The mother of Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old who shot dead 19 young children and two teachers at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas, this week has begged the public to “Forgive me, forgive my son.”
Adriana Martinez looked distraught as she wept in her car, tellingaffiliate , in Spanish: “I have no words to say, I don’t know what he was thinking.”
Her interview aired on Friday as questions continued to multiply over the actions of law enforcement three days ago during the shooting, with gaps in the timeline and bewilderment and anger about how the gunman was inside for about an hour as armed officers held back.
“Please don’t judge him," his mother said.
Earlier this week, Salvador Ramos, who had only recently turned 18, shot his grandmother, badly wounding her, before storming into Robb elementary school in Uvalde. The town has a population of less than 16,000 and lies between San Antonio and the Texas-Mexico border.
Heavily armed and with a huge stash of ammunition, he killed 19 fourth-graders aged eight to 10 and two teachers with a semi-automatic rifle.
17 others were injured in the attack.
He was ultimately shot dead by a federal agent in a classroom in which he had barricaded himself with his victims.
When asked by a reporter what she would tell the families who have lost loved ones, Adriana Martinez replied: “Forgive me, forgive my son. I have no words. I don’t know.”
The gunman’s father, also called Salvador Ramos, said, in a separate interview with the: “I just want the people to know I’m sorry, man, [for] what my son did.”
“I never expected my son to do something like that,” he said.
The 42-year old father, who digs holes around utility poles for inspection, was at work when the younger Ramos stormed into the school, and only discovered what had happened when his mother called to inform him.
He began calling the local jail to ask if his son was there but soon realized that “they killed my baby, man.”
“I’m never going to see my son again, just like they’re not going to see their kids. And that hurts me," he added.
Meanwhile, demands for answers from the authorities mount.
On Friday, it emerged that extra state spending on school security and officers trained for mass shootings had not prevented the massacre.
Victor Escalon, the south Texas regional director of the state’s department of public safety, said armed officers arrived at Robb elementary about four minutes after the shooter entered through an unlocked side door – which should have been locked – at about 11.40am local time on Tuesday.
Yet it was “approximately an hour later” that a tactical team of US Border Patrol arrived at the school, burst into the classroom and killed the gunman, while armed police waited outside.
Escalon gave incomplete answers to pointed questions from reporters at a press conference on Thursday about what had happened, including how the authorities had said that an armed officer tried to stop the shooter as he approached the school, then had said the opposite – that in fact there had not been anyone to intercept the shooter beforehand.
Telling the media he would try to get more answers, he said at one point: “Could anyone have gone [into the classroom] sooner? You have to understand, this is a small town.”
It also emerged that parents of children trapped inside the school during the rampage had pleaded with officers to do more to stop the carnage even as it was happening.
Little is known about the gunman or his motives at this stage. But some online warning signs were there for anyone to stumble upon.
There was the Instagram picture of a hand holding a gun magazine, a TikTok profile that warned: “Kids be scared,” and the image of two military-style semi-automatic assault rifles displayed on a rug, pinned to the top of the killer’s Instagram profile.
“When somebody starts posting pictures of guns they started purchasing, they’re announcing to the world that they’re changing who they are,” said Katherine Schweit, a retired FBI agent who spearheaded the agency’s active shooter program.
“It absolutely is a cry for help. It’s a tease: can you catch me?” The ominous posts, however, are often lost in an endless grid of Instagram photos that feature semi-automatic rifles, handguns and ammunition.
There is even a popular hashtag devoted to encouraging Instagram users to upload daily photos of guns, with more than 2m posts attached to it.
For law enforcement and social media companies, spotting a gun post from a potential mass shooter is like sifting through quicksand, Schweit said, and she encouraged parents, teachers, friends and those around a potential shooter to report those kinds of posts to a school counselor, the police or even the FBI tip line.
On 20 May, the day that officials say the Uvalde gunman bought a second rifle, a picture of two assault rifles appeared on his Instagram.
He tagged another Instagram user with more than 10,000 followers in the photo. In an exchange, later shared by that user, she asks why he tagged her in the photo.
“I barely know you and u tag me in a picture with some guns. It’s just scary,” she wrote.
The school district in Uvalde had spent money on software that, using geofencing technology, monitors for possible threats in the area.
But the gunman didn’t make a direct threat in posts and he was legally allowed to own the weapons in Texas.
- The Guardian and Associated Press