US President Joe Biden has grieved with the shattered community of Uvalde, mourning privately for three hours with the anguished families of the 19 schoolchildren and two teachers killed by a gunman.
Faced with chants of “do something” as he departed a church service, Mr Biden pledged: “We will.”
At Robb Elementary School, Mr 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 viewed individual altars erected in memory of each student, the first lady touching the children’s photos as they moved along the row.
After visiting the memorial, Mr Biden attended a Mass at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where several victims’ families are members, and one of the families was in attendance.
Speaking directly to the children in the congregation, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller tried to assuage the fears of the youngsters, some appearing about 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 are important.”
As Mr Biden departed the church to meet privately with family members, a crowd of about 100 people began chanting “do something”. Mr Biden answered “we will” as he got into his car.
It was his only public comment during roughly seven hours in Uvalde.
Mr Biden later tweeted that he grieves, prays and stands with the people of Uvalde. “And we are committed to turning this pain into action,” he said.
The visit to Uvalde was Mr Biden’s second trip in as many weeks to console a community in loss after a mass shooting.
He travelled to Buffalo, New York, on May 17 to meet victims’ families after a gunman killed 10 black people at a supermarket.
Both shootings and their aftermath put a fresh spotlight on the nation’s entrenched divisions and its inability to forge consensus on actions to reduce gun violence.
“Evil came to that elementary school classroom in Texas, to that grocery store in New York, to far too many places where innocents have died,” Mr Biden said on Saturday in a commencement address at the University of Delaware.
“We have to stand stronger. We must stand stronger. We cannot outlaw tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer.”
Mr Biden also met first responders before the trip back to his home in Delaware. It was not clear if the group included officers who were involved in the immediate response to the shooting.
Mr Biden visited amid mounting scrutiny of the police response. Officials revealed on Friday that students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway.
Officials said the commander believed the suspect was barricaded inside an adjoining classroom and that there was no longer an active attack.
The revelation caused more grief and raised new questions about whether lives were lost because officers did not act faster to stop the gunman, who was ultimately killed by Border Patrol tactical officers.
The Justice Department announced on Sunday that it will review the law enforcement response and make its findings public.
“It’s easy to point fingers right now,” said Ronnie Garza, a Uvalde County commissioner, before adding: “Our community needs to focus on healing right now.”
Mckinzie Hinojosa, whose cousin Eliahana Torres was killed on Tuesday, said she respected Mr Biden’s decision to mourn with the people 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. A mass shooting happens. It’s on 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, as it is, just to respect our community while he’s here, and I’m sure he will. But we need change. We need to do something about it.”
Authorities have said the gunman legally purchased two guns not long before the school attack: an AR-style rifle on May 17 and a second rifle on May 20. He had just turned 18, permitting him to buy the weapons under federal law.
Hours after the shooting, Mr Biden delivered 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?”
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