Dozens of people gathered Saturday in Uvalde, in the southwestern U.S. state of Texas, to mourn and pay homage to the 21 people who were killed earlier this week at one of the town’s elementary schools.
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 heartfelt messages — “Love you,” You will be missed” — surrounded the crosses. Candles burned like dozens of small eternal flames.
Pastor Humberto Renovato, 33, who lives in Uvalde, asked everyone to join hands and pray.
Investigators continued Saturday to determine what mistakes were made Tuesday from the time the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, crashed into the fence surrounding the Robb Elementary School, entered the school through an unlocked door and killed 21 people.
He was in the school for 40 minutes to an hour before officers stormed in and killed him.
‘He just started shooting’
Samuel Salinas, 10, said Ramos barged into his 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 so people would know what the students went through, 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 Post 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 the 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 U.S. 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 made the decision not to enter a classroom where the shooter was because they believed students were no longer at risk.
At a news conference outside the school Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said the incident commander that day judged there was no longer an active shooter and 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 AR-15 rifles and ammunition.
Police cruisers were parked Saturday outside the home of Arredondo.
Biden visits Sunday
President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Uvalde on Sunday. At the commencement Saturday at the University of Delaware, he said there’s 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 when a white supremacist opened fire in a supermarket in Buffalo on May 14.
“We will not let those people who are motivated by hate to 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.