UVALDE, USA (AFP) – Bullied at school, difficulties at home, a history of self-harm: the young man who gunned down 19 small children in Texas had a troubled background mirroring that of past school shooters.
Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old who died when police tried to arrest him, was a US citizen and a student in Uvalde, a small community near the Mexican border where the tragedy took place.
His since-removed Instagram account featured photos of a young man with shoulder-length hair, his eyes closed. The account also included images of two assault rifles and a plastic gun magazine.
A day after the deadly attack at Robb Elementary — which also left two teachers dead — a picture is beginning to emerge of the man who allegedly moved through the school, shooting children as he went, before barricading himself in a classroom for his final assault.
Ramos’s cousin Mia told The Washington Post that he was mocked for a speech impediment in middle school, and would tell his grandmother that he wanted to stop attending class.
Stephen Garcia, a former friend of Ramos, confirmed that bullying was a problem. “He would get bullied hard, like bullied by a lot of people,” Garcia told the Post.
There were also problems between Ramos and his mother, which were bad enough that police were called, and he had a history of harming himself, once showing up to a park with self-inflicted cuts on his face, US media reported.
Bullying and mental health problems have been common denominators in the tragically frequent deadly US school shootings that leave students fearing for their safety and parents wondering if their children will make it home from class.
More than 20 years ago, two teenagers who had been bullied by other students went on a rampage at their local high school in Columbine, Colorado. They killed 13 people and themselves.
That attack helped inspire shootings by a mentally troubled student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 2007 that killed 32 people. The gunman — who also killed himself — had referred to the Columbine shooters as “martyrs” in a video before the attack.
Mental health issues also plagued the man who killed 20 children in Newton, Connecticut in 2012, as well as a student who was expelled for disciplinary reasons and later killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida in 2018.
The first victim of the attack carried out by Ramos was his grandmother, said Erick Estrada of the Texas Department of Public Safety, adding she was later airlifted to a medical facility.
A 66-year-old woman was admitted to a hospital in San Antonio in critical condition following the shooting, according to healthcare officials, who did not provide any further details.
After firing at his grandmother, Ramos fled the scene in a car wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with a rifle, Estrada said.
He then crashed near a ditch outside Robb Elementary School, got out, and headed for the school, where law enforcement officers tried, but failed, to stop him. At around 11:30 am local time (1630 GMT) Ramos burst into the school and opened fire.
Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde School District Police Chief in charge of the investigation, said Ramos acted alone.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said investigators are still trying to piece together details about the shooter.
They are working to obtain “detailed background information on the subject, his motive, the types of weapons used, the legal authority to possess them, and conduct a comprehensive crime-scene investigation and reconstruction,” he said.
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