West News Wire: Auraleigha Santos, ten, focused on being silent as she hid behind the auditorium at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday morning, while an 18-year-old male with an AR-15-style weapon kept firing, and shooting, and shooting.
By the time the gunman was done, 19 of Santos’ classmates and two teachers had been killed, and 17 had been injured, leaving a predominantly Latino community about 135 kilometers (84 miles) west of San Antonio in Texas deeply shaken, and a state and a nation wondering, once again, whether anything would ever change.
Just over 24 hours after the horrific shooting, the state’s most famous lawmakers arrived on Uvalde for a press conference where state Governor Greg Abbott laid the blame on “the status of mental health in our communities” and emphasised that restricting access to guns was not the solution to the problem of gun rampages.
The event was interrupted by Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat former congressman who is challenging Abbott for governor in November’s elections, who began shouting “You are doing nothing!”
O’Rourke accused Abbott and other Republican leaders of not doing enough to stop mass shootings. Last year, Abbott signed laws making Texas one of the most gun-friendly states in the United States.
The gunman, Salvador Ramos, lived in the Uvalde area, had no criminal record, and no history of a mental illness, according to state officials who say they have yet to find a motive for the shooting. Ramos purchased rifles legally the day after he turned 18, officials said.
When asked about gun control during his press conference, Abbott cited the gun homicide rate in Chicago, “I hate to say this, but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” he said.
As Abbott spoke, many businesses in Uvalde were closed, and the mood in the community of about 16,000 people was sombre.
Outside the Uvalde Civic Center, Auraleigha Santos tightly gripped a teddy bear as she recounted her harrowing experience.
Mary Beth Fisk, the director of The Ecumenical Center in San Antonio, helped provide counselling for residents after mass shootings in Texas in Sutherland Springs in 2017, Santa Fe in 2019 and El Paso in 2019.
On Wednesday, she was in Uvalde with 15 counsellors from her organisation. They provided free counselling in the civic centre while several food trucks offered free food in the car park and several dozen people gathered, talking and hugging.
Some residents formed circles and prayed on the dirt floor of the venue. Besides a brief visit from Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who walked through the crowd and fielded a few contentious questions from the press about his opposition to gun restrictions, the crowd was subdued.
In the middle of the arena floor, a bearded man addressed a small group as residents laid hands on his shoulders. “Lord, let this tragic event bring us together and not tear us further apart,” he said.