Reconstruction of a massacre: The morning of fury that devastated Uvalde
Using testimony from witnesses and authorities, EL PAÍS retraced the events of the Texas school shooting that ended with 19 students and two teachers dead
A lawn sign with the message “America, home of the brave” welcomes visitors to the house where Salvador Ramos, a taciturn 18-year-old who had not attended school for months, lived with his grandmother. He would spend his days locked within the walls of the prefabricated house, chatting on social media and playing war-themed video games. This past Tuesday morning, things got out of control. At around 11am, Ramos wrote the following message on Facebook: “I’m going to shoot my grandmother.” Thus began a mad spiral of violence that in just two hours ended the lives of 19 children and two teachers in a school in the small Texas town of Uvalde. The rampage ended with the death of Ramos himself.
“I shot my grandmother,” was the next post a few minutes later. According to the authorities, the shot was aimed directly at the face of Celia González, 66. With an open wound, González still managed to cross the street to ask the 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 bag full of bullets was left behind at the door of the house. Ramos had already announced on his social accounts the nightmare that would come later: “I’m going to shoot an elementary school.”
He headed to Robb Elementary School, which has more than 500 second-, third- and fourth-grade students. These young kids were Ramos’ own neighbors, most of them Americans of Mexican descent, just like the young murderer. The distance between the house and the school is barely 800 meters, including a tight bend bordered by a ditch. A resident who lives in one of the plywood houses in the neighborhood saw the car scene. “I don’t know if the guy even knew how to drive. But he came in hell-bent for leather and there he stayed,” said this witness in a conversation with this newspaper the day after the massacre. Going around the bend, the driver lost control and ended up in the ditch. Ramos got out of the car on the passenger side, losing more ammunition along the way. He was carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a lethal weapon that can be bought for about $400, and a backpack full of .223 caliber bullets, used for sport hunting but of the same dimensions as military ammunition. The young man had bought his arsenal in one of the town’s gun stores right after turning 18.
Wearing body armor, Ramos jumped over the fence of the school’s soccer field. The metal fence is one of the 21 measures of a protocol that the Uvalde School District had introduced to prevent just such an attack. School authorities activated the protocol after another murderer killed eight students and two teachers at an educational center in east Texas in 2018. Security measures in the Uvalde School District included monitoring social media, motion detectors, and a rule that classrooms should be locked at all times during class. But everything failed on Tuesday.
State authorities initially reported that a security guard from the school district had confronted the armed youth when he jumped over the fence. But this information has been revealed to be inaccurate; on Thursday, it emerged that nobody had attempted to stop Ramos. He entered through a back door, walked down a hallway, turned right and then left until he reached a double classroom with the door wide open and filled with students. It was there that he opened fire.
At 11.30am, Uvalde police received their first call about an armed man who was approaching the compound. The neighbors who live in front of the school have stated that the first shots began to ring out around that time. It was one of the last days of school before summer vacation. Earlier that morning, the school had held a ceremony in which teachers handed out awards to the kids. Many parents had attended the event and some of them had taken their children home afterwards.
Ramos burst into the fourth-grade classroom yelling, “You’re going to die!” according to family members. Irene Garza, the grandmother of a 10-year-old girl who survived the attack, says her granddaughter told her how the attacker started shooting at them. The windows of that classroom were shattered by the bullets. The teacher told the students to run to a corner.
Minutes before noon, parents began to show up at the school, which was already being watched by local police officers. Videos posted on social media show frustrated mothers and fathers arguing with officers and trying to rush the center themselves. “You know that they are kids, right? They don’t know how to defend themselves! There are six-year-olds in there, they don’t know how to defend themselves from a shooter!” yells a father at a uniformed man. “We’re parents! Get them the fuck out!” yells another woman.
Jaime Paniagua, a priest who has been providing emotional support since the day of the shooting, says that a surviving child explained to him that the shots sounded as if they were coming from the ceiling, and that everyone was crying. They held hands and “after a while” the police arrived. The duration of that “while” is unclear. After the initial call to the local police, officers from various agencies showed up at the scene, including 80 Border Patrol officers, some of whom were not on duty at the time.
The timeline is unclear. Ramos barricaded himself inside one of the classrooms for what may have been 40 minutes to an hour. During that time, he injured three officers who returned fire in a strategy aimed at preventing the attacker from moving inside the building and thus increasing the damage. Authorities began evacuating children shortly after noon.
The shooting, however, did not stop. A SWAT team was brought in and at around 1pm Ramos was killed by a member of the Border Patrol, an agency that has the power to act within a 100-mile radius of the border.
More than a dozen children are still in the hospital with injuries of varying degrees. Ramos’ grandmother, who was shot in the face, was reported as out of surgery on Thursday, although a relative said that she will be needing more surgical procedures. Her house, at 552 Diaz Street, has become a place of pilgrimage for all the reporters who have descended on Uvalde. Everyone is trying to figure out how this place produced the worst massacre of school children in more than a decade.