By ZEKE MILLER and ELLIOT SPAGAT
UVALDE, Texas (AP) — President Joe Biden mourned the shattered community of Uvalde on Sunday, mourning privately for three hours with the anguished families of the 19 school children and two teachers killed by a gunman. Facing chants of “doing something” as he left a church service, Biden vowed, “We’ll do it.”
At Robb Elementary School, Biden visited a memorial of 21 white crosses — one for each of those killed — and First Lady Jill Biden added a bouquet of white flowers to those already placed in front of the school sign. The couple then saw individual altars erected in memory of each student, with the first lady touching the pictures of the children as they moved along the row.
After visiting the memorial, Biden attended mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where several families of the victims are members, and one of the families was in attendance.
Speaking directly to children in the congregation, Bishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller tried to allay the fears of young people, with some appearing to be around the same age as the victims.
“You have seen the news, you have witnessed the tears of your parents, friends,” he said, encouraging them not to be afraid of life. “You are the best reminders to us that the lives of the little ones matter.”
As Biden left the church to meet privately with family members, a crowd of about 100 began chanting “do something.” Biden replied, “We will,” as he got into his car. It was his only public comment for about seven hours in Uvalde.
Biden later tweeted that he was crying, praying and supporting the people of Uvalde. “And we are committed to turning that pain into action,” he said.
The visit to Uvalde was Biden’s second trip in as many weeks to comfort a beleaguered community after a mass shooting. He traveled to Buffalo, New York, on May 17 to meet with families of victims and condemn white supremacy after a gunman espousing racist “replacement theory” killed 10 black people in a supermarket.
The shootings and their aftermath have exposed the country’s entrenched divisions and its inability to forge consensus on actions to reduce gun violence.
“Evil came to this elementary school classroom in Texas, to this grocery store in New York, to far too many places where innocent people died,” Biden said Saturday in a commencement address at the University of Delaware. “We have to be stronger. We must be stronger. We can’t ban tragedy, I know that, but we can make America safer.
Biden also met with first responders ahead of the trip back home to Delaware. It was unclear whether the group included any officers who were involved in the immediate response to the shooting.
Biden turned himself in amid scrutiny of the police response. Officials revealed Friday that students and teachers repeatedly pleaded for help from 911 operators as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway. Officials said the commander believed the suspect was barricaded in an adjacent classroom and there was no longer an active attack.
The revelation caused more heartbreak and raised new questions about whether lives were lost because officers did not act faster to arrest the shooter, who was ultimately killed by Border Patrol tactical agents .
The Justice Department said Sunday it would review law enforcement’s response and release its findings.
“It’s easy to point fingers right now,” Uvalde County Commissioner Ronnie Garza said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” before adding, “Our community needs to focus on healing in this moment”.
Mckinzie Hinojosa, whose cousin Eliahana Torres was killed on Tuesday, said she respects Biden’s decision to grieve with the residents of Uvalde.
“It’s more than mourning,” she said. “We want change. We want action. It continues to be something that happens over and over and over again. A mass shooting occurs. It’s on the news. People are crying. Then it’s gone. Nobody cares. And then it happens again. And even.”
“If there’s anything if I could say to Joe Biden, as he is, just respect our community while he’s here, and I’m sure he will,” he said. -she adds. “But we need change. We have to do something about it.
Authorities said the shooter legally purchased two weapons shortly before the school attack: an AR-type rifle on May 17 and a second rifle on May 20. He had just turned 18, which allowed him to purchase the guns under federal law.
Hours after the shooting, Biden launched an impassioned plea for additional gun control legislation, asking, “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? »
Over the years, Biden has been intimately involved in the gun control movement’s most notable successes, such as the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, and its most troubling disappointments. , including the failure to pass new legislation after the 2012 Sandy massacre. Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
As president, Biden attempted to address gun violence through executive orders. He faces few new options now, but executive action might be the best the president can do, given Washington’s sharp divisions over gun control legislation.
In Congress, a bipartisan group of senators met over the weekend to see if they could reach even a modest compromise on gun safety legislation after a decade of mostly unsuccessful efforts. .
Encouraging state “red flag” laws to keep guns away from people with mental health issues and addressing school safety and mental health resources were on the table, said Sen. Chris Murphy, who is leading the effort.
While there isn’t enough Republican support in Congress for broader gun safety proposals popular with the public, including a new ban on assault weapons or universal background checks on gun purchases, Murphy, D-Conn., told ABC’s “This Week” that these other ideas are “not trivial.”
The group will meet again next week within 10 days to reach an agreement.
“There are more Republicans interested in talking about finding a way forward this time than I’ve seen since Sandy Hook,” said Murphy, who represented the Newtown area as a congressman at the time of the interview. the Sandy Hook shooting. “And while at the end of the day I may end up heartbroken, I’m more meaningfully at the table right now with Republicans and Democrats than ever before.”
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington and AP video reporter Robert Bumsted in Uvalde, Texas contributed to this report.
Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting