May 25 (UPI) — The 18-year-old gunman who shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at a South Texas elementary school shared his plans on Facebook, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott revealed in a Wednesday news conference.
Salvador Ramos posted a series of Facebook messages about 30 minutes before the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Ramos was killed by police after barricading himself inside one of the school’s classrooms.
“I’m going to shoot my grandmother,” the first read, according to Abbott.
He followed the post up with, “I shot my grandmother,” and, “I’m going to shoot an elementary school.”
Abbott described the messages as a “meaningful forewarning,” but Andy Stone, a spokesman for Meta, the parent company of Facebook, tweeted that Ramos’ messages were private.
“The messages Gov. Abbott described were private one-to-one text messages that were discovered after the terrible tragedy occurred. We are closely cooperating with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation,” Stone tweeted.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said after shooting his grandmother, Ramos used her vehicle to drive to the school.
The 66-year-old woman “reported him to the police department, when she was able to run across the street to a neighbor and get help,” McCraw said.
“She was medevaced to San Antonio in critical condition at this point, but she’s still alive.”
McCraw said Ramos didn’t have a criminal history before the shooting. He purchased a semiautomatic rifle at a local sporting goods store March 17, shortly after his 18th birthday. He purchased 375 rounds of ammunition for the rifle the next day, and on March 20 bought another semiautomatic rifle at the same store.
During the news conference, Abbott blamed the shooting on mental health issues, though he earlier said Ramos had no known mental health issues.
“The ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years, and thinking about during the time over the course of that 60 years, we have not had episodes like this,” Abbott said. “And why is it that for the majority of those 60 years we did not have school shootings and why is it that we do now?
“What I do know in talking to the leaders here as well as leaders in other locations around the state and that is the one thing that has substantially changed is the status of mental health in our communities. … We as a government need to find a way to target that mental health challenge and do something about it.”
As Abbott was wrapping up his remarks during the news conference, though, his Democratic challenger for the governor’s race, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, interrupted to accuse the assembled leaders and law enforcement of not doing enough to stop gun violence.
“Governor Abbott, I have something to say,” O’Rourke said as he approached the stage. “The time to stop the next shooting is right now and you are doing nothing.”
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin yelled out, “You’re a sick son of a [expletive] that would come to a deal like this.”
As O’Rourke was led out by security, he told Abbott, “This is on you, until you choose to do something different.
“This will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed, just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”
The school was closed on Wednesday but officials said grief counselors would be made available to grieving members of the small community, which is located about 80 miles west of San Antonio and 130 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Among the dead were 17-year teaching veteran Eva Mireles and co-teacher Irma Garcia, who attempted to shield students from the gunfire.
Mireles taught fourth-graders at Robb Elementary, was married and had a child of her own, her aunt, Lydia Martinez Delgado, told The New York Times.
According to her profile on the school website, Mireles had co-taught with Garcia for the past five years. Garcia’s son Christian identified his mother as one of the victims to NBC News.
The shooting attack has drawn a range of emotions from the public, political leaders and celebrities nationwide. Many relatives posted emotional messages to social media and honored the teachers for trying to save their students from the armed attacker.
KSAT-TV identified two of the fourth graders killed in the attack as Xavier Lopez, 10, and Amerie Jo Garza, 10. Another fourth-grade victim, Uziyah Garcia, was identified by his aunt Nikki Cross, according to KXAS-TV. Another child who died was 10-year-old third-grader Annabel Guadalupe Rodriguez, according to KHOU-TV.
“We have to act,” he said. “And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage. I spent my career as a senator and a vice president working to pass common-sense gun laws. We can’t and won’t prevent every tragedy but we know they work and have a positive impact.
“Where in God’s name is our backbone?”
According to U.S. Census figures, nearly three-quarters of the residents in Uvalde identify as Latino. Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said its consulates in San Antonio and Eagle Pass were working with law enforcement to determine if any Mexican nationals were killed or injured by the gunfire.
“The government of Mexico strongly condemns this act of violence that has cost the lives of several minors, thus harming multiple families in a predominantly Hispanic population,” the ministry said in a statement.
Pope Francis was stern in his condemnation of the shooting attack during his general audience on Wednesday.
“It is time to say ‘enough’ to the indiscriminate trafficking of guns,” Francis said. “Let us all commit ourselves so that such tragedies can never happen again.”
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District announced that classes have been canceled for the rest of the school year and graduations have been placed on hold until a future date.
“Our community has experienced a terrible tragedy,” the school district wrote on Facebook. “We must come together to console one another and respect the privacy of the families. Please keep all families in your prayers.
“This is a difficult time for everyone, however the gentle support all school community members give to each other during this time is the first step in healing.”