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President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden paid their respects Sunday to the grief-stricken community in Uvalde, Texas, visiting memorials to children who died Tuesday in the massacre at Robb Elementary School, as well as survivors, families and first responders.
"To everyone impacted by the horrific elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: We grieve with you. We pray with you. We stand with you. And we’re committed to turning this pain into action," the president posted on Twitter before leaving Sunday evening.
Amid the visit, the Justice Department announced it would launch a review of law enforcement's response to the mass shooting.
The Bidens began their visit at a school memorial site, where students’ photos were framed by white floral arches. They moved from one lost life to another; the first lady touched each photo and could be seen wiping tears that slid from beneath her black sunglasses.
The president also occasionally touched some of the photos and gestured at others.
He and first lady then traveled to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde. As the Bidens left the church just before 2:30 p.m., someone in the crowd of spectators yelled a succinct request: “Do something!”
“We will,” Biden replied in his only public comment the entire visit.
Biden's trip came less than two weeks after he visited the scene of a racist massacre at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, which left 10 victims dead.
"There’s too much violence. Too much fear. Too much grief," Biden said when delivering the commencement address at the University of Delaware on Saturday. "Let's be clear: Evil came to that elementary school classroom in Texas, to that grocery store in New York, to far too many places where innocents have died."
REMEMBERING THEIR FACES: Uvalde school photographers' pictures bring children and tragedy into full focus
NRA says no member has ever committed a mass shooting
“We aren’t terrorists. We don’t have blood on our hands. We’re law-abiding Americans that only want to protect our families and our communities,” several people say in sequitur in the video. “We’re proud members of the NRA.”
Gun reform proponents have protested outside the NRA convention in Houston since it began Friday, calling for “gun control now.”
NRA head Wayne LaPierre rejected calls for new gun control measures, instead calling for fixing the nation's "broken mental health system" and fully funding police departments so every school can have a tailored safety program.
— Eve Chen, Jeanine Santucci and Christine Fernando
Vigils held in Uvalde Town Square
In Uvalde's town square, a line of people waiting to pay their respects Sunday wrapped around a memorial for the victims and extended to the street.
Mike Palacios, 38, who lives down the road from Robb Elementary School, held a sign of all the victims’ names for drivers passing by. He said he decided to make the sign after speaking with one of the victims’ parents.
“They told me, 'Don’t forget my baby’s name'" Palacios said. “We can’t let this happen again. What he said stuck with me.”
Palacios said he was glad Biden took the time to come to Uvalde and pay his respects.
“We’ve been getting an overwhelming amount of support all over the world, and we need it,” Palacios said. “We’re broken.”
Some of the mourners who've showed up at the town square for vigils this weekend included classmates of the young victims. They wept in the arms of their parents. Others walked to each of the crosses erected there, laying down flowers.
Nicole Trevino and her son were among them. They live two blocks away from the school, and she had signed out her son from class on Tuesday morning about 15 minutes before the gunman entered the school. She’s grateful for that. Her son has told her he’s afraid to go back.
“They need to just shut down that school," Trevino said. "What teacher wants to go back? What student? It’s just never going to be the same.”
– Katie Bell, Rafael Carranza
Waiting on Biden's motorcade
Dozens of cars lined up along U.S. Highway 90 in the westside of Uvalde, waiting for President Joe Biden’s motorcade as he headed to the county event center to meet with survivors and families of the 21 victims killed on Tuesday.
Elizabeth Rodriguez, a Uvalde resident, sat inside her car with a sign reading “Uvalde Strong” placed in the inside of her windshield. She is second cousins with three of the students at Robb Elementary who were shot on Tuesday and had a grandson who was enrolled there too but was not in school at that time.
Rodriguez said she was able to see the presidential motorcade as it drove past the town square and had hoped to catch another glimpse of the president and the first lady. She said she would like to see him push strongly for gun control measures to prevent more tragedies, as well as ensure that Uvalde has resources to help the victims in the long run.
“Children, they shouldn’t have to pass through this, they shouldn’t have to go through all of this, especially the ones that saw their friends die,” Rodriguez said. “They’re going to need a lot of help, and we hope that we can get help for them and for the community itself.”
After waiting for several minutes, the motorcade passed by. But they took a different route using a smaller road that runs parallel to U.S. Highway 90 to reach the events center, where the president is scheduled to meet for more than three hours with survivors and the victims’ families. After it passed, one by one the cars lined up along the highway began to take off.
– Rafael Carranza
Biden to visit with survivors, families
After leaving Mass, the president’s motorcade traveled to the Uvalde County Arena, where the Bidens are meeting with mass shooting survivors and family members.
The meeting, which is expected to last a few hours, is closed to the press.
Biden said Saturday he plans to meet with each of the families who are preparing to bury loved ones after a teenage gunman slaughtered 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday. It was the deadliest school shooting in a decade.
– Michael Collins, Candy Woodall
'Grateful to have life'
UVALDE, Texas — At Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, who is based in San Antonio gave Mass in English and Spanish, with parishioners answering back in both languages.
García-Siller opened his homily by speaking about the hardship the world has endured — "the pandemic, social unrest, the war, shootings in many places in our country and now shootings here in Uvalde."
"We have seen a lot of loss of, above all, people," he said.
However, García-Siller told attendees, "in the midst of all of this, we're grateful to have life."
Joe Perales, a middle school math teacher from Dallas, decided to attend the mass in solidarity with the community of Uvalde. He has been teaching since before the Columbine High School shooting.
After the Robb Elementary shooting last week, he talked to his students in class, urging them, "When someone says something really horrific, you need to report it," he related Sunday. "When you see guns being posted, you should say something — to a parent, a counselor, a cop."
– Katie Hall
Booker pessimistic about federal gun reform
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Sunday that "as far as the federal level," he's "not that hopeful" there will be changes when it comes to gun reform legislation.
The Democratic senator, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," said he supports bipartisan talk, but he's "under no illusion" that Congress is "going to do things that need to be done."
Booker added that gun violence "does not happen in other countries," and only happens in the U.S. because we "tolerate it."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he wants Republican lawmakers to collaborate with Democrats on a legislative solution to address the elementary school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead in Uvalde, Texas.
– Merdie Nzanga and Ledge King
Archbishop tells parishioners Uvalde 'must move forward together'
A violinist and pianist played Ave Maria and other inspirational songs as approximately 600 people filed into Sacred Heart Catholic Church for Mass.
First lady Jill Biden lightly touched the hands of several people seated along the aisle as she and the president walked to the first-row pew.
“Our hearts are broken,” Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said as the service began.
About 20 minutes later, children were invited to the front of the church, where they sat down on the floor. Speaking directly to them, the archbishop said they had seen their parents cry over the past few days, but he said the children would help the community heal.
The community now left behind “must move forward together,” Garcia-Siller said.
– Michael Collins and Candy Woodall
Uvalde comes out to greet Biden: 'We need change in every direction'
UVALDE, Texas - Ben Gonzales, a Uvalde resident, was one of people who showed up to see Biden on Sunday morning. He was one of the loudest voices in the crowd, calling on the president and on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to act and make changes to current gun laws.
“We need change in every direction. I’m not a gun activist, or I’m not against guns completely. I own firearms to protect my home. But there needs to somewhere in the middle where we can meet and make a change,” he said after the president left.
Zina Aguilera lives a few houses down from Robb Elementary, she also walked over to see the president visit the school. She said she was glad to see president come, saying he needed to see the devastation the shooting has had on the community and that he needed to push for changes to gun laws.
Once Biden’s motorcade left the school, law enforcement officials allowed a limited number of people at a time to walk up to the memorial in front of the school sign. Until this point, access had mostly been restricted to friends, classmates and relatives of the victims.
Aguilera said her view of Robb Elementary, just a few houses up the road has been obstructed by crowds of media vans and now of people.
“When all this circus goes away and I sit in my front porch and I see the school again, it’s going to be a really sad situation,” she said.
– Rafael Carranza
Crowd welcomes Bidens, plead with Abbott for help
UVALDE, Texas – Onlookers welcomed President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden with cheers and applause on Sunday as he arrived to pay his respects to 21 victims gunned down at Robb Elementary School.
Before his arrival, dozens of people made their way to the school, which remains under restricted access. They watched as the Biden’s walked up to makeshift memorial site and the first lady placed bouquet of white roses in front of the school sign blanketed with flowers, wreaths, and candles.
But the crowd began to jeer as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott arrived to the memorial site, just moments after Biden. Many in the crowed even began to boo him loudly, while others called out to the governor to take action.
WHAT IS THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION?: What we know about the powerful gun rights group
“Governor Abbott, our community needs help sir. We need help,” Ben Gonzales, a Uvalde resident, called out.
“Do something,” another man added. “We need change, our children don’t deserve this,” someone else yelled out behind metal barricades.
Biden spent about 20 minute on the ground, speaking to law enforcement and walking through the wreaths and the flowers laid out at the school, before his motorcade made his way to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
– Rafael Carranza
Justice Department to review response
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced Sunday that it is reviewing the delayed police response to the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead in one of the worst campus attacks in U.S. history.
The federal action was requested by Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, Justice spokesman Anthony Coley said.
“The goal of the review is to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events," Coley said, adding that the evaluation will led by Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing.
“As with prior Justice Department after-action reviews of mass shootings and other critical incidents, this assessment will be fair, transparent, and independent. The Justice Department will publish a report with its findings at the conclusion of its review.”
– Kevin Johnson
Crenshaw: No need for federal red flag law
U.S. Rep Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, would not vote yes on a national red flag law, he said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
Red flag laws are measures that allow police or family members to get a court order that temporarily confiscates firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.
"I think there's a lot of problems with red flag laws, especially at a national level," Cranshaw said. "When it comes to criminal law, that really should be democratically decided at the local and state level, but, even so, you have to look at these and wonder what the actual purpose is."
Cranshaw also said that he would not support a red flag law in Texas, adding that "what we are essentially trying to do with a red flag law is enforce the law before the law has been broken."
The House is expected to vote on — and pass — a red flag bill in the coming weeks, leaving enactment up to the Senate. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have adopted such laws, and the federal legislation being discussed would provide money and incentives for other states to follow suit.
– Merdie Nzanga
Texas legislator Gutierrez sees GOP support for changing gun law
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-Texas, who called on Gov. Gregg Abbott to hold a special session at the Texas legislature after the Uvalde shooting, said Sunday that he sees more bipartisan support for stricter gun laws.
"I've had other colleagues, Republican colleagues, who at this point don't want to be identified but have said we need to raise it to 21," Gutierrez said about raising the age limit to purchase a gun on CNN's "State of the Union."
"Those are the kinds of things that make sense: red flag laws, waiting periods, making sure that we have a more significant robust background check," he added.
He said on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that he's not "blaming anyone for what happened," but there needs to be "accountability as to what happened, who was there at what time, and which agencies take operational control when."
Local police have faced criticism for staying outside the school and not confronting the gunman, even as parents begged them to enter the building and students inside called 911.
– Merdie Nzanga
Murphy hopeful Republicans will come to table on gun rights
An optimistic Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation" that a spirit of bipartisanship after the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, could break through a 30-year logjam in Congress and produce real movement on gun control.
“I’ve seen more Republican interest in coming to the table and talking this time than at any other moment since Sandy Hook,” he said.
Though Murphy said he knows Republicans won’t support everything he wants, like banning assault weapons, there’s middle ground on red flag laws, background checks, safe storage of guns and more.
“I think we can get something done, but we don’t have a lot of time,” he said.
Murphy said lawmakers are looking for “an old school compromise” to tighten gun laws so only law-abiding citizens can have them, while also investing in school security and mental health care.
“Parents in this country and kids are desperate for us to do something. They’re frightened, they’re anxious, and we will just add to their anxiety if nothing happens again,” he said.
– Candy Woodall
Kinzinger calls for raising gun ownership age to 21
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said proponents of the Second Amendment are the ones who need to step up to reform gun laws, adding that raising the age for purchasing a gun to 21 is a good place to start.
We "have to be the ones putting forward reasonable solutions to gun violence," the Illinois lawmaker said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week."
"I think that raising the age of gun purchase to 21 is a no brainer," he said, citing Florida, where the age to purchase a long gun was raised from 18 to 21 following the 2018 Parkland high school shooting in which 17 people died.
Kinzinger said, as a gun rights supporter and owner of an AR-15 rifle, "this kind of wild West" where people "carry a gun around because it looks cool" does not help defend gun rights.
Kinzinger floated the idea of creating a special license for owners of weapons like the AR-15, which the gunman in Uvalde used to kill 19 people.
"I think we need to have this real discussion," he said.
– Katie Wadington
'Look at them, just babies'
UVALDE, Texas — Nancy Sutton spreads out the photographs of the girl she knew so well: Ellie Garcia in first grade. Ellie in her basketball uniform. Ellie, smiling, a white bow in her hair.
Sutton, a professional school portrait photographer, has taken photos of every child killed at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday, along with the two teachers. In fact, she’s taken pictures of virtually every single student who has attended classes at Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District for the past 20 years.
Since Tuesday, the Suttons' pictures of the dead have been published on newspaper front pages and on TV, and rocketed around the world via social media, providing a lens to the country's worst mass shootings and the means by which the world could put faces to the names of the dead.
“Look at them, just babies,” she says of the photos before her. “Just babies. So young.”
– Trevor Hughes
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci and Christine Fernando, USAT TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Uvalde school shooting; Biden pledges action; DOJ to review response