US President Joe Biden has sought to comfort families in the Texas town of Uvalde following the country’s deadliest school shooting in a decade as federal officials announced they would review law enforcement’s slow response.
Fury has mounted over the decision by law enforcement agencies in Uvalde to allow the shooter to remain in a classroom for nearly an hour while officers waited in the hallway and children inside the room made panicked 911 calls for help.
The president and first lady Jill Biden wiped away tears as they visited memorials at the Robb Elementary School where the gunman killed 19 students and two teachers, laying white roses at the school’s sign.
At the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, all the pews were filled as the Bidens attended mass.
The Bidens will meet with victims’ families, survivors and first responders.
Police say the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, entered the school on Tuesday with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle after earlier killing his grandmother.
Official accounts of how police responded to the shooting have flip-flopped wildly.
The US Department of Justice on Sunday said it would review local law enforcement response at the request of Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin.
Julian Moreno, a former pastor at Primera Iglesia Bautista and great-grandfather of one of the girls killed, said police made a huge error but that he felt “sorry for them because they have to live with that mistake of just standing by”.
The Uvalde shooting has once again put gun control at the top of the agenda in the US, months ahead of the November midterm elections, with supporters of stronger gun laws arguing that the latest bloodshed represents a tipping point.
Biden, a Democrat, has repeatedly called for major reforms to the country’s gun laws but has been powerless to stop mass shootings or convince Republicans that stricter controls could stem the carnage.
The Texas visit is Biden’s third presidential trip to a mass shooting site, including earlier this month when he visited Buffalo, New York, after a gunman killed 10 Black people in a Saturday afternoon attack at a grocery store.
Biden was accompanied on Sunday by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who opposes new gun restrictions, and other local officials.
“We need help, Governor Abbott,” some in the crowd yelled as Biden arrived at the school.
Others shouted: “Shame on you, Abbott.”
White House aides and close allies say Biden is unlikely to wade into specific policy proposals or take executive action on firearms to avoid disrupting delicate negotiations in the divided Senate.
Democrats in the Senate also dialled down the rhetoric as negotiations continued during the chamber’s Memorial Day holiday recess this week.
“We’ve got to be realistic about what we can achieve,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin told CNN on Sunday.
Durbin’s fellow Democrats narrowly control the 50-50 split Senate but need 60 votes to pass most legislation.
Vice President Kamala Harris called for a ban on assault-style rifles during a trip to Buffalo on Saturday, calling such firearms “a weapon of war”.
Leading Republicans like US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, former president Donald Trump and Abbott have rejected calls for new gun control measures and instead suggested investing in mental health care or tightening school security.
Ramos, a high school dropout, had no criminal record and no history of mental illness but had posted threatening messages on social media.