A gunman killed at least 18 children and a teacher on Tuesday in a rural Texas elementary school, officials said, in the deadliest American elementary school shooting since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary a decade ago.
The slayings took place just before noon at Robb Elementary School, where second through fourth graders in Uvalde, a small city west of San Antonio, were preparing to start summer break this week.
The gunman, whom the authorities identified as an 18-year-old man who had attended a nearby high school, also died at the scene, officials said.
“He shot and killed horrifically, incomprehensibly,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news conference.
As terrified parents in Uvalde late Tuesday waited for word of their children’s safety and as law enforcement officials raced to piece together how the massacre had transpired, the mass shooting was reopening national political debate over gun laws and the prevalence of weapons. Ten days earlier, a gunman fatally shot 10 people inside a Buffalo grocery store.
“This is just evil,” Rey Chapa, an Uvalde resident, said of Tuesday’s killings while using an expletive. Mr. Chapa said his nephew was in the school when the shooting took place but was safe. He was waiting to hear back from relatives and friends on the conditions of other children, scrolling through Facebook for updates. “I’m afraid I’m going to know a lot of these kids that were killed.”
Ryan Ramirez told KSAT in San Antonio that he could not find his daughter, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary, when he showed up at the school or at a reunification point at a civic center. “Nobody’s telling me anything,” he said, adding, “I’m trying to find out where my baby’s at.”
President Biden, returning from a trip abroad, called Mr. Abbott from Air Force One, and a White House spokeswoman said the president had offered “any and all assistance” to the governor “in the wake of the horrific shooting in Uvalde.” Mr. Biden was expected to address the shooting after returning to the White House late Tuesday.
“Enough is enough,” Vice President Kamala Harris said during an event in Washington. “As a nation, we have to have the courage to take action.”
The shooting took place on Election Day in Texas, as voters across the state headed to the polls for primary runoffs that would set the stage for the November election at a time when the state and the nation have been riven by political disagreements over race, immigration and abortion.
As the deadly toll became known, the events at Robb Elementary School immediately brought forth wrenching memories of the devastating 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., that left six staff members and 20 children dead, some as young as 6 years old.
For many, the weight of the tragedy appeared to be compounded by its arrival so soon after a deadly mass killing of Black shoppers in a grocery store in Buffalo, in what was one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history. It had been the deadliest shooting in the United States this year until Tuesday’s massacre in Uvalde.
Mr. Abbott said that the shooter was a resident of the same county where the shooting took place, that he attended high school there and that he had acted alone. He entered the elementary school with a handgun and possibly a rifle, the governor said.
It was not immediately clear whether the shooting took place in one classroom or several and officials did not release the names or ages of the students killed or of the teacher.
Officials were looking into whether the gunman, whom they identified as Salvador Ramos, had been targeting the school or whether he ended up there by chance, according to a law enforcement official, who requested anonymity to describe the investigation that he cautioned was still unfolding. At least two law enforcement officials appeared to have been injured in the shooting, neither seriously, the official said.
Shortly before the massacre, a 66-year-old woman was airlifted to a San Antonio hospital with gunshot wounds. The official said the woman appeared to have been the gunman’s grandmother, though their connection and the nature of the shooting was still under investigation.
The shooting took place just after 11:30 a.m. For much of the afternoon, as word spread, anguished parents were instructed by the district to stay away from the school. “Please do not pick up students at this time,” the school district instructed parents, directing them to a local civic center. “Students need to be accounted for before they are released to your care.”
Parents and relatives scrambled for any information as news of a shooter at the school turned into the realization that so many children had been killed.
Even before much was known about the gunman, his motives or details about the weapons he used, the massacre thrust the debate over gun control and Second Amendment rights back into the forefront of national attention.
Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and an advocate for gun control legislation, said, “I think everybody here is going to be shaken to the core by this.” He added: “I have no idea how a community deals with this. There’s no way to do this well. Your community is never ever the same after this.”
The National Rifle Association is set to hold its annual meeting in Houston starting on Friday. Mr. Abbott is among the list of prominent Republicans slated to appear, along with former President Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.
“Today is a dark day,” Mr. Cruz said in a statement. In messages posted to Twitter he said the nation had “seen too many of these shootings,” but he did not immediately call for any specific policy proposals to help prevent mass killings.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat whose effort at legislation on background checks for gun purchases was blocked in 2013, said, “It makes no sense at all why we can’t do common-sense things and try to prevent some of this from happening.”
Robb Elementary, a brick school building near the edge of the city center, serves more than 500 students, mostly between the ages of 7 and 10. Roughly 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, according to district records, and almost all of the rest are white. A sign hanging from the school reads “Welcome!” and “¡Bienvenidos!” next to the school’s logo, a heart.
In the neighborhood around the school, more than 40 percent of residents have lived in the same house for at least 30 years, census data shows. And more than a quarter of the more than 15,000 residents in Uvalde are children, far above the national average. More than a third live at or barely above the federal poverty line.
Joaquin Castro, a U.S. representative for Texas, described Uvalde on Twitter as a “wonderful, tight-knit community.”
Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Emily Cochrane, Jacey Fortin, Robert Gebeloff, Jesus Jiménez, Alyssa Lukpat, Eduardo Medina and Sarah Mervosh.