In shattered Uvalde of Texas state, a small mainly Hispanic town mounts questions over gun control, a day after a gunman killed 19 small children and two teachers in the 212th mass shooting in the US this year.
Grief at the massacre of 19 small children and two teachers at an elementary school in Texas has spilled into confrontation, as angry questions mounted over gun control –– and whether this latest tragedy could have been prevented.
The tight-knit Latino community of Uvalde on Tuesday became the site of America's worst school shooting in a decade, committed by Salvador Ramos, a disturbed 18-year-old armed with a legally bought assault rifle.
Pressed on how the teen was able to obtain the murder weapon, the Texas Governor Greg Abbott repeatedly brushed aside suggestions that tougher gun laws were needed in his state –– where attachment to the right to bear arms runs deep.
"I consider this person to have been pure evil," Abbott said, articulating a position commonly held among US Republicans –– that unfettered access to weapons is not to blame for the country's gun violence epidemic.
Abbott's stance was echoed by the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby, which issued a statement labeling the shooter as "a lone, deranged criminal."
But the governor was called out by a rival Democrat, who loudly interrupted the briefing to accuse him of deadly inaction.
"This is on you," heckled Beto O'Rourke, a fervent gun control advocate who is challenging Abbott for his job come November.
"You are doing nothing!" he charged. "This is totally predictable when you choose not to do anything."
O'Rourke's interruption came a day after President Joe Biden, in an emotional address, called on lawmakers to take on America's powerful gun lobby and enact tougher laws.
Here is a look at the deadliest school shootings in US school over the past decade pic.twitter.com/vsNGGmtEQ7— TRT World (@trtworld) May 25, 2022
'Horror and pain'
In the shattered community of Uvalde, a small mainly Hispanic town about an hour from the Mexican border, there was outrage, too, at how such a tragedy could have occurred.
"I'm sad, and I'm angry at our government, for not doing more about gun control," Rosie Buantel, a middle-aged local resident, told the AFP news agency.
"We've gone through this one too many times. And still, there's nothing done."
Aida Hernandez, a local woman in her 60s who used to teach at the school and knew the victims, was weeping as she left mass at Uvalde's Sacred Heart church.
"I'm still in shock," she said, describing her "horror and pain."
As broken families shared their news on social media, the names of the murdered children, most of Latino heritage, began coming out: they included Ellie Garcia, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos and Uziyah Garcia.
"My little love is now flying high with the angels above," Angel Garza, whose daughter Amerie Jo Garza had just celebrated her 10th birthday," posted on Facebook.
"I love you Amerie Jo," he wrote. "I will never be happy or complete again."
More than a dozen children were also wounded at the school, attended by more than 500 students aged around seven to 10 years old, most of them economically disadvantaged.
'...a lot of pain'
Ramos' grandfather, 73-year-old Rolando Reyes –– whose wife still needed surgery after the attack –– voiced his pain for the bereaved families.
"I feel very sorry, and a lot of pain because a lot of those kids are grandkids of friends of mine," he told CBS News.
Details have emerged of Ramos as a deeply troubled teen –– he was repeatedly bullied over a speech impediment that included a stutter and a lisp and once cut up his own face "just for fun," a former friend, Santos Valdez, told The Washington Post.
In the days after turning 18 this month, Ramos purchased two assault rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a week later he staged his attack.
After driving his grandmother's vehicle to Robb Elementary, where he crashed it into a ditch, Ramos was confronted by a school resource officer –– but was able to enter through a back door and made his way to two adjoining classrooms.
"That's where the carnage began," said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
While the US is by no means the only country to allow civilians to carry firearms, it has the highest rate of civilian ownership of guns, partly owing to powerful pro-gun lobby groups and strong gun culture pic.twitter.com/15HejYNC02— TRT World (@trtworld) May 25, 2022
There have been more mass shootings –– in which four or more people were wounded or killed –– in 2022 than days so far this year, according to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive.
Despite that, multiple attempts at national reform have failed in Congress.
The Uvalde shooting was the deadliest since 20 elementary-age children and six staff were killed at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
"This town is heartbroken, devastated," Adolfo Hernandez, whose nephew was at the school when tragedy struck, told AFP.
"You just want to pinch yourself and wake up from that horrible nightmare."