A teenage gunman murdered at least 19 children and two teachers after storming into a Texas elementary school on Tuesday, the latest bout of gun-fueled mass killing in the United States and the nation's worst school shooting in nearly a decade.
The carnage began with the 18-year-old suspect, identified as Salvador Ramos, shooting his own grandmother, who survived, authorities said.
He fled that scene and crashed his car near the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a town about 80 miles (130 km) west of San Antonio. There he launched a bloody rampage that ended when he was killed, apparently shot by police.
The motive was not immediately clear.
Law enforcement officers saw the gunman, clad in body armor, emerge from the crashed vehicle carrying a rifle and "engaged" the suspect, who nevertheless managed to charge into the building and open fire, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Sergeant Erick Estrada said on CNN.
Speaking from the White House hours later, a visibly shaken President Joe Biden urged Americans to stand up to the politically powerful gun lobby, which he blamed for blocking enactment of tougher firearms safety laws.
Biden ordered flags flown at half-staff daily until sunset on Saturday in observance of the tragedy.
"As a nation, we have to ask, 'When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?'" Biden said on national television, suggesting reinstating a U.S. ban on assault-style weapons and other "common sense gun laws."
Mass shootings in America have frequently led to public protests and calls for stricter background checks on gun sales and other firearm controls common in other countries, but such measures have repeatedly failed in the face of strong Republican-led opposition.
Authorities said the suspect in Tuesday's killings acted alone. Governor Greg Abbott said that the shooter was apparently killed by police who confronted him at the school, and that two officers were struck by gunfire, though the governor said their injuries were not serious.
After conflicting early accounts of the death toll, Texas public safety officials said on Tuesday night that 19 school children and two teachers had died.
The community, deep in the state's Hill Country region, has about 16,000 residents, nearly 80% of them Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data.
'My heart is broken'
The school's student body consists of children in the second, third and fourth grades, according to Pete Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department. Pupils in those grades would likely have ranged in age from 7 to 10.
"My heart is broken," school district superintendent Hal Harrell told reporters late in the day, his voice quaking with emotion. "We're a small community and we need your prayers to get us through this."
A group of about 40 family members was led out of the Willie de Leon Civic Center at around 11:30 p.m. Some broke down in the parking lot, wailing and clinging to one another as police escorted people to their cars.
P.J. Talavera, who runs a martial arts school in town, was outside the civic center and said his wife's niece was among the children killed.
Talavera said the town was in a state of "controlled chaos" in the moments just after the shooting, as false rumors spread of other shooters attacking different schools.
"It's surreal. It's unbelievable. There is a hollow emptiness inside," Talavera said.Source: ReutersImage Source: Pixabay