U.S. President Joe Biden will be in Uvalde, in the southwestern U.S. state of Texas, Sunday, marking the second time this month he has been called to a town following a mass shooting.
Nineteen schoolchildren and two teachers were killed last week in Uvalde when a teenage gunman entered Robb Elementary School and opened fire. Earlier this month, Biden visited Buffalo, New York, where a white supremacist opened fire in a supermarket, killing 10 Black people.
Sunday in Uvalde, Biden, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, will meet with families of the victims and survivors of the school shooting. They will also visit a memorial site to the victims and attend Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Saturday in Uvalde, dozens of people gathered to mourn and pay homage to the 21 people killed.
Twenty-one crosses have been placed around a fountain in the city’s courthouse square, one for each of the 19 fourth graders who died and their two teachers, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles. A growing pile of flowers, stuffed animals and messages — “Love you,” “You will be missed” — surrounded the crosses. Dozens of candles burned like small eternal flames.
Pastor Humberto Renovato, 33, who lives in Uvalde, asked everyone to join hands and pray.
The investigation continued Saturday into the time it took for police to confront the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.
Some 90 minutes elapsed between the time he crashed a pickup into a ditch near the school and he was shot and killed by Border Patrol officers.
The gunman, carrying an AR-15-style rifle and a bag of ammunition, was in the school for 40 minutes to an hour before officers stormed in and killed him.
Samuel Salinas, 10, said Ramos barged into his fourth grade classroom and said, “You’re all going to die.”
Then “he just started shooting,” Salinas told ABC News.
Another student, Daniel, whose mother allowed him to speak to The Washington Post, was in a classroom down the hall. He said his teacher, who quickly locked the door and turned out the lights, saved their lives. She was shot twice when the gunman fired through the door’s glass window, Daniel said.
For an hour, he said, the students hid in the dark. The only sounds in the room were hushed sobs and his teacher urging the students to remain quiet.
“‘Stay calm. Stay where you are. Don’t move,'” Daniel recalled her saying.
Daniel told the newspaper that he and his classmates were rescued when police broke the room’s windows and they crawled to safety.
The city’s 911 call center received cries for help from at least two students in the adjoining classrooms where Ramos found his victims, Colonel Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said earlier this week.
“He’s in Room 112,” one girl whispered to a 911 operator at 12:03 p.m.
She called again at 12:43 p.m., begging the operator to “please send the police now,” and again four minutes later.
At 12:51 p.m., a Border Patrol-led tactical team stormed in and ended the siege.
Police have not yet found a motive for the shootings. Ramos, a high school dropout, had no criminal record or history of mental illness.
His mother has asked the schoolchildren’s parents for forgiveness. In an interview with Televisa, a CNN affiliate, a soft-spoken Adriana Martinez said in Spanish, “I don’t know what he was thinking. … Forgive me. Forgive my son.”
The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday that police responding to the shooting did not enter the classroom where the shooter was because the school district’s police chief believed that students were no longer at risk.
At a news conference outside the school Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said the police chief thought it had become a hostage situation with time to wait for a tactical team to arrive.
McGraw told reporters that with the benefit of hindsight, “it was the wrong decision” to wait to confront the shooter.
McGraw identified the incident commander as Pete Arredondo, chief of police of the Uvalde Consolidated School District.
Uvalde police have come under sharp criticism, and police officers from other cities, including Houston and Dallas, have come to Uvalde to support and in some cases protect the officers of the police department, the mayor and the owner of the gun shop where the gunman bought his rifles and ammunition.
Arredondo could not be reached for comment Friday, and Uvalde officers were stationed outside his home, but they would not say why.
New York City defense attorney Paul Martin and Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, both told The Associated Press on Saturday that criminal charges are rarely filed against officers who fail to act in a mass shooting. It’s a “very high bar” because police officers are given wide latitude to make tactical decisions, Martin said, but they can be found civilly liable.
Biden said at a University of Delaware commencement Saturday that there has been “too much violence. Too much fear. Too much grief.”
“We have to stand stronger,” he told the graduates.
Vice President Kamala Harris echoed those thoughts Saturday as she attended the funeral of Ruth Whitfield, who was among the 10 killed in the supermarket in Buffalo on May 14.
“We will not let those people who are motivated by hate separate us or make us feel fear,” Harris said at the funeral for the 86-year-old.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.