Highly trained tactical officers from the Border Patrol are credited with stopping a gunman’s deadly rampage in a south Texas school as the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol described a community-wide response from his agents that included on-duty, off-duty, and in-training personnel.
Nineteen students and two adults were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a town of more than 15,000 people 70 miles east of Del Rio, on Tuesday when 18-year-old shooter Salvador Ramos — who had just shot his grandmother at her residence before crashing her truck into a ditch and entering the school — opened fire with one of two rifles he had bought for his birthday.
Ramos had also purchased 375 rounds of ammunition on May 18, and dropped a backpack with seven 21-round magazines at an entrance to the school after a school resource officer “engaged” with the shooter but did not fire. Ramos entered the school and the ensuing ordeal lasted 40 to 60 minutes; officials were vague about some details of the shooting timeline today, citing the ongoing investigation.
Before the shooting, Ramos reportedly texted a 15-year-old girl in Germany, whom he had met on Yubo but not in person, that “I just shot my grandma in her head” and “Ima go shoot up a elementary school rn.” Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN that the shooter barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom “and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom.”
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz told CNN tonight that some local law enforcement “engaged” the shooter outside of the school before CBP received the call at about 11:30 a.m. and agents responded from various locations in the area. That included between 80 to 100 on-duty and off-duty agents along with some who were in training.
“We decided right away that we needed to engage,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz said that the team who entered the classroom where the shooter was barricaded included three members of the Border Patrol’s tactical response unit and one search-and-rescue team member, and a couple more agents were near the classrooms as Border Patrol and local officers made entry.
“Quite often in these rural communities we are the largest law enforcement agency,” Ortiz said, noting that agents undergo active-shooter training in which they work with local law enforcement.
“That’s one of the first things we have to do is neutralize the threat as quickly as we possibly can,” he noted, stressing that “as soon as officers arrived at the school they knew what they had to do — they didn’t hesitate.”
Multiple agencies are investigating the mass shooting and the law enforcement response, including Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Information is being gathered from all officers who responded to compile a timeline. “We want to know exactly what happened in this event,” Ortiz said.
The Border Patrol has 140 officers assigned to Uvalde; because of the town’s proximity to the southern border, a checkpoint is located 5 miles outside of town. “We’re ingrained in these communities and quite often we’re from these communities,” Ortiz said.
The chief said that he talked to the agent who was shot in the exchange of gunfire with Ramos, and acknowledged that agents on the scene would be dealing with the trauma of the event. “Nothing prepares you for a scene like what they saw and witnessed yesterday,” Ortiz said.
Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Jason Owens told ABC News that the gunman was likely killed by a member of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), but did not identify the agent whose actions were “absolutely courageous.”
“It would be unfair to say that any one person’s actions were singularly responsible for ending that threat,” Owens said. “It took everybody.”
The Washington Post reported that the BORTAC unit had been investigating border stash houses west of Uvalde when the call came in and arrived at the school at 11:59 p.m.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus confirmed in a statement Tuesday that CBP “responded immediately to the incident with local law enforcement.”
“Many of our local CBP personnel live in Uvalde; they call this community home, and they work to protect their families, friends and neighbors every single day,” Magnus said. “We continue to coordinate closely with our federal, state and local partners in the aftermath of this senseless tragedy and will provide any further assistance needed.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said today that “we at the Department of Homeland Security are horrified by this callous act of violence” and “grieve for the families and loved ones of the children and teachers lost, and with the people of the community of Uvalde.”
“We are grateful for the courageous members of our Border Patrol, many of whom are part of the Uvalde and surrounding communities, who immediately responded to the scene along with local and state law enforcement,” Mayorkas said. “Without hesitation, they put themselves between the shooter and students to end the bloodshed and administer medical aid. Without question, their heroism yesterday saved lives. A Border Patrol Agent was injured in the crossfire yesterday and we know the loss and trauma from this tragedy will continue to impact many other CBP families for a long time to come.”
“The Department will continue coordinating with federal, state, and local partners and offering our full support to the Uvalde community,” he added. “As we pray for the families and loved ones and recognize the bravery of frontline law enforcement personnel, we must redouble our collective efforts to make our communities safer.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray said that “there will certainly be more we learn about this heinous attack in the days ahead, and I know the American people—and especially the people of Uvalde—are looking for answers.”
“I want to acknowledge the heroism of all law enforcement who responded immediately to the scene,” he said. “For our part, the FBI will continue to work around the clock with the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Uvalde Police Department; and our other state, local, and federal partners to assist in any way we can. We’re dedicating the full resources of the FBI San Antonio Field Office and a host of other FBI Divisions to helping the Texas DPS and Uvalde PD, which have the lead in the investigation.”
“On top of that, we’ve deployed national resources, including investigative and analytical support, evidence response and laboratory personnel, victim services professionals to assist families of the victims, and crisis management and behavioral analysis units,” Wray continued. “We’re absolutely heartbroken about yesterday’s tragic events and committed to doing our part to support our partners in the investigation and the Uvalde community as we begin to try to move forward.”