The armed young man was introverted, fond of video games and had diction problems
If what Salvador Romero was looking for in his race to hell was to attract attention, he got it. Half the country scrutinized his photo this Wednesday in search of some clue that would allow them to understand the senseless carnage that he perpetrated on Tuesday at the Robb elementary school in Uvalde (Texas), but they found the same as those who knew him: an introverted teenager and antisocial, speech-impaired, often ridiculed, and always taking refuge in video games.
Last week he turned 18, which allowed him to legally acquire the two rifles, seven high-capacity magazines and 375 rounds of ammunition that he was soon using.
Most of the 19 children he killed Tuesday were in the same fourth-grade class, a classroom he barricaded himself in for 45 minutes. His child victims ranged from eight to ten years old, including ten-year-old Xavier Lopez, one of the first to be identified. He liked to play soccer and eat hamburgers. His mother had been with him that morning at school for the graduation ceremony, not imagining that it would be the last time she would see him. His cousin, Annabel Guadalupe Rodríguez, also shot dead, was in the same class. His family had suffered several losses due to Covid, “and now that things were starting to happen, this is coming,” his father sighed in dismay. The teacher Eva Mireles died hugging her students trying to protect them. “You’re a hero, mom, but this doesn’t seem real,” her daughter cried that night in a letter she made public. “I just want to hear your voice when you wake me up in the morning, tease you while you nap, and fight over any silly thing and then laugh about it together. I want it all. I want you back”.
The young man who had stolen her forever had started with his own 66-year-old grandmother, who took him in whenever he argued with his mother, which apparently happened often. Her friends heard her yelling at him from behind her as they competed with him in video games. She lectured him for not going to school, for spending his life in front of the console, for not doing anything useful. Perhaps that is why she had been seen working in a Wendy’s hamburger establishment, where, according to the owner, she was not like the others. «My people talk, laugh, play jokes, do you understand? He didn’t, he was always on his own.”
Lately, he spent almost all his time with his grandmother, his friends said, with whom the relationship must not have been very good either, judging by the result. On Tuesday at 11:30 in the morning, the neighbors heard shots and, looking out into the street, they saw him shoot out of an acceleration in a pick-up truck delivering shots. The woman was dying, but she still survived until 5 in the afternoon, longer than him.
It was clear to him where he was going, as if he had thought about it: a primary school close to the institute in which he was enrolled, for which he was seen less and less. It was the last day of the school year, but no one imagined that it would also be the last day of his life. Alfred Garza learned from his wife at lunch that he had not been able to pick up the girl from school. There had been a shooting and the doors were sealed, he told her. He rushed over there and sat on the sidewalk all day, waiting to pick up Amerie Joe, a “lively” 10-year-old girl who “talked to everyone” and “was always cracking jokes,” he told the New York Times and NPR.
“At first they said that there had been shots but that no one had been injured. Then there were some wounded.” And little by little the atmosphere became more gloomy and more tense, with darker omens. Still, when her family was ushered into a room at the Civic Center to be told that her little girl was among the victims, she couldn’t believe it.
Romero had arrived dealing death left and right. He ran the truck into a ditch and when workers from a nearby funeral home came to help him, he fired back at them. He then got off and calmly walked into the school. By the time he entered the classroom where he would take cover, the police were hot on his heels and had cordoned off the building.
It was lunchtime, some children were eating in the cafeteria when the bullets shattered the windows. The employees turned off the lights, closed the door and ordered stealth. Screams echoed through the halls. Some had tried to jump out of windows, others to hide in cupboards. The grandchildren of Reverend Marcela Cabralez, 9 years old, hid in the toilets and came out alive.
It is not yet known what happened inside the cursed classroom, because no one came out alive. Police gunned down the teenager, calling it “devilish,” to make sure the carnage didn’t escalate. Outside, terrified children came out bleeding, some fainted and others with epileptic seizures. Refugees at the Hillcress Memorial Funeral Home, which this Wednesday offered its services free of charge, Reverend Cabralez tried to comfort them. For whom she had no consolation was for those who did not see their children leaving anywhere. They put their photos on social networks, they looked for them in the hospital, nobody said anything to them, they would have to be somewhere. And, in the end, at the Civic Center, after asking for photos and all kinds of directions, they were informed of what no one wanted to hear.
They haven’t even handed over their bodies. Robb High School is a major crime scene in a tiny, rural town of 16,000 people, where almost 80% are of Hispanic origin and everyone knows each other. Kind and folksy people, say the Texans, hard workers who were looking for a better life for their children and today have risen up without them. Why? So that? That is what the whole country is wondering, once faced with the task of making sense of these deaths, putting a stop to the carnage of weapons. “In God’s name, when are we going to be able to take on the gun lobbies?” President Joe Biden complained in frustration. That is the question. It is the moment of truth again.
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