UVALDE, Texas — It didn’t go by without notice when an 18-year-old who frequently practiced with his classmates before dropping out of high school posted a photo of two black long guns to his Instagram Story.
The image was startling enough that a freshman at Uvalde High School sent it to his older cousin on Saturday morning and asked who would have let the former student get the guns.
“He’s going to pull something,” replied older cousin Jeremiah Munoz, who was a high school graduate and knew the former student.
The freshman noted that the coming week was the last of the school year and said, in words that would become chilling and prescient, “I’m scared now to go to school.” He added a skull emoji.
The exchange adds to the wealth of evidence that 18-year-old Salvador Ramos had started teasing his plans – sometimes obliquely and sometimes more explicitly – in the days and weeks before he shot 19 children and two teachers in a classroom on Tuesday. .
The freshman was far from the only person worried about turning the guns on the students in the district.
A 15-year-old girl in Germany had a video chat with Mr Ramos as he visited a gun shop, unpacked a box of ammunition he had ordered online and showed a black duffel bag containing magazines and a rifle. One of his colleagues at Wendy’s in Uvalde said the 18-year-old frequently picked on other employees and customers, and they started calling him names, including “shooter school”, in part because of her long hair and dark outfit. A Californian woman he met online said she got scared when he tagged her in a photo of his guns out of the blue, telling her “it’s just scary”.
The exchanges raise questions about whether teenagers who knew the 18-year-old should have reported the concerns to their parents or the authorities, and they could also provide warning signs to the millions of parents and students who are asking now how the next mass shooting can be stopped.
Mass shooting experts call disclosures like the ones played online “leaks” and say they are far more common among young gunmen.
From Opinion: The Texas School Shooting
Times Opinion commentary on the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas.
- Michael Goldberg: As we face another tragedy, the most common feeling is a bitter acknowledgment that nothing is going to change.
- Nicholas Kristof, former Times Opinion columnist: Gun policy is convoluted and politically vexing, and it won’t keep everyone safe. But it could reduce gun deaths.
- Roxanne Gay: For all our cultural obsession with civility, there is nothing more uncivilized than the political establishment’s acceptance of the constancy of mass shootings.
- Jay Caspian Kang: By sharing memes with each new tragedy, we’ve created an increasingly dense museum of unbearable pain with names and photos of the deceased.
“You see a lot more leaks in teenagers who are attacking than in adults,” said J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist in San Diego. He said up to 90% of young bullies might tell someone in advance of their intention to cause harm.
Law enforcement is increasingly trying to identify would-be abusers by focusing more on their behavior and less on their potential motivations or ideologies.
At a press conference on Friday, police revealed even more potential warning signs: the 18-year-old had unsuccessfully asked his sister to buy him a gun in September and then, in March, said to friends in a group message that he was buying one.
Later in March, someone was concerned enough to message him on Instagram asking, “Are you going to shoot a school or something?” to which he replied “no” and “stop asking stupid questions,” according to Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Mr Ramos finally bought two rifles with a debit card earlier this month after turning 18, police said.
People in the shooter’s orbit gave various explanations for why they did not report the concerning behavior.
The 15-year-old girl in Germany, who met the would-be shooter on a social media app called Yubo and then texted and called him for two weeks before the shooting, said he had no not been explicit about his plans until the day of the attack. , when he texted her saying he had shot his grandmother and was about to “shoot an elementary school”.
For days he had said he had “a secret” that he would eventually reveal, according to screenshots shared by the girl, who asked to be identified only by her nickname, Cece. She said that even when he said he was about to attack the primary school, she wasn’t sure if he was serious and only asked a friend to contact the police. after seeing that the shooting had taken place, which she regrets.
Cece said Friday that she has not been questioned by any authority since the shooting.
Several other people who met him online said he sent them disturbing messages.
Kendra Charmaine, a 17-year-old from California, said she first met him on Omegle, a website where people make video calls with strangers, and started following each other on Instagram. Soon he was sending her messages that made her stop responding. “He would respond to my stories with things like ‘I want to kill you’ or ‘I hate you,'” she said.
A study published in 2018 by the FBI found that classmates and teachers were more likely to see warning signs in active shooters under the age of 18 (Uvalde’s shooter turned 18 eight days before the attack). The study also found that when people observed the behavior of a would-be shooter, 41% reported it to the police while 54% did nothing.
The study, which assessed active shooters between 2000 and 2013, found that people who knew the attackers observed behavior concerning their mental health in 62% of cases. In 57% of cases, someone noticed that the would-be abuser was having a troubling interaction with another person, and in 56% of cases, the person disclosed their intent to hurt people in some way .
Other researchers who have examined mass shootings have found that many gunmen targeted their wives and some had histories of violence against women.
Still, experts warn that many people who fit the profile of a mass shooter never carry out an attack, which can make it difficult for acquaintances to determine whether the person is a real threat or not.
Keanna Baxter, 17, a junior from Uvalde High School, which Mr Ramos had attended, said he remained largely to himself but was sometimes aggressive or intimidating towards those around him.
Late last year, she says, Mr. Ramos asked her out. When she refused, she said Mr Ramos had started creating different accounts on Instagram to send her harassing messages such as “I hate you” or “I’m going to hurt you”. Still, Ms Baxter said she was not afraid of Mr Ramos, saying she never expected him to continue the violence, let alone a massacre.
“Yeah, he was aggressive,” Ms Baxter said. “But no one ever thought he was sinister enough to do something like that.”
mike baker, Shaila Dewan and Jazmine Ulloa contributed report.