At least 19 students and 2 adults were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in southwest Texas on Tuesday, officials at the state's Department of Public Safety said.
The incident at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, a small city roughly 80 miles west of San Antonio, was the deadliest shooting at a grade school since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012.
“What happened in Uvalde is a horrific tragedy that cannot be tolerated in the state of Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.
Abbott initially told reporters the gunman had “shot and killed — horrifically, incomprehensibly — 14 students, and killed a teacher.” But as time passed Tuesday afternoon, and parents anxiously waited on word about their young children, the number of kids who had died began to slowly climb.
By Tuesday evening, Sgt. Erick Estrada of the Texas Department of Public Safety told BuzzFeed News at least 19 children had died from their injuries, as well as two adults.
The shooter was also killed.
Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, said in a brief statement that authorities were first called to the school, which educates children in grades 2 through 4, shortly after 11:30 a.m.
Abbott identified the shooter as an 18-year-old Uvalde man believed to have been killed by responding officers. The governor said at least two police officers were struck by rounds but not seriously injured.
How exactly the shooting unfolded remained unclear, and the investigation continued into the night. A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that a Border Patrol agent who was nearby when the shooting began rushed into the campus and shot and killed the gunman.
Marsha Espinosa, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a series of tweets that Border Patrol agents and other police officers exchanged fire with the suspect, who had barricaded himself in the school.
The agents and police, she said, "put themselves between the shooter and children on the scene to draw the shooter's attention away from potential victims and save children."
One Border Patrol agent was wounded.
Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District first warned parents on Facebook around noon that an active shooter had prompted a lockdown of campuses.
Officials at Uvalde Memorial Hospital said they had received 13 children via ambulances or buses for treatment. The nature of their injuries was not immediately made public.
Hospital staff said two patients had already been transferred to San Antonio, while another person was set to be transferred.
The two patients already transferred were a 66-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl, according to University Health officials in San Antonio. Both are in critical condition.
Uvalde Memorial Hospital also said two individuals who arrived at its facility were already dead. “No details are available,” it wrote on Facebook, without specifying the victims’ ages.
"This was a tragic and senseless event today and my heart is broken," Hal Harrell, the school district's superintendent, told reporters. "We're a small community and we need your prayers to get through this."
Local authorities declined to give more specifics at a news conference Tuesday evening, saying the investigation into the shooting was still ongoing.
President Joe Biden asked when lawmakers will finally "stand up" to gun rights lobbyists in an address to the nation from the White House later on Tuesday night.
"As a nation, we have to ask, 'When in god’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in god’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?'" Biden said.
His remarks came shortly after he returned from his first presidential trip to Asia. Biden said he learned about the shooting while in the air and couldn't help but think about how gun violence is uniquely an American problem.
"They have mental health problems. They have domestic disputes in other countries. They have people who are lost. But these kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency [that] they happen in America," he said. "It’s time to turn this pain into action for every parent for every citizen in this country."
Earlier in the day, Biden signed a proclamation ordering flags on federal buildings in the US and around the world be flown at half-staff “as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence.”
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 annually. As of Tuesday, at least 17,074 people have died from gun violence this year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
In 2012, a gunman killed 20 children and six school officials at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. And just last week, a shooter targeting Black people killed 10 shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
“Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said in an emotional speech on the Senate floor. “What are we doing?”
Murphy, a Democrat who has long pushed for stronger gun control measures, posed that question repeatedly, asking his colleagues what the point of serving in Congress was “if not to solve a problem as existential as this?” Over the past 20 years, Republicans in the House and Senate have blocked attempts to combat gun violence in any meaningful way.
“This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country and nowhere else,” he said. “Nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking that they might be shot that day.”
Last year, Abbott signed several bills into law loosening restrictions on firearms, saying the measures, including one that allows Texans to carry handguns without a license or training, would “instill freedom in the Lone Star State.”
Abbott is scheduled to speak at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston on Friday alongside former president Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, according to the gun rights lobbying organization's website.