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A gunman opened fire in a Texas school and killed 19 children, 2 adults

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We begin with what has become an achingly familiar scene in this country - a mass shooting, this time at a school in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman opened fire at a rural elementary school. He killed 19 children and two adults. Erika Escamilla heard the story when her niece came back from school.

ERIKA ESCAMILLA: She just put her hands over her ears and got down into a ball, and she said, Tia, it felt like I was having a heart attack. She was like, I was so scared, I didn't know what to do.

FADEL: NPR's Ashley Lopez is nearby in the city of Hondo, Texas. Hi, Ashley.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So the shooting happened at Robb Elementary. What can you tell us about who was hurt and killed?

LOPEZ: So the number of reported casualties has changed a couple of times, of course, since the shooting was reported yesterday. But as of now, we know that at least 21 people have died; 19 were children, and two were adults. We know at least one of those adults was a teacher at the school. Robb Elementary teaches students from second to fourth grade. So the victims in the shooting were largely very young.

FADEL: Yeah, we've been seeing pictures of these baby faces.

LOPEZ: Mmm hmm.

FADEL: What can you tell us about Uvalde? This is a really small town, right?

LOPEZ: Yeah, it's pretty small. It has a population of about 15,000 people. And the town sits in between the Texas Hill Country, which is west of San Antonio, and South Texas, which is near the U.S.-Mexico border. The community here is predominantly Latino. Roughly 3 out of 4 people here are Hispanic. And in a small town like Uvalde, a tragedy like this touches almost everyone who lives here. Our colleagues from Texas Public Radio talked to some of the residents of the community who attended a vigil last night. Erika Escamilla has several nieces and nephews who attend the school. They all survived. And she describes the nightmare that unfolded in the school as teachers worked quickly to put classes in lockdown, locking doors, turning off lights and telling children to get down.

ESCAMILLA: My niece was crying to me, and she was saying that she heard the guy cussing, and she heard, like, loud yelling, and she heard him cussing. And then she heard, like, a lot of loud bangs, the gunshots.

LOPEZ: Escamilla says this experience is something that a young child should never be put through.

FADEL: Yeah. What are authorities saying about the gunman?

LOPEZ: Like many of these kinds of tragedies, the gunman is reported to be a young man, 18 years old. According to state officials, he lived in Uvalde and attended the local high school. Governor Greg Abbott announced yesterday that the gunman died. One of the other pieces of information we heard yesterday about the shooter is that he allegedly shot his grandmother before he entered the school. Local officials have also said he appears to have acted alone.

FADEL: And how are local and state leaders responding, today and yesterday?

LOPEZ: Well, the governor here, Greg Abbott, has deployed state resources. He asked state law enforcement to help local police investigate the crime. He's also asking for help from the state's emergency management agency. And local law enforcement held a press conference yesterday, and the local school superintendent, Hal Harrell, actually got really choked up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAL HARRELL: My heart was broken today. We're a small community, and we will need your prayers to get us through this.

LOPEZ: Republican leaders in the state have also spoken to mostly conservative news outlets at this point since the shooting, and they have said they'd like to see tougher security in schools. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said on Fox News he wants to see schools only have one point of entry. And state Attorney General Ken Paxton told Newsmax that he thinks having teachers who are trained and armed would save lives in these types of situations. You know, Texas is one of the most conservative states in the country, so leaders here have not, however, talked about gun restrictions. In fact, lawmakers here passed a law last year allowing most Texans to carry a handgun without training or a permit. And as the investigation continues, it's expected that this Friday the NRA will hold its annual meeting in Houston. Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former President Donald Trump are slated to appear at that conference, which is just days after this mass shooting.

FADEL: That's NPR's Ashley Lopez. Thank you so much for your reporting.

LOPEZ: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.