by Elliot Spaget
UVALDE, Texas ( Associated Press) — Days after a local man broke into an elementary school and killed 19 children and two teachers, officers managed to kill him, with signs of grief, solidarity and local pride everywhere in Uvalde .
Many are dressed in red, the color of the school district of Uvalde. And light blue ribbons adorn the giant oaks that shade the city’s central square, where mourners come to plant flowers around a fountain and write messages on wooden crosses bearing the names of the victims. In front of the day care center on a main street of the city, 21 wooden chairs are sitting empty.
Everyone in the predominantly Latino town of about 16,000 people knows someone whose life has been turned upside down by losing a family member or close friend in the attack on Robb Elementary School, the deadliest school of its kind.
Templo Cristiano’s pastor Joe Ruiz said that a teacher who is friends with his wife – herself a former Uvalde teacher – summed up the mood of the community best by saying that people “cried everything” they could and now They are tired and need rest.
Police faced heavy criticism for waiting more than 45 minutes to confront the 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, inside classrooms adjacent to where he massacred.
As the investigation, including the cause of Ramos’ attack, continues, some residents have expressed anger towards the police. Among them is 24-year-old carpenter Juan Carranza, who said he witnessed the attack across the street from the school. The next day he called the officers cowards.
Texas Department of Public Safety Chief Steven McCraw said Friday that school district police chief Pete Arredondo made the “wrong decision” to wait so long before sending officers to closed classrooms. He said Arredondo, in charge of the law enforcement response during the siege, believed Ramos was barricaded inside two adjacent classrooms and that the children were no longer in danger. Arredondo, who graduated from Uvalde High School and was recently elected to the city council, has not spoken publicly because McCraw criticized his decision-making, and he now has a police guard at his home.
Oasis Outback, where Ramos bought his guns, remained open and its barbecue restaurant did its normal business on Friday nights. According to a posted sign, the gun shop behind its sporting goods section was temporarily closed in relation to the families of the victims.
An Oasis employee who declined to give his full name said there were angry calls blaming the store for the attack, but the callers’ phone numbers were not from the area.
Support for gun rights is strong in Uvalde, which is roughly halfway between San Antonio and the border city of Del Rio. But some parents and relatives of victims are calling for change.
“I don’t know how people can sell that kind of gun to an 18-year-old. For what purpose is he going to use it but for that purpose?” said Siria Arizmendi, a fifth-grade teacher whose niece Eliana García was murdered. Eliana’s grandparents, residents of Uvalde, also came to visit Time before he spoke in his dining room.
Javier Carranza, 43, gun owner and army veteran whose daughter Jacqueline was killed, said selling such firepower to the 18-year-old was “ridiculous” and needed better background checks.
Uvalde sits among flat fields of cabbage, onions, carrots, corn and peppers, but mechanized farming replaced many jobs. Building materials companies are among its most prestigious employers.
The city has a border patrol station that operates a highway checkpoint and monitors freight trains which has suddenly become one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings. Last year, a massive camp of Haitian migrants who came under a bridge in Del Rio made headlines around the world.
Many residents can trace their family presence to Uvalde through three or four generations, creating a cherished sense of community. On a Friday night every month, stores stay open late and food vendors occupy the central square outside the neoclassical courthouse.
“Uvalde Strong” messages adorn store windows, T-shirts and lawn signs. Curbs and sidewalks are less common when moving away from the central square, with roosters running on broken sidewalks near Robb Elementary School.
Ruiz, the Templo Crisitano pastor whose children and grandchildren live in Uvalde, asks the new parishioners about their ancestors in order to get to know them better.
Before Tuesday, occasional traffic fatalities were the biggest tragedy for Uvalde.
“We have murdered individuals, but not on such a large scale,” said Baptist Temple Church pastor Tony Gruber.
For more Associated Press coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting