On Tuesday afternoon, a teenager, armed with two assault rifles, opened fire on children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas – making it the deadliest assault at an American school in a decade.
It was a scene of chaos, confusion and pain, where the agonised screams of family members were audible from the parking lot of a school.
As the news spread, frantic parents waited to find out if their children were safe.
“No one is telling me anything,” said Ryan Ramirez, the parent of a fourth-grade student.
“And one of the parents was saying that there’s kids possibly held at the funeral home. That’s what brought me over here – to find out what’s going on.
“I’m trying to find out where my baby’s at,” he told The Associated Press.
Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, said the 600 children who attended the primary school were aged from five or six to about 12 years old.
Distraught families gathered at a local civic centre and turned to social media to mourn and to make desperate pleas for help finding missing children.
By nightfall, names of those killed during Tuesday’s attack at Robb Elementary School began to emerge. One man at the civic centre walked away sobbing into his phone, “She is gone.”
Manny Renfro told AP he got word on Tuesday that his grandson, eight-year-old Uziyah Garcia, was among those killed.
“The sweetest little boy that I’ve ever known,” Renfro said. “I’m not just saying that because he was my grandkid.”
Renfro said Uziyah last visited him in San Angelo during spring break.
“We started throwing the football together and I was teaching him pass patterns. Such a fast little boy and he could catch a ball so good,” Renfro recalled. “There were certain plays that I would call that he would remember and he would do it exactly like we practised.”
The killings come less than 10 days after a white gunman, who posted racist rants online, killed 10 Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.
Gun laws in Texas are among the least restrictive in the country.
“There’s no minimum age limit for children to possess firearms in Texas,” John Rosenthal, from Stop Handgun Violence, a group that works on gun violence prevention through education, public awareness and effective law enforcement, told Al Jazeera.
The US witnesses an average of 10 mass shootings per week. Nearly 200 mass shootings have occurred so far this year, including 27 incidents in schools.
With an estimated 390 million guns owned by civilians in the US and few effective limits on gun ownership, the horror in Uvalde will likely be repeated.
Polls have shown that a majority of Americans favour tougher gun laws, but efforts to pass national gun legislation have been repeatedly blocked by Republicans and a few Democrats in Congress.
“We should have more restrictions, especially if these kids are not in their right state of mind and all they want to do is just hurt people, especially innocent children going to the schools,” said Lisa Garza, 54, of Arlington, Texas.
Garza mourned the death of her cousin, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming.
“He was just a loving 10-year-old little boy, just enjoying life, not knowing that this tragedy was going to happen today,” she said. “He was very bubbly, loved to dance with his brothers, his mom. This has just taken a toll on all of us.”
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