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On Tuesday, an 18-year-old gunman from Uvalde, a small town in South Texas, barricaded himself inside the city's Robb Elementary School and murdered 21 people, including nineteen children, in what was the deadliest school shooting since 2012.
This article first appeared in Salon.
Although little is known about precisely what led to this horrific massacre, news reports suggest that the suspected perpetrator, Salvador Ramos, who died on the scene, should have never been able to get his hands on a gun in the first place. Former friends of his told The Washington Post that Ramos had a predilection for egging people's cars, cutting up his own face "for fun," shooting random strangers with his BB gun, and sharing his firearm wishlists over social media. Ramos was also known to get into fistfights throughout middle school and would often lash out at his mother, which, according to neighbors, ended in at least one visit from the police. At one point, Ramos may have even been arrested for threatening to shoot up a school. But in Texas, where the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, none of this prevented the troubled teen from legally buying two military-style semi-automatic assault rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition on his eighteenth birthday, just a week before the shooting.
Now, with the nation still reeling from the tragedy, Texas' policies on gun sales and gun ownership have come into much sharper focus. That's because over the past several decades – and particularly over the past several years – the state's GOP-led legislature has worked tirelessly to ensure that just about anyone can get a gun.
Ari Freilich, State Policy Director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that Texas has "almost nothing" on its books to prevent the wrong people from getting their hands on a firearm.
"Almost no steps [have been] taken to prevent people with significant known risk factors for violence from accessing weapons designed to kill on a massive scale," Freilich said in an interview.
On one occasion, Freilich noted, Giffords was given the opportunity to participate in discussions and make recommendations to the Texas Safety Commission. But the end result, he said, was "essentially a delay tactic, composed largely of symbolic, completely unrelated half-measures focused on hardening school security and making investments that would not show an increased safety, like arming educators."
Last June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, rubber-stamped seven measures designed to expand gun sales, pledging that the state would be "the leader in defending the Second Amendment." As NBC News reported, one among them was a "constitutional carry" measure, which makes it legal for anyone 21 or older to carry a handgun in public without a license. Another bars state and local governments in Texas from signing a contract with any businesses that "discriminate" against the firearm industry. By September, the state was requiring that banks like Bank of America, Citibank, and JPMorgan Chase – which underwrite Texas' municipal and state debt – make a formal promise not to exclude the gun industry from their financial services.
Further, the Lone Star State has declared itself "Second Amendment sanctuary," a legally dubious status that holds that common sense gun control measures – like universal background checks; assault weapon bans; and red flag laws, which allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who present a clear danger to themselves or their community – are wholly unconstitutional.
"Politicians from the federal level to the local level have threatened to take guns from law-abiding citizens – but we will not let that happen in Texas," Abbott said in June. "Texas will always be the leader in defending the Second Amendment, which is why we built a barrier around gun rights this session."
Abbott, who has an "A+" rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and has taken at least $16,200 from both the NRA and the Texas State Rifle Association, is a longtime gun rights advocate. Back in 2015, as requests to buy firearms soared in the Lone State State, Abbott expressed deep concern over the possibility that Texans weren't packing quite enough heat. "I'm EMBARRASSED," he tweeted at the time. "Texas [is] #2 in [the] nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let's pick up the pace Texans."
Two years later, shortly after the state passed a law to lower the eligibility for an open carry license, the right-wing governor tweeted a picture of himself making merry at a gun range. "Here's how I celebrate signing a law that lowers the license to carry fee. #guns @NRA," he wrote.
But while the governor has giddily expanded gun rights, residents of the Lone Star State have repeatedly fallen victim to mass shootings, some of which might have been avoided if not for the state's laissez-faire approach to gun rights.
In May 2018, a 17-year-old used an 870 shotgun and a .38-caliber pistol stolen from his father to murder eight students and two teachers at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. While prosecutors in the state can file a misdemeanor charge against gun-owning parents who fail to prevent anyone 17 or younger from accessing their firearms, the shooter's parents will not be found liable for the shooting under Texas state law, as The Texas Tribune reported, in large part because the state's safe-storage regulations are relatively weak compared to the rest of the country.
Following the massacre in 2018, Abbott uncharacteristically encouraged the legislature to consider a red flag law in order to "identify those intent on violence from firearms." But even that proposal, which would have seen support from roughly 72% of the state's voters, was immediately torpedoed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, and most of the state's GOP caucus. "It seems like there's coalescence around the notion of not supporting what's categorized as a 'red flag' law," Abbott conceded at the time. "What is important is ... that we work together as a legislative body towards a solution to make our schools safer and to make our communities safer."
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Just a year later, in August 2019, Texas was rocked by another mass shooting in El Paso, where a 21-year-old far-right gunman, who was motivated by anti-Latino sentiment, slaughtered 23 people in a Walmart with a semi-automatic, military-style AK-47. According to the Texas Tribune, the firearm was legally purchased overseas and shipped to a gun store in Allen, Texas.
In the wake of the shooting, Abbott convened a Domestic Terrorism Task Force, the second of its kind, to drum up a list of safety measures for schools going forward. Comprised of teachers, students, and law enforcement, the panel was sought to "analyze and provide advice on strategies to maximize law enforcement's ability to protect against acts of domestic terrorism." But after three years, it's not apparent that the committee has done anything in the way of actual policy, putting the onus mostly on Texas Democrats to push for regulation.
Democratic state Sen. Nathan Johnson, who supports gun reform, called gun rights a "hopelessly partisan issue," adding that the Republican Party is attempting to turn Texas into a "military fortress at every level."
"Democrats have been trying to pass minimally intrusive, demonstrably effective gun safety laws, session after session over the past decade," Johnson said in an interview with Salon. "We're angry that what we have urged the legislature to do has not only not been done; it's not been given a public hearing."
He added: "It's just an insult to the many Texans who have been harmed by gun violence, or affected by gun violence, or are troubled by the level of gun violence in our state."
Now a newly-born Second Amendment sanctuary, Texas was recently ranked as having the 17th-weakest gun laws out of every state in the country, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. At present, the state has no high-capacity magazine restrictions, no assault weapon ban, and no firearm registration laws. Texas also allows anyone 18 or older to buy assault weapons; lets college students and professors carry concealed weapons on campus; and gives aspiring gun owners a way to circumvent background checks by purchasing firearms from a private dealer.
Many gun rights advocates have argued that the state's dearth of adequate gun restrictions has led to outsized gun violence. According to Everytown, roughly 3,647 Texans die by guns annually, an average of about ten people every day. In 2019, about 61% of all suicides in the state occurred by way of firearms.
But the evidence suggests that much of this violence could be diminished by virtue of sensible gun reform. Back in January, a study by Everytown ffound that states like Mississippi, Idaho, Montana, and Arkansas – which have a uniquely permissive posture on gun regulation – suffer from the highest rates of gun violence, while states like California, Hawaii, New York, and Massachusetts – which take a much stricter approach – have the some of the lowest rates throughout the country.
"The states that have really … raised expectations for who can carry guns in public see many, many fewer fistfights turn into a shootouts and many fewer road rage incidents turn to murders," said Freilich. "And [Republicans] can point to gaps or failures … to prevent every tragedy, but in the meantime, that is not a reason, in my mind, to … do nothing."
Some Uvalde citizens are not surprised by criticism of the police — because of the department's history: report
There is outrage and heartache in Uvalde as new reporting shows that lives may have been saved had law enforcement in Texas not waited so long to confront the school shooter.
MSNBC's Jonathan Capehart broke down the latest in the timeline of the shooting.
"It took one hour and 17 minutes from the time the shooter entered the school until the door is breached. Parents were reportedly frantically yelling at police to go inside and help their children, some even wanting to go in themselves," he reported. "And during that multiple calls by frightened students were made to 9-1-1, from inside the school. How many children could have been saved in that time?"
For more, Capehart interviewed MSNBC reporter Yasmin Vossoughian, who is in Uvalde.
"This community is up in arms," Vossoughian said.
"They're angry. They're sad. But here's the worst part, Jonathan, they're not surprised," she said.
"And I think that's a question we need to ask, but they're not surprised, at the response of the local police. This communities is not surprised by that, because of the history they have had with these police as well."
Capehart was surprised by how Vossoughian visibly struggled through her report.
"Yasmin, we've known each other a long time. I've never seen you like this, and what you've told us this evening explains why," he said.
"It is inexplicable, this story, that we are all covering, and that you are covering from the ground. I am -- I am speechless," the television anchor said.
Watch the clip below or at this link.
Yasmin Vossoughian www.youtube.com
One boy brewed his grandparents a pot of coffee every morning. One girl wanted to be a marine biologist. One teacher had been married for 24 years to her high school sweetheart.
As summer vacation approached, their lives were abruptly cut short Tuesday by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in the mostly Latino town of Uvalde.
These are the 21 lives lost.
Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
Credit: Makenna Lee Elrod's family via REUTERS
Allison McCullough will remember Makenna’s smile, which she said could light up a room.
“She had the biggest heart and loved her family and friends so much,” McCullough said of her niece on a GoFundMe page.
Late Thursday, a young boy who said he was 8 years old walked up to Makenna’s cross in the town square. He dropped a single white rose on the pile of flowers, gifts and stuffed animals in front of it.
Layla Salazar, 11
Credit: Layla Salazar's family via REUTERS
Layla loved to swim and dance. And she could really run. The 11-year-old won six races in a recent field day and took home blue first-place ribbons.
Now she would “run with the angels,” said her father, Vinnie Salazar.
He would “jam” with his daughter to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses on the way to school. The song, he wrote on Facebook, was the only thing bringing him peace right now.
Maranda Mathis, 11
Credit: Maranda Mathis' family via REUTERS
Next to the memorial for Maranda at the town square are piles of bouquets and two gray teddy bears.
Someone who signed as Khloe wrote to Maranda in the center of the cross: “In our last time together, we were happy.” Someone else had drawn small butterflies.
Leslie Ruiz, a friend of Maranda’s mother, wrote to The Washington Post that the 11-year-old was fun, spunky and very smart.
“She had manners,” Ruiz said in the message. “She was a bright girl.”
Her family describes her as “sweet, smart and a shy tomboy who enjoyed being in nature and the outdoors.”
“Those who knew Maranda, knew her great imagination and often expressed her love for unicorns, especially if they were her favorite color purple,” they wrote in her obituary.
Nevaeh Bravo, 10
Credit: Nevaeh Bravo's family via REUTERS
Nevaeh, whose name is “heaven” spelled backwards, now flies with the angels, her cousin Emily Grace Ayala wrote on Facebook.
“It just feels like a nightmare that we cannot wake up from,” another cousin, Austin Ayala, told The Washington Post. “Her siblings have to wake up every day knowing that she’s not there with them.”
Jose Manuel Flores Jr., 10
Credit: Jose Flores' family via REUTERS
Jose was a good brother. He would try to help take care of his infant brother. His sister Endrea Flores, who is 9 months younger than Jose, said her brother would always play with her and support her.
Jose’s mother said he was her “little shadow” and would help her around the house.
Jose wanted to be a police officer when he grew up to protect others, said his father, Jose Flores Sr.
“He was a helper,” he told CNN.
Xavier Lopez, 10
Credit: Xavier Lopez's family via REUTERS
Even at 10 years old, Xavier could pull off a stylish outfit, complete with a button-down shirt and clean Adidas sneakers.
He could also put on a show for the cameras. He would dance to Colombian songs and do face masks with his mom on her TikTok account.
“He was funny, never serious, and his smile,” his mom, Felicha Martinez, told The Washington Post. “That smile I will never forget. It would always cheer anyone up.”
But he also excelled in school, where his favorite subject was art. He loved to shoot hoops and play baseball, according to the Post.
His mother said she attended an honor roll ceremony for him Tuesday morning. He “couldn’t wait” to get to middle school, she said.
Tess Marie Mata, 10
Credit: Tess Mata's family via REUTERS
Tess had a jar full of cash in her purple bedroom, according to The Washington Post. She was saving up money for a family vacation to Disney World.
Relatives said she loved the Nickelodeon show “Victorious” and the Houston Astros.
Maelee Haynie, 16, and Mackenzie Haynie, 17, said Tess was best friends with their younger sister. They remember Tess as an introverted girl who loved her cat.
Together they watched one video of Tess and their little sister performing a friendship handshake, which ended with the two girls jumping triumphantly to a chest bump.
She was athletic; she could do the splits and practiced softball.
Tess — or Tessy, as some of her friends and family called her — had a contagious laugh, said her sister Faith Mata.
“Sissy I miss you so much, I just want to hold you and tell you how pretty you are,” Faith wrote on Facebook. “We have one sassy guardian angel that I know is going to protect our family.”
Rojelio Torres, 10
Credit: Rojelio Torres' family via REUTERS
A large stuffed Yoda, along with a Batman-themed football and several stuffed animals, greeted loved ones at Rojelio’s memorial at the town square.
On the cross with his name, one child had written,“You were a good friend” with smiley faces for the two O’s in “good.” Others kept it simple. “Sup Rojelio,” another message read.
Family members and friends have made their profile pictures an illustration of Rojelio. He was remembered as a smart and loving son.
“I lost a piece of my heart,” his mother, Evadulia Orta, told ABC News.
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Eliahna “Ellie” Amyah Garcia, 9
Credit: Ellie Garcia's family via REUTERS
Eliahna knew she wanted to be a cheerleader, her dad, Steven Garcia, told the Today Show. She loved basketball and making TikToks.
“Eliahna was such a sweet girl with a lovely and beautiful soul,” a GoFundMe page in her honor says. “She would light up everyone’s world with big smiles & big hugs.”
She was a planner. She had her eye on a quinceañera dress, which her dad said the family would buy and hang in her room. Her dad posted on Facebook a video of her choreographing her own dance for the celebration.
Eliahna would’ve had to wait five more years to wear the dress. She would have turned 10 next week. Her family was planning a pool party celebration.
“Told her we’re going to have a party and her face just lit up,” her dad said. “That was the last time I saw her.”
Eliahna A. Torres, 10
Credit: Eliahna Torres' family via REUTERS
Eliahna wore the number four on the softball field. She loved the sport and was in contention for a spot on the city all-star team. She was looking forward to her last Little League game of the season after school on Tuesday.
“She was an amazing young girl with so much potential,” a family member told The New York Times. “She was a leader and loved by all her family.”
Two Little League teams in the area played a game in honor of her memory this week, according to TV station KIII.
“Today was her last softball game. She made all-stars,” coach Lisa Monjaras told the Little League players that day. “She’s not going to make her game tonight, so guess what? We are going to play for her.”
Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10
Credit: Annabell Rodriguez's family via REUTERS
Annabell was a quiet child and an earnest student, having earned her place on the school’s honor roll.
She was cousins, classmates and close friends with Jackie Cazares, another victim.
“We are a very tight family,” Polly Flores, Annabell’s great aunt and Jackie’s aunt, told The New York Times. “It’s just devastating.”
Jackie Cazares, 9
Credit: Jackie Cazares' Family via REUTERS
Two weeks ago, Jackie received her First Communion.
Her family members describe her as a girl full of life who brightened the day of people around her.
“Jackie was the one that would go out of her way to help anyone,” Jackie’s father, Jacinto Cazares, told ABC News. “It gives me some comfort that she ... would have done something to help her classmates in that very scary scenario.”
She was cousins, classmates and close friends with Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, another victim.
Credit: Uziyah Garcia's family via REUTERS
Uziyah last visited his grandfather Manny Renfro in San Angelo during spring break. They threw a football together, and Renfro was teaching him pass patterns.
“Such a fast little boy and he could catch a ball so good,” Renfro told the Associated Press. “There were certain plays that I would call that he would remember and he would do it exactly like we practiced.”
Uziyah was “the sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known,” Renfro said.
Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10
Credit: Silguero and Luevanos family via REUTERS
Jayce would always bring the neighborhood kids to his family’s home, just a block away from the elementary school where he was killed.
The yard was often packed with children, his grandfather, Carmelo Quiroz, told USA Today.
The 10-year-old would make his grandparents a pot of coffee every morning. He wrote notes like, “I love you, Grandpa.”
“He was our baby,” Quiroz said.
Another victim, Jailah Nicole Silguero, was Jayce’s cousin.
Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10
Credit: Maite Rodriguez's family via REUTERS
Green was Maite’s favorite color. She was always sporting her pair of lime green Converse tennis shoes. She had hand-drawn a heart on the right shoe.
Her mother, Ana Rodriguez, said Maite would always get chicken strips with a side of sliced jalapeños when they went to Whataburger.
She described her daughter as sweet, caring and goal-driven. Maite had told her mother she wanted to study at Texas A&M University and become a marine biologist.
She taught herself how to sew from YouTube videos. She had just picked up a camera and was practicing photography. And when it came to P.E. class, she wanted to win.
“As I lay here on this empty bed and with tears running down my face at 3am I would like to say to my baby girl ‘it’s not goodbye it’s I’ll see you later my sweet girl,’” Rodriguez wrote in a tribute on Facebook.
Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
Credit: Silguero and Luevanos' family via REUTERS
It was uncharacteristic of her, but Jailah told her parents she did not want to go to school the morning of the shooting, her mother, Verónica Luevanos, told Univision on Wednesday.
Jailah asked her father if she could stay home; he told her it was up to her mother, who eventually dropped her off at the elementary school.
“She always liked going to school, but she didn’t want to go yesterday,” Luevanos said in Spanish. “I think she knew something was going to happen.”
Luevanos sobbed as she tried to describe her daughter. Jailah was always dancing. She liked watching TikToks. She often spent her time outdoors.
Another victim, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, was Jailah’s cousin.
Irma Garcia, 48
Credit: Courtesy of Robb Elementary School
Garcia was about to complete her 23rd year of teaching at Robb Elementary the week she was killed. She started teaching there about a year after she married Joe Garcia, her high school sweetheart. They loved to barbecue together.
“These two will make anyone feel loved no matter what. They have the purest hearts ever,” their nephew Joey Martinez wrote on Twitter.
On Thursday, just two days after the shooting, Joe Garcia died from a heart attack.
They are survived by their four children, Cristian, 23; Jose, 19; Lyliana, 15; and Alysandara, 13.
Eva Mireles, 44
Credit: Courtesy of Robb Elementary School
Mireles worked as an educator for 17 years. Many in the small-knit community of Uvalde have been her students.
Mireles’ husband, Ruben Ruiz, is a school police officer. He ran an active-shooter drill at the local high school just months ago, according to the school district’s Facebook post.
The fourth-grade teacher would call her daughter, Adalynn, at about 4:30 p.m. every afternoon as she left the school campus. On Tuesday, Adalynn’s phone did not ring.
Adalynn recalled her mother’s hands and the calluses she had developed because of her routine CrossFit workouts. Adalynn often called on her mother to check on the chicken she cooked. They would sing karaoke and reenact Tik Toks together.
“I don’t know how to do this life without you, but I will take care of dad. I will take care of our dogs and I will forever say your name,” her daughter wrote in a tribute on Facebook.
Amerie Jo Garza, 10
Credit: Amerie Jo Garza's family via REUTERS
Amerie was known to be protective of her brother, 3-year-old Zayne. She would kiss him every morning before she went to school, her grandmother, Berlinda Arreola, told People Magazine.
Her family will remember her as a hero. She was trying to dial 911 on her cellphone when the gunman shot her, Arreola said.
A vanilla bean frappe and Chick-fil-A lover, Amerie was known by her family as a diva who detested dresses. She dreamed of becoming an art teacher. Amerie celebrated her 10th birthday earlier this month.
“My little love is now flying high with the angels above,” Amerie’s dad, Angel Garza, wrote on Facebook. “Please don’t take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them. I love you Amerie Jo. Watch over your baby brother for me.”
Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, 10
Credit: Alexandria Aniyah Rubio's family via REUTERS
There was a lot Alexandria was looking forward to: practicing softball and basketball with her father, playing volleyball in the seventh grade and learning about feminism.
The fourth-grader got straight A’s in elementary school and had just been awarded a good citizenship award.
“Our baby wanted to be a lawyer; she wanted to make a difference,” her mother, Kimberly Rubio, told The New York Times. “Please make sure she makes one now.”
Kimberly Rubio said the family had been contacted by Gov. Greg Abbott’s office but declined to meet with him.
“My first thought was, ‘My Lexi doesn’t even like him,’” she said. “She was really little, but we talked about this stuff at home.”
Alithia Ramirez, 10
Credit: Alithia Ramirez's family via REUTERS
Alithia loved to draw. She had submitted a drawing to Doodle for Google, her father, Ryan Ramirez, told KSAT-TV. She shared her love for art and soccer with her best friend, Nico Escalante, who was struck and killed by a car in Grand Prairie last year.
Alithia tried to use artwork to provide solace to Nico’s parents.
“I never imagined that this little girl would be mature enough to say, ‘Hey, you know what, I want to keep in touch. I want to check in. I want to make [you a] painting and bring a smile to your face,’” Fernanda Sedeno, Nico’s mom, told CBS. “That’s what I loved about her, and that shows how pure and kind her heart was.”
She sent a drawing of him sketching in heaven while she was drawing on earth.
“I made a drawing for you and the family to know that our friendship was special and that he will always be by my side,” Alithia wrote in a message to Nico’s parents.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/25/uvalde-school-shooting-victims/.
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