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By Robert T. Garrett | The Dallas Morning News (TNS)
AUSTIN — An emotional Gov. Greg Abbott was interrupted by an equally emotional Beto O’Rourke as the Republican governor and other state officials sought Wednesday to discuss a school shooting in Uvalde a day earlier.
O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic rival in this year’s governor’s race, stepped forward to a lectern at Uvalde High School as Abbott was about to hand off the mic to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
O’Rourke warned another mass slaying would happen. That’s because Texas officials have done nothing of substance on gun safety, he said.
“You’re doing nothing. … This is totally predictable,” O’Rourke said.
The former congressman and presidential candidate mentioned a gun massacre in his hometown of El Paso in August 2019, when a far-right gunman who’d warned in social media posts of an “invasion” by Mexican immigrants drove from North Texas and killed 23 people and injured 23 others at a Walmart.
On Tuesday, an 18-year-old gunman barricaded himself in a fourth grade classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Abbott said he had only one weapon, an AR-15, with which he fatally shot 19 children and two teachers. It was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. school since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
O’Rourke, who Abbott has warned would confiscate Texans’ assault rifles, made a dramatic appearance that lasted little more than a minute — and ruffled feathers.
“Sir, you’re out of line,” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin shouted at O’Rourke. “I can’t believe you’re a sick son of a bitch who would come to a deal like this to make a political issue.”
Abbott swiftly recovered the mic from Patrick and chided O’Rourke, who by then had left the room as a law enforcement officer walked behind him.
“There are family members who are crying as we speak,” Abbott said. Shouting won’t help, the two-term governor said.
His voice rising, Abbott added, “Put aside personal agendas, think of somebody other than ourselves.”
Moments later, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said, “Now is not the time to politicize pain and suffering.”
Outside the high school, O’Rourke was unrepentant.
“Now is the time to stop the next shooting,” he told NBC News. “Right after Santa Fe High School was the time to stop the next shooting. Right after El Paso was the time to stop the next shooting. Right after Midland-Odessa was the time to stop the next shooting. And in each case, we say this isn’t the time. Now is the time — like literally right now. That’s why I’m here.”
O’Rourke, who said he fears for the safety of his own three children, insisted most Texans share his views.
“The majority of Texas is not reflected by that governor, or those people around the table who talked about mental health care, and who will say that this is pure evil — when it was absolutely predictable,” he said.
At the news conference, Abbott called alleged gunman Salvador Ramos “a demented person.” Ramos is a high school dropout with no known criminal or mental health history, Abbott said.
At about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Ramos announced on Facebook that he was going to shoot his grandmother, said Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
According to Abbott, Ramos then shot in the face his grandmother, believed to be 66-year-old Celia Martinez, who was said to be in serious condition.
Ramos posted a second Facebook message about that and then, less than 15 minutes before the shootings at Robb Elementary began, posted a third, the governor said.
“I’m going to shoot an elementary school,” the gunman said, Abbott recounted.
Abbott pleaded with Uvalde residents to seek psychological counseling if they feel overwhelmed.
McLaughlin and Uvalde school officials spoke to him beforehand of the emotional toll borne by citizens, and especially young people, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a problem with mental health illness in this community,” the Uvalde leaders said, Abbott recalled.
The governor was joined by five fellow Republican officeholders and one Democrat: Patrick, Phelan, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, San Antonio GOP U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales and Uvalde Democratic state Rep. Tracy King.
McCraw, state Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez, Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo and other local officials also attended, and several of them spoke.
Early Wednesday, Abbott initially planned to hold the news conference at the Willie de Leon Civic Center, where some local residents gathered Tuesday night.
“To allow grieving families and teachers the space to receive counseling and support services to begin healing” at the the Uvalde civic center, Abbott’s office later changed the location to a nearby school.
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