Nailed to the grass of the porch, a blue and red pennant with the slogan “America, land of braves” welcomes the house where Salvador Ramos, a taciturn 18-year-old teenager who had not been to high school for months, lived with his grandmother. and he spent his days locked in the metal walls of the prefabricated house, talking on social networks and playing war video games. This past Tuesday morning, behind the patriotic Stars and Stripes banner, things got out of hand. Around 11 a.m., Ramos wrote on Facebook: “I am going to kill my grandmother.” Thus began a mad spiral of violence that in just two hours ended the lives of 19 children and two teachers at a school in the small Texas town of Uvalde. And that did not end until the death of Ramos himself.
“I already shot my grandmother,” was the next post a few minutes later. According to the authorities, the shot was directly to the face of Celia González, 66 years old. With her open wound, González still crossed the street to ask neighbors for help. Meanwhile, her grandson had gotten into the family’s black truck with two assault rifles and two backpacks full of ammunition. One of the bags with the bullets was thrown at the door of the house. Ramos had already announced on his networks the nightmare that would come later: “I am going to shoot at a primary school.”
And he headed to Robb Elementary, a school with more than 500 students between the ages of eight and 10, divided into three grades. The students were neighbors of Ramos himself, most of them Americans of Mexican origin, like the young murderer. The distance between the house and the school is barely 800 meters, including a hairpin bend bordered by a ditch. A neighbor who lives in one of the plywood houses in the neighborhood saw the car scene. “I don’t know if the guy didn’t know how to drive. But he came in chinga and there he stayed, ”the man told this newspaper the day after the massacre. Going around the curve, the truck lost control and ended up stuck in the ford. Ramos got out of the car, but on the way he lost more ammunition: one of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, a lethal weapon that can be bought for about $400, and another backpack full of .223-caliber bullets, used for sport hunting, but of the same dimensions as military artillery. The young man had bought his sandbank in one of the town’s armories on three days in March, just when he turned 18.
Dressed in what authorities called “body armor,” Ramos jumped over the fence of the college’s soccer field, west of campus. The metal fence is one of the 21 measures of a protocol that the independent school district of Uvalde (the institution that governs the two schools in the area and that has its own school police) had put in place to prevent possible attacks. School authorities activated the protocol after another murderer in 2018 killed eight students and two teachers at a center in East Texas. The security measures of the Uvalde district force to monitor social networks, to have motion detectors, a secure lobby and that teachers teach class with the doors locked at all times. Everything failed on Tuesday.
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A security guard from the school district was the first to confront the armed youth once he jumped over the fence. “There were no shots fired, but the subject entered the school,” said Steve McCraw, the director of the State Department of Public Safety, on Wednesday. After entering the Ramos school through a back door, he crossed a corridor, turned right and then left. He arrived at an area of two joined classrooms with dozens of students inside and “the carnage began,” McCraw added at a news conference.
At 11:30 am, the Uvalde police received the first notice that an armed man was approaching the compound. The neighbors who live in front of the school assure that the first shots began to be heard around that time. It was one of the last days of school before summer vacation. During the morning, between nine and eleven, the teachers had held an end-of-year ceremony with certificates of attendance and good conduct. Many parents had attended the event and some of them had taken their children after the award ceremony.
Ramos burst into a fourth-grade classroom yelling, “They’re going to die,” according to family members. Irene Garza, grandmother of a 10-year-old girl who saved her life in the incident, says her granddaughter told her that the shooter first started shooting at them. The windows of that classroom were broken by the projectiles. The teacher asked the students to run to a corner.
Minutes before noon, the parents began to show up at the school, which was already being watched by some local police officers. Videos posted on social media show frustrated mothers and fathers, arguing with officers, and trying to get into the center. “You do know they’re little kids, right? They don’t know how to defend themselves! There are six-year-olds there who don’t know how to defend themselves from a shooter!” a father yelled at a uniformed officer. “Get them out of there, damn it!” said another woman.
Jaime Paniagua, a priest who has been caring for several relatives since the event, says that a surviving girl explained to him in the hospital that the shots sounded as if they were coming from the ceiling, that everyone was crying. They shook hands and “after a while” the police arrived. The duration of that time is not clear. From the first notice to the town police, different forces, both federal and local, arrived at the scene. From the Border Patrol alone, 80 agents showed up; some of them were not even on duty.
The authorities announced that Ramos barricaded himself in one of the classrooms for more than an hour. During the shooting, he injured three officers who returned the bullets in a strategy defended by the authorities as a way to prevent the shooter from moving inside the building and thus increasing the damage. Authorities began evacuating children from other grades shortly after 12 noon.
The shooting, however, did not stop and gave time for a special tactical team, known as SWAT, to go in for the kill. Around 1:00 p.m., Ramos was shot by a Border Patrol agent, a body that has the power to act in any area within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of any border. “Every second is a life… In this situation we failed because we couldn’t foresee a killing, but those officers who came in saved other children,” McCraw said. The shooting left 17 wounded. More than a dozen children still remain in hospital with injuries of varying degrees. The state of the murderer’s grandmother, injured in her face, has been improving. Her house, at number 552 Diaz Street, has become a place of pilgrimage for the media swarm that has arrived in Uvalde. Everyone is trying to figure out how a homicidal force came out of it that has torn apart a community with the worst massacre of school children in more than a decade.
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