President Biden traveled to Uvalde, Texas, on Sunday to help console the community as it grieves from, and seeks to comprehend, last week’s massacre at Robb Elementary School.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden quietly reflected outside of the school, in front of a makeshift memorial filled with flowers and photos of the 21 victims, most of whom were around 10 years old.
No formal remarks were scheduled. The trip was followed by Mass at a local Catholic church and meetings with victims’ families and first responders. Biden met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at the airport.
The president is no stranger to personal tragedies. Biden’s first wife and 1-year-old daughter died in a 1972 car crash, and his son Beau died in 2015 from brain cancer.
“To lose a child, it’s like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” Biden said Tuesday in remarks from the White House immediately after the shooting. “There’s a hollowness in your chest; you feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out, suffocating.”
Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the Uvalde shooting. The incident has been further marred by local authorities’ conflicting and frustrating accounts of how police responded to the gunman, who was also killed in the attack.
The 18-year-old shooter made his way into a pair of adjoining classrooms, where he fired more than 100 rounds and killed the victims, authorities said. Police waited in the hallway and on the campus for more than an hour, treating the situation as a barricaded suspect instead of an active shooter, according to the director of the state police, Steven McCraw.
The police wait was despite repeated 911 calls from the students inside the classroom, who pleaded for an intervention. Police even restrained panicked parents outside the school as law enforcement held off rushing into the classroom to confront the gunman.
“It was the wrong decision, period,” McCraw said at a Friday news conference.
The Justice Department announced Sunday that it would formally review the local law enforcement response to the shooting and publish its conclusions.”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,” Justice Department spokesperson Anthony Coley said shortly after Biden visited the school memorial.
Biden’s trip to Uvalde follows his visit to Buffalo earlier this month, where another 18-year-old shooter committed a spree killing. The Buffalo massacre occurred in a supermarket frequented by the city’s Black community, and the gunman killed 10 Black people there in what authorities have labeled a racist plot.
Officials are still investigating the motives for the Uvalde attack, which occurred in a predominantly Latino community in southwestern Texas.
The two most recent mass shootings have fueled discussions of new federal and state laws, including gun control measures that face an uphill path in Congress. A minority of at least 40 senators can block bills from advancing in the Senate, and Republican lawmakers have shown little appetite for new gun control legislation after past mass shootings.
Biden nevertheless seems determined to try to pass new measures, and he has questioned the need for assault-style rifles to be available to the public.
“Where in God’s name is our backbone?” Biden said Tuesday after the Uvalde shooting. “It’s time to turn this pain into action.”