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Texas governor blames mental health crisis for elementary school shooting

“Evil swept across Uvalde yesterday,” Governor Greg Abbott said at a press conference that was interrupted by his Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke.

UVALDE, Texas (CN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott was joined by U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and law enforcement officials Wednesday to give the latest news on the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde.

Placing blame for the massacre on mental health issues, Abbott began the press conference by outlining the sequence of events that ended with 21 dead, including 19 children, and 17 injured.

Around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old high school dropout, posted to Facebook that he was going to shoot his 66-year-old grandmother, Celia Martinez. After shooting her in the face, Ramos confirmed on the social media site what he had done and said he planned on going to shoot up an elementary school. Thirty minutes later, Martinez reported the incident to the police after fleeing the house and getting help from a neighbor.

Ramos, using his grandmother’s truck, drove 2 miles and crashed in a ditch outside of Robb Elementary School. According to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, the gunman exited the vehicle with a backpack and a semi-automatic assault rifle. 

“He went toward the west side of the campus, where there was a back door, and as he was approaching… there was a brave school district resource officer that approached him,” said McCraw. “At that time gunfire was not exchanged, but the subject was able to make it into the school.”

Once inside, Ramos entered a classroom where he began shooting, killing 19 students and two school faculty members. Shortly after, officers entered the building and cornered him in the classroom. A tactical team of U.S. Border Patrol agents and local police officers breached the classroom and killed Ramos.

Uvalde is a small community of about 16,000 people. Being just 60 miles from the southern border, U.S. Border Patrol agents were among the first to arrive on the scene to provide medical aid. Many of the victims were transported to hospitals in San Antonio, about 80 miles east of Uvalde. 

Declaring that "evil swept across Uvalde yesterday," Abbott said that the shooter had no apparent criminal background, but may have had a juvenile record. It was also reported that Ramos legally purchased the rifle used in the shooting as well as a second, similar style, rifle and over 300 rounds of ammunition at a local sporting goods store.

“There was no known mental health history of the gunman,” said Abbott. “There was no meaningful forewarning of this crime, other than [his posts to Facebook].”

Moments after finishing his remarks and passing the microphone to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Abbott was approached by his Democratic gubernatorial challenger Beto O’Rourke.

Democrat Beto O'Rourke, who is running against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022, interrupts a news conference headed by Abbott in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

“The time to stop this was after Santa Fe,” O’Rourke said, referring to the 2018 shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, that left 10 dead. “You are doing nothing… this is on you until you choose to do something about it.”

O’Rourke has been an outspoken advocate for stronger gun control measures and has criticized Abbott during the campaign for laws the governor signed to loosen gun laws. One such law, House Bill 1927, went into effect last year and allows people to carry a holstered handgun without a permit. 

Following Tuesday’s massacre, Democratic leaders renewed calls to enact gun control measures.

President Joe Biden offered his condolences to the people of Uvalde and called on lawmakers to act.

“As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Biden asked in an emotional speech Tuesday night. “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”

The president cited the 1994 federal assault weapons ban in his remarks, saying it had an impact on reducing mass shootings. That law expired in 2004, once again allowing Americans to purchase semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines. 

Discussing changes Texas could make to prevent mass shootings, Abbott said the problem is mental health care, especially in rural areas. He said that this will be an issue he plans to address in the 2023 legislative session. 

The governor was also asked if an 18-year-old should be allowed to purchase a long gun. He responded that the law allowing an 18-year-old to purchase a long gun has been on the books for over 60 years and for most of that time, the state went without a school shooting.

“The reality is, I do not know the answer to that question, however, what I do know from talking to the leaders here and from around the state is that one thing that has substantially changed is the status of mental health in our communities,” Abbott said.

Abbott is set to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, starting Thursday in Houston. O’Rourke has called on Abbott to withdraw from the engagement and direct the organization to leave the state.

When asked if he still plans on attending the event, Abbot said he was “living moment to moment right now” and did not indicate what he will do. Former President Donald Trump, Cruz and Cornyn are also set to speak at the gathering.

During a City Council meeting Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner responded to critics on social media calling on the city to cancel the NRA meeting. Turner said the event has been planned for over two years and the city has a contractual obligation to allow it to go forward. However, he went on to criticize Texas lawmakers who still plan on attending the event.

“I do not think that the governor or U.S. Senator Ted Cruz or any other congresspersons going and speaking sends the right message,” Turner said. “So it’s not about us canceling our convention. It’s about elected officials at the highest level in our state going and speaking and endorsing those policies and that’s wrong.”

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