remained sketchy in the immediate aftermath of the violence at Robb Elementary School in the town of Uvalde, Texas, about 80 miles (128km) west of San Antonio.
“He shot and killed horrifically, incomprehensibly, 14 students and killed a teacher. Mr Ramos, the shooter, he himself is deceased and it’s believed that responding officers killed him,” Abbott told a news briefing.
“It’s believed that he abandoned his vehicle, and entered into the Robb elementary school Uvalde with a handgun, and he may have also had a rifle, but that’s not yet confirmed according to my most recent report,” Abbott added.
U.S President Joe Biden, who ordered flags flown at half-staff until sunset daily until May 28 in observance of the tragedy, planned to address the nation about the shooting at 8.15pm EDT, the White House said.
The student body at the school consists of children in the second, third and fourth grades, according to Pete Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, who also addressed reporters.
University Hospital in San Antonio said on Twitter it had received two patients from the shooting in Uvalde, one child and one adult. Both patients, a 66-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl, were listed in critical condition.
The Texas rampage was the latest in a series of mass shootings in US schools that have shocked the world and fuelled a fierce debate between advocates of tighter gun controls and those who oppose any legislation that could compromise the right of Americans to bear arms.
The shooting in Texas was one of the deadliest at a US school since a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children from five- to 10-years old, in a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.
In 2018, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and educators.
The day’s horrors were reflected on the Facebook page of Robb Elementary School.
A few days ago, its posts showed the usual student activities – a trip to the zoo for second-graders and a save-the-date for a gifted-and-talented showcase.
But on Tuesday, a note was posted at 11.43am: “Please know at this time Robb Elementary is under a Lockdown Status due to gunshots in the area. The students and staff are safe in the building,” it read.
A second post was more explicit: “There is an active shooter at Robb Elementary. Law enforcement is on site.”
Administrators asked parents to stay away. And then finally, a note was posted advising parents that they could meet their children at the small city’s civic centre.
The United States is the most heavily armed society in the world, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, a research group.
Small, rural states where gun ownership is widespread have disproportionate influence in the US Senate, where a supermajority of 60 votes is needed to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber.