UVALDE, Texas – President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden hope to comfort a city grieving and angry when they meet families affected by the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 students and teachers.
Biden’s visit on Sunday is Biden’s second trip in as many weeks to calm a community in mourning after a heavy loss. On May 17, he was in Buffalo, New York, to meet with victims’ families and denounce white supremacy after a racial “substitution theory” shooter killed 10 black people in a supermarket.
The shootings in Texas and New York and their aftermath have highlighted the country’s entrenched divisions and its inability to reach consensus on measures to reduce gun violence.
“Evil came into the classroom in Texas elementary school, to this grocery store in New York, to the many places where innocents died,” Biden said Saturday in a commencement speech at the University of Delaware. “We have to stand stronger. We have to stand stronger. We can’t criminalize tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer.”
Biden was scheduled to visit the temporary memorial outside Robb Elementary School before attending mass at a local Catholic church. The White House said he 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. He was not expected to make official statements.
MacKenzie Hinojosa, whose cousin Elihana Torres was killed Tuesday, said she respects Biden’s decision to mourn with the people of Ovaldi.
“He’s more than a blacksmith,” she said. “We want change. We want action. It continues to be something that happens over and over. Mass shootings happen. It’s in the news. People cry. Then it’s gone. Nobody cares. Then it happens again. And again.”
“If I could tell Joe Biden anything, just to respect our community while he’s here, I’m sure he would,” she added. “But we need to change. We need to do something about it.”
Biden’s visit to Ovaldi comes amid growing scrutiny of the police response to the shooting. Officials revealed Friday that students and teachers repeatedly called for help from 911 workers even as the police chief told more than a dozen officers to wait in the hallway. Officials said the commander believed the suspect was holed up inside an adjacent classroom and that there was no longer an active attack.
This revelation sparked new concern and questions about whether more lives were lost because officers did not move faster to stop the gunman, who was eventually killed by Border Patrol tactical officers.
State Senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Ovaldi, described an emotional encounter with the father of a shooting victim.
“He couldn’t leave him. And I couldn’t leave him. We were just crying at the time. It was so devastating,” said Gutierrez, who said the man’s daughter was shot in the back.
“She probably bled, according to the first responder. Who knows what would have happened to that little girl, had the officers, in time, gone in time?” Gutierrez told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
On Wednesday, before details of the officers’ belated response were known, Biden praised their efforts, saying: “Brave local officers and Border Patrol agents intervened to save as many children as possible.”
Authorities said the shooter legally purchased two handguns shortly before the school attack: an AR rifle on May 17 and a second shotgun on May 20. He was already 18 years old, which allowed him to purchase guns under federal law.
Speaking on Saturday, Biden said something had to change in response to the attack.
“I am calling on all Americans at this hour to come together and make your voices heard, working together to make this nation what it can and should be,” Biden said. “I know we can do it. We have done it before.”
Hours after the shooting, Biden made an impassioned plea for additional gun control legislation, asking, “When, in the name of God, 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 by his side in the Roosevelt room, the president, who has experienced the loss of two of his children – despite no gun violence – spoke in deep terms of the victims’ loved ones’ grief and pain. that will last for the students who survived.
“Losing a child is like taking out a part of your soul,” Biden said. “There is a void in your chest. You feel like you are engrossed in it and you will not be able to get out of it.”
Over the years, Biden has been closely involved in the gun control movement’s most notable successes, such as the 1994 assault weapons ban, and its most troubling frustrations, including the failure to pass new legislation after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. , Connecticut.
In the White House, Biden attempted to stamp out gun violence through executive orders. He’s faced with few new options now, but executive action may be the best the president can do, given Washington’s sharp divisions over gun control legislation. Lawmakers have resumed long-stalled negotiations about expanding background check requirements and encouraging “red flag” laws aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of those with mental health issues, but talks face an uphill battle on Capitol Hill.
Miller reports from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press photojournalist Robert Baumstead in Ovaldi, Texas contributed to this report.