President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden hope to comfort a city wracked with grief and anger as they meet with families affected by the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 students and two teachers.
The visit to Uvalde on Sunday is Biden’s second trip in as many weeks to comfort a grieving community. On May 17, he was in Buffalo, New York, to meet with families of victims and condemn white supremacy after a racist “replacement theory” shooter killed 10 black people in a supermarket.
The shootings in Texas and New York and their aftermath have highlighted the nation’s entrenched divisions and its inability to forge consensus on actions to reduce gun violence.
“Evil reached that elementary school classroom in Texas, that grocery store in New York, too many places where innocents have 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, but we can make America safer.”
Biden would visit the makeshift memorial outside Robb Elementary School before attending Mass at a local Catholic church. She was also scheduled to meet with family members at a community center and then with first responders at the local airport before returning to Washington, the White House said. She was not expected to make formal comments.
Mckinzie Hinojosa, whose cousin Eliahana Torres was killed Tuesday, said she respected Biden’s decision to cry with the people of Uvalde.
“It’s more than grief,” he said. “We want a change. We want action. It’s still something that happens over and over and over again. A mass shooting occurs. It’s in the news. People cry. Then it’s gone. Nobody cares. And then it happens again. And again.”
“If there’s anything, if I could tell Joe Biden, just the way he is, to respect our community while he’s here, and I’m sure he will,” she added. “But we need a change. We need to do something about it.”
The Bidens’ visit to Uvalde comes amid growing scrutiny of the police response to the shooting. Authorities revealed Friday that students and teachers repeatedly pleaded with 911 operators to help them, including as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway. Authorities said the commander believed the suspect was barricaded inside an adjoining classroom and there was no longer an active attack.
The revelation sparked new angst and questions about whether more lives were lost because officers didn’t act faster to apprehend the gunman, who was ultimately killed by Border Patrol tactical officers.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, described an emotional meeting with the father of one of the shooting victims.
“He couldn’t let it go. And I couldn’t put it down. We were both crying at the time. It was so, so devastating,” said Gutierrez, who said the man’s daughter had been shot in the back by her.
“He probably bled out, according to the lifeguard. Who knows what would have happened to that girl if the officers had shown up on time, if they had gotten in on time? Gutierrez told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
On Wednesday, before details about the officers’ late response became known, Biden had praised their efforts, saying “brave local officers and Border Patrol agents stepped in to save as many children as they could.”
Authorities have said the shooter legally purchased two weapons shortly before the school attack: an AR-style rifle on May 17 and a second rifle on May 20. He had just turned 18, which allowed him to buy the guns under federal law.
Speaking on Saturday, Biden said something had to change in response to the attack.
“I call on all Americans right now to come together and make your voices heard, to work together to make this nation what it can and should be,” Biden said. “I know we can do this. We’ve done it before.”
Hours after the shooting, Biden made 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?
With Jill Biden standing beside him in the Roosevelt Room, the president, who has suffered the loss of two of his own children, though not to gun violence, spoke in visceral terms about the pain of the victims’ loved ones and the pain. that will endure for the students who survived.
“Losing a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped out,” Biden said. “There is an emptiness in your chest. You feel like you’re being sucked in and you’ll never be able to get out.”
Over the years, Biden has been intimately involved in the gun control movement’s most notable successes, like the 1994 assault weapons ban, and its most troubling disappointments, including the failure to pass a new legislation after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. , Conn.
In the White House, Biden has sought to undermine gun violence through executive orders. He now faces few new options, but executive action may be the best the president can do, given Washington’s sharp divisions on gun control legislation.
Lawmakers restarted long-stalled negotiations on expanding background check requirements and advancing “red flag” laws intended to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental health problems, but the talks face a uphill battle at the Capitol.
(with information from AP)
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