Biden meet with grieving families after Texas shooting

2022-06-03 23:30:53 By : Ms. Setty Wang

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A tearful President Biden and first lady Jill Biden on Sunday visited the Texas town rocked by last week’s school massacre — but some locals said they fear the visit was little more than a display for the cameras. After Mass at a local church, the president was hit with cries of “Do something!” He replied, “We will.” The presidential motorcade’s first stop was the scene of Tuesday’s slaughter, Robb Elementary School, in Uvalde, where onlookers in the crowd of about 100 cheered them while booing pro-gun-rights Gov. Greg Abbott.  The president wiped away a tear as he and wife Jill spent several solemn minutes walking along the makeshift memorial outside the school, dropping off a bouquet of flowers and stopping to touch the oversized pictures of the 21 victims — 19 fourth-graders and two teachers — at the shrine decorated with crosses, stuffed animals and candles.  

But as the pair left the memorial to attend Mass at nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church, some of the mourners grumbled that the president didn’t stop to address them and shared concerns that the well-publicized visit was all a political show. 

“I thought Biden would care for the people,” said Diana Martinez, 48. “I know he came to pay his respects for the victims, but there’s a lot of people here, and he didn’t even care to come up to us. I thought he was going to tell us, ‘We’re here for Uvalde’ and he’s going to do something about guns.” Uvalde mom Rita Ortiz, 53, added, “Biden’s visit doesn’t mean much to me. It’s political. I don’t believe he cares.” The first couple’s visit to the school came fewer than two weeks after Biden and his wife traveled to Buffalo, NY, where an 18-year-old shooter steeped in racist ideology slaughtered 10 black people at a supermarket.

The shooters in both instances carried AR-15-style military assault weapons. Later, at the church, the first lady reached out and touched the hands of several people seated alongside the aisle as she and the president made their way to a pew in the front. “Our hearts are broken,” Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said at the service, according to White House pool reports.  About 20 minutes into the Mass, children were beckoned to the front of the church, where they sat down and Garcia-Siller addressed them. 

He told them that he had seen their parents cry over the past several days but said the children would help the Uvalde community heal.  “Our response must be one of hope and healing,” he said. “We must move forward together.”

“They passed away, but you are alive and for all of us here. I truly believe you will help us to heal,” he added. “You will remember this day — that you were here to help us touch those who have left us.”

At one point during the service, the archbishop asked the congregation to also pray for the shooter, Salvador Ramos. 

Some congregants responded by hanging their heads — while others simply stared blankly at Garcia-Siller.

Relatives of some of the young victims later stopped to shake hands with the president and first lady after receiving Communion and before returning to their seats.  As the Bidens left the church, the crowd begged the president to “do something” to combat such tragic events.  

“The presence of the Holy Spirit was here today,” said Genesis Huerta, who attended the service with her 11-year-old daughter, after Mass.

The first couple were then whisked off to meet with the families of the victims and also the first responders from the scene that day. Both meetings were expected to happen behind closed doors. The president spoke about the mass killings in Texas and a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo in his address to graduating students Saturday at the University of Delaware.

“Let’s be clear, evil came to that elementary school classroom in Texas and that grocery store in New York,” Biden said. “We cannot outlaw tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer.”

As he spoke in Delaware, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Buffalo to attend the funeral for Ruth Whitfield, 86, one of the 10 people slain at the grocery store May 14. 

In a brief speech at Mt. Olive Baptist Church, the vice president said “enough is enough” as she recounted other recent mass killings across the nation.

“There’s a through line to what happened here in Buffalo, in Texas, in Atlanta, in Orlando, what happened at the synagogues and so this is a moment that requires all good people, all God-loving people, to stand up and say ‘we will not stand for this,'” Harris said. 

Later, talking to reporters, the vice president said assault weapons should be banned.

“You know what an assault weapon is? You know how an assault weapon was designed?” Harris said. “It was designed for a specific purpose – to kill a lot of human beings quickly. An assault weapon is a weapon of war with no place, no place in a civil society.”

The killers in Buffalo and Uvalde were both 18, and each used AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles to carry out their carnage. 

The Bidens arrived on Air Force One in San Antonio around noon local time Sunday and took Marine One to Uvalde. 

They were paying their respects to the shooting victims at the school before attending Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

The Bidens will also meet separately with the families of the victims and the first responders.

Both meetings are expected to happen behind closed doors. 

The Bidens’ visit to Uvalde comes amid outrage over the fact that police waited for more than an hour before confronting school shooter Salvador Ramos, leading to questions about whether a faster response would have saved the lives of some of the students.

As officers waited in the school’s hallway, multiple students inside the locked classroom with the killer called 911 pleading for help.

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The tragedy at Uvalde has also rekindled the debate over gun-control measures and whether assault weapons such as those used by Ramos and Payton Gendron in Buffalo should be banned, as they were between 1994 and 2004. 

Senators are expected to vote next month on two bills already passed by the House that would expand background checks for would-be gun buyers. Lawmakers have been trying to hammer out a compromise. 

Biden, speaking at the White House on the evening of the Texas shooting, called for new gun laws.

“We can’t and won’t prevent every tragedy, but we know [gun laws] work and have a positive impact. When we passed the Assault Weapons Ban [in 1994], mass shootings went down. When the law expired [in 2004], mass shootings tripled,” Biden said.

“The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons, it’s just wrong. What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone? Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake,” he said.