(CNN) – Just two days before students in a Texas elementary school were set to begin their summer break, a gunman clad in body armor rushed his way into the school and opened fire on classrooms of young children, killing 19 students and two adults, officials said.
The violent act shook a nation already reeling from another mass shooting across the country just 10 days ago. Parents waited late into the night at a nearby civic center to learn whether their children had survived, with some telling CNN they had to give DNA samples to assist authorities in identifying children.
The 18-year-old gunman, who was killed by law enforcement, is believed to have shot his grandmother before driving to the school to carry out to attack, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
As he tried to enter the school, he was engaged by school district police officers, but was still able to enter the building and go into multiple classrooms, DPS Sgt. Erick Estrada said. Authorities say he was armed with a rifle and carrying a backpack.
Tuesday’s tragic event marks the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade since 26 children and adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. It is also at least the 30th shooting at a K-12 school in 2022, according to a CNN tally.
In a national address Tuesday night, President Joe Biden recalled the Sandy Hook shooting, which occurred when Biden was serving as vice president.
“I had hoped when I became President I would not have to do this again,” he said. “How many scores of little children who witnessed what happened — see their friends die as if they’re in a battlefield, for God’s sake. They’ll live with it the rest of their lives.”
As the last day of school was drawing near, Ross Elementary students were celebrating with special themed dress days, including Tuesday’s theme of “Footloose and Fancy.” Students were encouraged to come dressed in nice outfits and show off their fun footwear, according to a post on the school’s Facebook page.
But by Tuesday afternoon, students shaken by a mass tragedy were bussed to a civic center that had been transformed into a reunification site for surviving children and their families. As the evening stretched on, parents of the young victims began to learn their children had not survived the massacre.
“We see people coming out just terrorized. They’re crying one by one. They’re being told that their child has passed on,” State Sen. Roland Gutierrez told CNN Tuesday night from the civic center.
Here are the latest developments:
Teacher identified as one of the victims: Eva Mireles, a fourth-grade teacher, is among those who was killed, her aunt, Lydia Martinez Delgado, told CNN. According to Mireles’ profile on the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District website, she had been an educator for 17 years. In her off time, she enjoyed running, hiking, biking, and spending time with her family, according to the website.
Shooter acted alone: The gunman, identified by officials as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos from Uvalde, did not have any assistance, according to Pete Arredondo, chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District.
Gunman shot his grandmother before driving to school: Ramos shot his grandmother in her home before he traveled to Robb Elementary, a DPS spokesperson said. His grandmother was taken to a hospital where she was in critical condition as of Tuesday evening, according to Estrada.
Social media post showed weapons days before massacre: A photo of two AR-15-style rifles was posted to an Instagram account linked to the gunman just three days before the shooting.
“The school year’s done,” superintendent says: The Uvalde school district will cancel the rest of its school year, which was scheduled to end Thursday, Hal Harrell, superintendent of Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District said.
Grief counseling and support for students will be available at the civic center starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, the district said.
Customs and Border Protection agents responded to the scene: More than 20 CBP agents responded to the shooting and provided aid, a law enforcement official told CNN. One CBP agent was injured and is stable. CBP is the largest federal law enforcement agency in the Uvalde area, which is near the US-Mexico border.
Community shattered by sudden tragedy
As news of the shooting broke in Uvalde, Robb Elementary parents were told students were being brought to the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center, according to a post on the school district’s Facebook page.
The civic center quickly became the epicenter for families looking for their children, though scenes of devastation began to play out as victims were identified throughout the evening.
At least four families told CNN that parents were asked for DNA swabs to confirm their relationship to their children and instructed to wait an hour for an answer.
A father, who had just received the news that his child was dead, fought tears as several of his cousins embraced him. A few yards away, a grandmother who had just driven from San Antonio said she would not stop praying for her 10-year-old granddaughter as they waited for the DNA results.
Inside the civic center, city workers were handing out pizza, snacks and water to families. Some parents waited in silence or sobbing quietly as a group of children sat on the floor playing with teddy bears. A group of local pastors and chaplains arrived to offer their support to the families.
By Tuesday night, some families had still not been reunited with their children and had no news, according to Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde.
“We have people that still have not had their children identified,” he told CNN Tuesday night. “Right now, they’re still doing a DNA match.”
In his address, Biden evoked his own experience as a parent who has lost children, saying there are now “parents who will never see their child again, never have them jump in bed and cuddle with them. Parents who will never be the same. To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away.”
Robb Elementary includes the second through fourth grades and had 535 students in the 2020-21 school year, state data shows. About 90% of students are Hispanic and about 81% are economically disadvantaged, according to the data.
Uvalde County, located about 85 miles west of San Antonio, had a population of about 25,000 as of the 2020 Census.
Hours after the shooting, people in the neighborhood surrounding the school sat with their families outside their homes, some gathering with neighbors seeking to understand what occurred just blocks away.
Adela Martinez and her husband Paul Martinez, a former city council member, said they could sense the grief and sadness expanding through their town.
“We are like a big family here. You can expect something like this (shooting) in big cities like New York but in Uvalde? If this happened here, now I believe it can happen anywhere,” Adela Martinez said.
What we know about the shooter
The 18-year-old shooter was a student at Uvalde High School.
Just three days before Tuesday’s massacre, a photo of two AR-15-style rifles appeared on an Instagram account tied to Ramos.
One of Ramos’ former classmates told CNN the shooter had stopped attending school regularly.
“He barely came to school,” the friend, who did not wish to be identified, said. He added that Ramos had recently sent him a picture of an AR-15, a backpack with rounds of ammunition and several gun magazines.
“I was like, ‘Bro, why do you have this?’ and he was like, ‘Don’t worry about it,'” the friend said.
“He proceeded to text me, ‘I look very different now. You wouldn’t recognize me,'” the friend added.
Ramos worked at a local Wendy’s, the restaurant’s manager confirmed to CNN.
Evening manager Adrian Mendes said Ramos “kept to himself mostly” and “didn’t really socialize with the other employees. … He just worked, got paid, and came in to get his check.”
Communities that have endured shootings express solidarity
The victims’ loved ones and community members grieving the loss of 21 Uvalde residents join a growing number of Americans devastated by mass shootings, and school shootings in particular.
So far, there have been more mass shootings than days in 2022. Tuesday, May 24, marked the 144th day of the year and there have been at least 213 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Both CNN and the Gun Violence archive define a mass shooting as one which four or more people were injured or killed, not including the shooter.
Parents of children who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary and Parkland, Florida, school shootings expressed support for the community of Uvalde and aired frustrations about the shared language of loss that gun violence has created for so many families.
Fred Guttenberg’s daughter Jaime was one of 17 people killed in a shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018.
“I can’t stop thinking about these families today who need to figure out how they’re going to bury their children, who need to figure out how they are going to console their other children,” he said. “And I can’t stop thinking about this community that needs to figure out how they’re all going to rally, how they’re all going to take care of one another in this aftermath.”
Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, co-founded the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a nonprofit that works to prevent gun violence. She said working on the nonprofit gave her a purpose after Dylan’s death and encouraged parents to know that joy is still possible after their loss.
“It’s possible, but it sure as heck isn’t easy. I have a surviving son who I love with my whole life. He brings me joy,” she said.
For the community of Uvalde, there is now “an army of survivors” there to support them, Guttenberg said.
When asked if he had advice for the mourning families of Uvalde, Guttenberg offered the words of his rabbi at his daughter’s funeral: “We don’t move on, we move forward.”
CNN’s Eric Levenson, Paradise Afshar, Curt Devine, Jeff Winter, Evan Perez, Andy Rose, Priscilla Alvarez, Jamiel Lynch, Jennifer Henderson and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.