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The Situation Room
Texas Governor Says, 15 Dead In Elementary School Shooting; White House Flags Lowered To Half-Staff After Deadly Texas School Shooting; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) Delivers Emotional Plea For Action On Senate Floor Following Deadly Shooting At Texas Elementary School. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 24, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Mike Quigley of Illinois, thank you so much for your time and thanks for your patience as well, sir, as we've been working through this important breaking news coverage.
Our breaking news coverage is going to continue now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will see you in a few minutes to talk about the elections this evening. Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, an almost unspeakable tragedy in Texas as another gunman turns another place for young people to learn into another uniquely American nightmare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): He shot and killed horrifically, incomprehensibly, 14 students and killed a teacher.
There are families who are in mourning right now and the state of Texas is in mourning with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: 15 lives taken, so many more lives, so many families shattered forever. We'll have extensive live reporting and a perspective on perhaps the saddest fact of modern American life.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin sadly with yet another mass shooting here in the United States, this time at Robb Elementary School, elementary school, in Uvalde, Texas.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Dallas. He's got the latest information for us. What are authorities, Ed, saying about how this happened? What's the latest information we have?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a horrific day in Uvalde, Texas, and across this country as once again we are reeling from this horrific news as the governor of Texas announced just a short while ago 14 of the 15 victims shot at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, today were children.
The top security officer for the school district there in Uvalde says at the school it was second, third, and fourth graders that were in that building. So, that gives you a sense of the age ranges that we will be looking at as we learn the identities of these young children in the coming days. And one adult was killed as well.
Many of these victims were rushed to area hospitals, one there in Uvalde, another one in San Antonio. The governor of Texas says that around noon this afternoon, a lone gunman, an 18-year-old from Uvalde, walked into the school, drove up, abandoned his vehicle, walked into the school with a handgun and possibly a rifle. It is not clear exactly what kind of weaponry was used at this point, but clearly enough to inflict horrific damage on the members of that school community there.
We are still trying to unravel what the motive might have been in this situation, but for the thousands of people who live in Uvalde, motive doesn't matter at this point because this is a community grieving. Uvalde is a small community. The entire county has, I believe, about 25,000 people or so. It's about 80 miles west of San Antonio. It is a largely Latino community that lives there, not too far from the U.S.- Mexico border as well. Just a little bit of color to kind of get you a sense of what this community is like.
And it is a horrific situation as the school officials, local law enforcement continue to work the scene. The governor also said that a number of police officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect. The suspect in the 18-year-old is also dead as well.
Customs and Border Protection -- remember, federal law enforcement agencies are very prevalent in this part of Texas because of the work they do on the border. A Customs and Border Protection agent was one of the first officers to arrive there at the scene. We are told that one of those agents suffered a gunshot wound to the head. It did not penetrate. That agent is expected to survive, as well as another law enforcement officer that was wounded as well.
So, those are the other types of storylines that we are monitoring here this afternoon as well, Wolf. But again, the horrific headline emerging from South Texas today, 14 children killed at Robb Elementary and also one adult, the gunman who, we are told, acted alone is also dead. Wolf?
BLITZER: Do we have any information about the shooter and his supposed motive for killing these 14 elementary school kids and an elementary school teacher there?
LAVANDERA: Well, we know it's an 18-year-old from Uvalde.
The governor has released -- has given a name. We're doing some more work on that before we go down the road of reporting that out. But we're trying to get and square away more information. So, we're more confident in the reporting on that. But an 18-year-old from Uvalde, we are told, is the gunman who acted alone in this case.
BLITZER: You mentioned these were second, third and fourth graders. That's roughly seven to ten-year-old kids. Is that right?
LAVANDERA: Yes. The top security officer there for the school district said that at the school, it is comprised of second, third, and fourth graders. So, yes, you do the breakdown of the ages for kids generally in that grade level, and those are exactly the kind of horrific scenes that we're going to be learning about. And as we learn the names and see the faces of these young children in the coming days, if family members are willing to share that with us, this is clearly very reminiscent of what we saw in Sandy Hook.
And, Wolf, one of the things that I think really stands out to me is just a few hours ago school officials were urging family members to go not to the school but to a nearby civic center, and that is where they would be reunified with their children who were there at the school. We've seen video of buses full of school children, those that survived the attack, being taken to the civic center.
And if you recall what happened at Sandy Hook, it was those moments where the parents there at the public building, where they were told and reunited with their family members. And at the end of the afternoon, it was the family members who had lost children who were there left alone. And I remember the reporting from those days is that you could hear the yelling and screaming of the anguished parents who were there. I would imagine that scenes like this right now are playing out in the town of Uvalde as well. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. You can only imagine. It's so heartbreaking to even think of parents going to this location to try to find their kids and being told their kids aren't there and then they discover their kids have been murdered for no reason at all. This is so, so heartbreaking and such a terrible situation that's unfolding in Uvalde, Texas, right now.
Ed, I want you to stay with us. We're going to get back to you. I know you're working your sources. You're getting all the latest information. We'll check back with you throughout this hour.
Right now, the flags are already flying at half staff over at the White House. President Biden is flying home from the Far East right now. He's expected to address the nation later tonight once he lands in Washington.
CNN's Phil Mattingly is joining us right now. Phil, what's the latest on how President Biden and the White House are reacting to this mass killing?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you noted, the president is aboard Air Force One on his way back from Tokyo, Japan. And keep in mind just two days before he left for his two-country swing through Asia, he was in Buffalo mourning the loss, the murder of ten people due to gun violence, making clear that it was something that was a significant problem, that things needed to be done. He's now returning from a trip, and he will be addressing the same exact issues.
Obviously, circumstances different, motives different as well. But president has been briefed aboard Air Force One. He will continue to receive briefings on his way home over the course of the next hour or so. And upon landing, shortly thereafter, he will address the nation related to this shooting that left 14 children dead as well as a teacher. At 8:15 P.M. in the Roosevelt Room, a pretty high-profile primetime address, and just echoing some of the things Ed was talking about.
This harkens back or has echoes to the murders in Sandy Hook. President Biden was then Vice President Biden. He's often referred to that day as one of the worst, if not, the worst of the eight years he and President Obama were in office. He was also President Obama's point person on efforts to take legislative action in response to that shooting, efforts that fell short. He mentions those efforts often.
Obviously, he's attempted to move through gun restrictions that have been blocked by Senate Republicans over the course of his time in office. It is likely he will make a new push for those. White House officials still making clear they're still waiting for more details, more information about what's transpired.
But there's no question about it, as the president commemorated or tried to remember the ninth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings just a couple of months ago, he said we need more than prayers, we owe these families action, something you will likely hear him echo again tonight as the White House and the president continue to get more information about this horrific shooting down in Texas, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. They keep talking about what they call common sense gun control, but it fails repeatedly. You can't get that legislation through the House or the Senate, and that's so frustrating, especially to the president, right?
MATTINGLY: Yes, there's no question about it. There are few issues that bring a more emotional response from President Biden than the issues of gun violence, particularly mass shootings, and I think unquestionably shootings as it relates to children.
It's so horrific, it's so unfathomable, and yet it is so the exact opposite when you look at what's happened in this country over the course of the last several years, from Sandy Hook to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, obviously, once again today. You saw Senator Chris Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat, who's worked so much on this issue, on the Senate floor just an hour ago saying, what are we doing? What are we doing here?
And while there's no clear answer as to the motive yet or how this all happened, there does seem to be kind of a shaken response that this is once again happening and there has been no legislative response. Whether there will be one is still an open question.
I will say, Wolf, the president immediately returning from a foreign trip and giving a primetime address from the Roosevelt Room underscores he wants to shine a spotlight on what happened, make clear the horrors of what occurred. And I think that will be reflected in his remarks in terms of what happens next. I think it's an open question.
One thing we do know, if past is precedent, legislatively, not a lot. But it will be interesting. Officials that I've spoken to here say they need to find out more about what happened before they go down that pathway. But the president has been unequivocal about the need to do something legislatively. What that is, obviously, is an open question given how little has been done legislatively in the wake of so many of these events in the past.
BLITZER: Yes, 14 elementary school kids, little kids, second, third, fourth graders, simply shot down for no reason at all at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. One schoolteacher shot and killed as well.
Phil Mattingly, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much.
For more now on the federal response to what's going on, I want to go to CNN's Evan Perez, who's joining us. Evan, what more is the federal government saying at this hour about this horrible, horrible mass murder and the response by law enforcement?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Well, one of the focuses of the law enforcement response there is to figure out the motive of why this happened. We know that immediately after the call for help from the elementary school there in Uvalde that Customs and Border Protection agents were nearby. Obviously, the location of this town, this is an area where CBP is the largest federal law enforcement in the area.
So, according to our reporting from Priscilla Alvarez, CBP agents were able to get there. One agent in particular was struck in the head. He is going to be okay. It appears that he might have been wearing some kind of protection. But he was engaging with the gunman when he arrived there at the school. That gives you a sense, Wolf, that this was going on certainly for a little while. The number of people killed, obviously, gives us a sense that this was going on for a little while. But it appears the federal response was quite rapid, quite immediate, and a CBP officer was injured in the shooting.
We learned also from Texas Governor Abbott that there were at least two officers who were injured as part of the response of this, Wolf. And we believe, according to the local officials there, that the shooter was killed by law enforcement. They were the ones that killed him, and that's how this scene ended. Wolf?
BLITZER: As you note, Evan, U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel, they now have responded to the scene of this shooting. What more are you learning about that and about other federal law enforcement who may already be on the scene, FBI, ATF and others?
PEREZ: Right, exactly. And the FBI and the ATF have now arrived. Again, because of the location of Uvalde close to the Mexican border, the presence of CBP is -- they're the largest federal law enforcement in that area. This is a small town. Again, it's close to the Mexican border.
But now we know that the FBI resources have now arrived. They're going to be helping to lead this investigation to figure out what happened, why this shooter went to the school. He is obviously 18 years old. These were second, third, and fourth graders, according to the local officials. So, we don't know what relationship he had with the school, whether there's a relative there, whether there was somebody there that he was trying to go after. Again, those are the things that are top of mind for the investigators as they try to figure out what happened here and how this came to be.
Another thing that the ATF is doing, Wolf, is they're trying to trace the firearm that was recovered there. We know from the governor that there was at least a handgun and a rifle that he was -- that he carried there to the scene. The question is where did that come from, how soon did he come in possession of those firearms, did anyone else help him get those firearms? Those are the big questions that the ATF and the FBI are now trying to answer, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, there are multiple federal law enforcement authorities now on the ground.
They're trying to figure out exactly what happened. Any other information that you're getting, Evan, you want to share with our viewers right now? I know that we anticipate there will be some news briefings coming up presumably this hour in Texas and maybe in Washington. We'll, of course, have live coverage of all of that if, in fact, that occurs. But what else are you learning?
PEREZ: Well, Wolf, it was immediate. After this shooting, it became clear that this was going to be certainly one of the worst ones, and obviously, unfortunately, we have these incidents here way too often in this country. And we were sitting at the Justice Department for an unrelated press conference when the attorney general was briefed by the FBI that there was going to be a mass casualty event, that this was going to be a large number of deaths and certainly number of victims that were -- that resulted here from this shooting.
So, we knew that they were trying to get those resources there as soon as possible. We know that the FBI is working a couple of different scenes there now, Wolf. They're trying to figure out, again, the order of things. Was there something that precipitate precipitated this shooter to go to that scene? What we know is that he simply drove up to the scene and then entered the school and started shooting.
We don't know exactly why he went there. Did he attend this school? According to local officials, he attended a high school in the town of Uvalde. Did he attend this elementary school? Was there something there that happened in the past that prompted him to go there? Those are the things that the FBI is working on now.
They're also trying to go through his social media background to see whether there was any indication ahead of time that he was about to do this. Did he have pictures of his firearms, his arsenal, whatever he has -- he had there with him? We know that they've recovered at least two firearms. But those are the things now that the investigators are trying to figure out, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Evan, I know you're working your sources over there. We'll get back to you. Stand by. Evan Perez report from the Justice Department.
Let's continue our conversation right now. Joining us now, CNN National Security Analyst, former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem. Also with us, CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Juliette, 14 young kids, second graders, third graders, fourth graders, one elementary school teacher murdered, killed. It's horrifying. It's hard to believe. But this is happening all too often in our country right now. What are your initial thoughts of what we know so far?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. So, I mean, obviously, the horror, and I think this is still ongoing. Families are being notified. You talk about his motive, rightfully so, why did he choose this school, talk about gun control in the future, but to put yourself in the moment that some of these families are going through. And they know at this stage if they haven't been unified with their children what is likely to unfold.
I think about this particular community, it's a predominantly Hispanic community with a large immigration population. They might be more skeptical of law enforcement than other communities. So, we need to ensure that they feel comfortable coming forward.
I think about the president ironically coming back from trying to assert U.S. dominance or U.S. sanity over a world that seems to be insane. And he can't even get back into the country without him having to address something that the rest of the world views as utterly insane. I can't describe this enough. They just don't get it. And we are a country that's willing to play defense with our children. You know, let's go on offense, whatever the solution is.
But I think about him landing and after presenting American dominance, or American will being on the right side of where the world is right now and can't even get home in time before the next mass shooting.
BLITZER: You think of these 14 kids and one elementary school teacher murdered for no reason whatsoever. Think of the mothers and the fathers, the grandparents, the friends, the family who now have to deal with this horrific, horrific situation. And you're absolutely right. Whenever I travel around the world, I do a lot of traveling around the world, people are always saying to me, why is it so easy in the United States of America for crazy people to go out there and buy these kinds of weapons? And I know there's a serious discussion in this country every time a mass murder like this occurs, but rarely if ever does anything significant occur. Let me bring Andrew in to pick up that point right there. We don't know a lot right now, but from a law enforcement perspective, Andrew, you're the former FBI deputy director, what's your reaction to this tragic shooting and the details we're learning?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT: Well, Wolf, my reaction is the same as yours. My heart goes out to the families who have been victimized by this tragedy as well as the tragedies that we've experienced in other places and mass shootings we've experienced other places.
And as a law enforcement, former law enforcement officer, it's just confounding frustration that we have to endure this. We've become so good, our people have become so good at responding to these horrific events at conducting the sort of detailed forensic investigation at these horrible crime scenes that I'm sure this is going on right now in Uvalde. The FBI would expect is participating in that effort. They're well practiced.
This is an area covered by the FBI field office in San Antonio. They responded to the Sutherland Springs shooting, another tragic shooting. They responded -- they've done this many times before. So, those men and women have had this horrible experience so often that they're actually -- they know how to do this well. It's just incredibly frustrating.
As a law enforcement officer I carried a gun for 21 years. I've been a gun owner my entire adult life. I understand and respect the Second Amendment and the importance of that. But the Second Amendment doesn't guarantee Americans absolutely unfettered access to weapons. All constitutional rights come with some limitations. The Supreme Court has recognized this many times.
We do have gun control laws in this country. They just don't work. We're not doing it well because we consistently have people who shouldn't have weapons, young people, people who have issues with mental health and mental illness. And oftentimes they show up at scenes like this and wreak unspeakable violence. So, clearly, we're not doing that well.
BLITZER: Yes. Clearly, something is very, very wrong in this country right now that people who shouldn't be able to have these kinds of weapons can get these weapons and go out to an elementary school and start killing these kids for no reason whatsoever.
Juliette, authorities, and it's still early, we're waiting for some news conferences, but they say the shooter, at least based on what we know so far, acted alone. What do you think law enforcement officials are piecing together right now? They're obviously working every source that they have, every indication that they have.
KAYYEM: So, when they say he's acting alone, I mean, there's no evidence of a conspiracy for this specific violence. He chose this school, he walks in, and to make it clear to viewers when you're talking about elementary school children and in particular elementary schools, which tend to not be as fortified as high school, once he chose that elementary school, there's really not much -- there's literally almost nothing you can do to protect these kids at that stage, whether he had a handgun or we don't know yet, or a rifle.
And so the investigation now that they know who it is, it just begins to sound familiar. We've been here before. They're going to figure out what his circles of relationships are, if any family members knew. There are some news reports about who his family is and whether there was violence towards them. We'll wait to confirm that. So, was this a family thing that triggered then him going to a random elementary school, and then, of course, his friends or his network as we say online.
We don't know motive at this stage and we'll be careful on that. I mean, we certainly know the school he chose. And we don't know was this something -- what was this that triggered, why today, why that school. And this will -- once again, we've been here before. We know exactly what this looks like. I can promise you in the next 24 or 48 hours, we will learn that the family was concerned about him, that maybe he had some interaction with law enforcement, that the gun was obtained possibly lawfully, but maybe a family member gave it to him.
I mean, these stories, they become familiar and we act surprised by them, that this is new. And it won't be new. I can guarantee you that's how this will unfold. And yet we'll continue to play defense to this kind of onslaught because we've chosen to in many ways.
BLITZER: Andrew, according to Texas Governor Abbott, the shooter abandoned his vehicle over at the school, entered the school. What does that tell you?
MCCABE: Well, again, to echo Juliette's comments, it all starts to sound very familiar. It's not -- it sounds a lot like what we talked about a week ago in Buffalo. So, we had a shooter who traveled several hours to a grocery store that he had targeted because of its largely frequented by the local population of black people in that part of Buffalo. And so we start to -- you know, it's hard to avoid making assumptions about why this 18-year-old targeted this school. So, we need to wait until we get a little bit more indication from the investigation as to what they're uncovering.
But the fact that he was able to drive right up to an elementary school in Texas and expose these young children, these students, to his violent wrath, to the guns he had in his possession at that time, it shouldn't really surprise anyone. There are elementary schools all around my neighborhood. You could drive up to any one of them and with very little effort to be interacting with students. It is literally impossible in this country to turn every elementary school into some sort of impenetrable citadel.
And, really, is that where we want our young children going to school, you know, in schools that begin to resemble prisons instead of open educational -- safe educational environments? So, we've got to really do some hard thinking. I heard the comments of the Texas attorney general the other day -- or just earlier, a few hours ago, commenting on how he thinks one of the solutions may be to arm more people, to have more guns out there in the population so that some people can protect other people from gun violence.
I should say that the FBI's report, which just came out a day or so ago on mass shootings in 2021, which, interestingly enough, 2021 showed a 52.5 percent increase in mass shootings over 2020, which was a 33 percent increase over the year before that. In any case, there were 61 mass shootings in 2021, including 243 victims. And in those 61 events only four, only four included a citizen engaging with and stopping the shooter.
So, if the attorney general in Texas is satisfied with a 1 out of 15 chance that this heavily armed public can be counted upon to stop mass shootings, you know, the record would prove him wrong, I would say at this point.
BLITZER: You know, Andrew, when I drive around Washington, D.C. or suburban Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. or suburban Virginia, Northern Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. and I drive by a school nowadays, not always but I often see a police car outside the school, is that what this country, what we're coming to, that we're going to see police outside of elementary schools, middle schools, high schools routinely?
MCCABE: I think we're there, Wolf. I think that's become a common response of school districts around the country in an effort to do something, and you can't blame them for that. But I would point to the last mass shooting in Buffalo, where you had an armed guard inside the grocery store who engaged with the subject and was killed. So, the simple presence of a law enforcement officer or some sort of security officer at a school is no guarantee that you're going to be in the right place at the right time to stop any students from getting killed first.
BLITZER: Andrew McCabe, stand by. Juliette Kayyem, stand by as well. We'll continue checking in with both of you throughout this special hour.
We'll also be joined by a U.S. congressman from the area as our special coverage of one of the worst school shootings here in the United States in recent memory very sadly continues. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Right now, flags flying at half staff this evening over at the White House. The president of the United States expected to address the nation later tonight across Texas, indeed across all of the United States. Right now, there is shock, sadness and even sadder still, a sense of deja vu. Just a short time ago Connecticut's Democratic Senator Chris Murphy spoke out passionately about this shooting that has already taken 15 lives, 14 of them young kids, in Uvalde, Texas. As you know, the senator represents the Sandy Hook area in Connecticut, which he mentioned in his remarks. Listen to Senator Murphy.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): The 14 kids dead in an elementary school in Texas right now. What are we doing? What are we doing? Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African-American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. What are we doing?
There are more mass shootings than days in the year.
Our kids are living in fear. Every single time they set foot in a classroom because they think they're going to be next.
What are we doing? Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is that, as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing?
What are we doing? Why are you here, if not to solve a problem as existential as this? This isn't inevitable. These kids weren't unlucky. This only happens in this country and nowhere else.
Nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking that they might be shot that day. Nowhere else do parents have to talk to their kids, as I have had to do, about why they got locked into a bathroom and told to be quiet for five minutes just in case a bad man entered that building. Nowhere else does that happen except here in the United States of America. And it is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue.
What are we doing?
BLITZER: The answer is not much, if anything at all. Very powerful words from Senator Chris Murphy on the Senate floor just a little while ago.
Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas is joining us right now. His district is just east of where this horrible mass murder, this shooting took place. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. I wish we were meeting under different circumstances right now.
What's your reaction to this horrific shooting in Texas not far from where your district is?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Hi. I think like every other American who's seen the news, just absolutely heartbroken. And my wife and I had our third child about three weeks ago, and we have an eight-year- old daughter and a six-year-old son, and I've been back home a lot. So, I've been taking them to school, dropping them off to school every morning. And when I saw the news, I thought about how these parents that dropped their kids off at school, elementary school in the morning, were not going to be able to see them again. That was the last time they saw their kids.
And, you know, I think when these things happen, and they're happening over and over and over again, people first wonder, you know, what possesses somebody to go do that, to go gun down 15 people. And people also wonder after that, what in the world are we doing that we have, as a society, enabled people to kill 15 people in a matter of seconds?
And you're right. And I think Chris is right. Chris Murphy's right. The Congress hasn't done enough. Many of us have tried. The state legislature in Texas, the governor in particular, I think, has made it worse in Texas, has made it more dangerous in Texas.
You know, Uvalde is a small, tight-knit community west of me. I've gone there to practice law. I've met many people, mostly because of politics, from there. And it just -- it shocks the conscience, especially when it's kids.
You know, and people often talk about how Texans are big on gun rights and protecting themselves, and I think most Texans, when they think about guns and they think Americans, you think about owning a gun and keeping it at your home because you want to have it in case somebody breaks into your house at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and you want to protect yourself or your family, or people go hunting and so they have guns.
You know, but most people don't want mentally unstable people or people who are full of hate and have left clues all over social media that they're going to take action, most people don't want those people to be in possession of weapons that can kill, you know, 20 people or wound 20 people before people have a chance to turn around.
And so I know that the attorney general has said that the answer is just to put more law enforcement officers in the schools. And we're grateful for what law enforcement officers do there. But there was a law enforcement officer in Buffalo who actually shot at the killer, and we believe hit him, and then was killed himself. So, that by itself is not the answer. You've got to be able to change our gun laws to make this less likely.
BLITZER: Because Senator Murphy says this happens sadly all too frequently here in the United States of America.
It doesn't happen in other countries around the world. And when he asks the question, which is a legitimate question, what are we doing, he's referring to members of the House and the Senate.
What are you doing, Congressman, to deal with this horrendous, awful issue? My heart goes out to the mothers and fathers, the friends, the family, the grandparents of these young kids who were murdered for no reason whatsoever. There could be no motive in going to an elementary school and just killing these kids.
CASTRO: Well, I mean, you know, Wolf, in times like this, especially right after this murder, this mass murder, there is a -- you feel bad even as a politician, you feel bad talking about politics or starting to point the finger at people, right, because people are mourning and people are grieving.
But, look, you asked the question. Many of us have tried to pass laws that would make it harder for this to happen. It doesn't mean that it would never happen or that it would be impossible for it to happen, but it would make it harder for it to happen, whether it's background checks or making sure people who are mentally unstable can't get these weapons, you know, taking weapons of war off the streets. All of these things have been tried, have been attempted by the Congress over the last several years.
But you have politicians, Republican politicians, who have stopped every single effort, every single effort to do something about it.
So, there have been attempts to change it. You know, and I know to some people that sounds overly partisan and -- those are the facts. Those are the facts. That is what has happened.
BLITZER: Because every time there is an incident like this, you hear about efforts to deal with mentally unstable people who can simply go out there and buy a weapon of mass destruction, go out there and buy a gun or a rifle or some sort of assault-type weapon and go out there and eventually start killing wonderful, wonderful people, whether in my hometown of Buffalo or whether in Uvalde, which is, what, about a 90-minute drive from where you are in Texas, your district in Texas.
Give us a little more, if you can, Congressman, about this area around Uvalde, the people who live there.
CASTRO: You know, it's really like a salt of the earth kind of place. I mean, these are, for the most part, humble hard-working people. It's considered a rural area. It's about 15,000 people. But it's one of the main cities. If you drive from San Antonio on Highway 90 going west towards Del Rio and really toward the U.S.-Mexico border, it's like the big town that you come across, believe it or not, at 15,000 people. It's kind of like the halfway point and the big town you come across.
And it's a great community. It's just a tight-knit community. It's almost 80 percent Latino, really mostly Mexican-American, you know, overwhelmingly Mexican-American.
And so I realize that we don't know the motive yet and we don't have all the information. My heart just sank because I'm just hoping that it's not another situation like El Paso or Buffalo where people were targeted because of their race and because of their ethnicity, you know, but it's a great community.
BLITZER: Yes. And every time I just think about the moms and dads and the grandparents who are now wondering if their little loved one is alive and going to that school area to see if they can find their loved one, it's just so painful to even think about that.
So, bottom line right now, Congressman, what can the U.S. Congress do, and, indeed, what can the president of the United States do to help the people of Uvalde right now during this horrific, horrific tragedy?
CASTRO: Well, you know, I think tonight we'll see the president offer condolences to a nation, because when you have 14 kids that are murdered in a mass murder, it shocks the conscience in a way like no other thing, I think, when you have little kids, just like when it happens in 2012 at Sandy Hook. So, the president is going to offer condolences to a shocked nation.
But also the administration should think of every way that it can with executive orders to make a difference in this situation. That doesn't absolve the Congress from taking action. And like I said, we have live bills in Congress right now on things like background checks, on making sure that mentally unfit persons are not able to get a firearm, you know, just everything, you know?
And oftentimes when it comes to policy, you'll see that oftentimes different policies are pit against each other. So, people, oftentimes Republicans want to say no, it's a mental health issue or it's just a law enforcement issue or it's just a gun issue. I don't think that we need to pit those things against each other. I think that you can pursue policy that deals with all of those things. And that's what the Congress should do.
BLITZER: Yes. I keep hearing that Congress should do that, but, sadly, Congress doesn't do it for whatever reason. And we see the impact of the availability of these guns to people who should not have these kinds of weapons at all.
As you probably heard --
CASTRO: And also, Wolf, the governor --
BLITZER: Yeah, go ahead.
CASTRO: The governor has made -- has made the state more dangerous by making it easier for people to get guns, no questions asked. No permit, no background, no training -- or no training, I should say, and has made it easier over the last several years.
So, Congress needs to do something. But the governor and the state legislature also need to act.
BLITZER: Indeed they do. The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, tweeted this tonight just a little while ago. Let me put it up on the screen. He's asking people to join him in praying for Texans impacted by the shooting.
I mean, it's one thing hearts and prayers and thoughts. It's another thing to take specific action to prevent people from getting their arms on these weapons of mass destruction along these lines. Paxton also spoke, by the way, to "Newsmax", suggested arming teachers as a potential solution to school shootings.
Thoughts and prayers, calls to arm teachers. What America's schools needs -- is that what America's schools need the most right now, Congressman?
CASTRO: No. The answer is not to arm teachers and create an even more dangerous situation by having a lot more people with guns there who are probably poorly trained probably and many of them who don't want to have them. And, you know, it's a way I think for the attorney general to avoid the real issue, which is he and the governor and the state legislature, the Republican majority, have made it more dangerous in Texas by making it a lot easier for people to get weapons that can kill a bunch of people before anybody can even turn around.
Literally, before you have a chance to turn around, you're shot.
BLITZER: Yeah. And in addition to these kids, 15 kids, elementary school kids, second-graders, third-graders, fourth-graders murdered for no reason, we're just getting word from a San Antonio Hospital right now, that a 10-year-old -- a 10-year-old little girl is fighting for her life right now, critically injured in a San Antonio hospital. Just think about that.
So what's your message, Congressman, to the parents of these kids in Uvalde, Texas, tonight?
CASTRO: That the nation mourns with them. That Texas mourns with them. And you know, you keep hoping that these incidents will spur lawmakers, people like myself and others, to finally take action and do something about it and break through the stalemate. And, you know, that's what I hope for them, that this -- this didn't happen in vain, that there will be change.
BLITZER: I keep saying every time we have a mass shooting like this, it's hard to believe this is happening in the United States of America. But sadly, it is.
Congressman Castro, thank you so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation for sure down the road. Appreciate it very, very much.
Coming up next, we'll have more on the role of law enforcement right now. A former Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. metro police chief is standing by live. We'll discuss when our special coverage continues right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We spoke before the break about the very sad familiarity of moments like this, horrible, horrendous moments like this. The killing of 14 young kids and a teacher at an elementary school in Texas. Joining us now, Erica Lafferty. Her mother Dawn Hochsprung was the
principle of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut where 26 people were killed, including 20 children, ten years ago.
Erica, sorry we're speaking under these conditions but what's your reaction to this latest horrific shooting here in the United States?
ERICA LAFFERTY, DAUGHTER OF MURDERED SANDY HOOK PRINCIPAL DAWN LAFFERTY HOCHSPRUNG: It is just all too familiar and completely devastating. As soon as I heard the news, my mind immediately went back to that day in the Sandy Hook firehouse waiting for confirmation, hoping for life, ended up being she was murdered in the hallway. It's just really, really sad.
BLITZER: It's hard to believe, but it happens, sadly, all too frequently that these kinds of mass killings with guns are happening in the United States of America. You would have thought that after Sandy Hook there would be some specific steps that were taken to deal with this issue, but sadly, they weren't taken and I suspect they probably won't be taken now either.
How depressing is that to you?
LAFFERTY: It is gut-wrenching. I mean, I think the harsh reality is that this is what we face every single day in this country, whether it's in a grocery store or in a church or like today and like with my mom in an elementary school. And enough is enough. We need to come together and stand up and demand that something be done.
I have been in this for nearly a decade, tirelessly fighting alongside some of the most amazing and courageous people I have ever met in my entire life. I wish I didn't have to know them.
We're all part of this club that no one wants to be a part of. It's really just time for everyone to get up and act. Nothing is going to change until we demand that it happen. If Congress isn't going to act, we need to vote them out.
BLITZER: The president of the United States is getting ready, Air Force One, I think we have some live pictures coming in, just landing at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C., just coming back from his first visit as president, as president, just coming back to the United States from Japan and South Korea, his first trip to Asia as president of the United States.
We're now told that once Marine One brings him to the White House, he'll be addressing the nation from the Roosevelt Room in the White House at 8:15 Eastern later tonight. Of course, CNN will have live coverage.
What if anything, especially, Erica, as someone who has gone through hell like this, what would you like to hear from the president?
LAFFERTY: I anticipate we'll hear a promise of action. I know that's exactly what I got from President Obama when he came to visit in the days and during, you know, the aftermath of Sandy Hook. But I think we all need to come to the very harsh reality that one person cannot change anything. It's going to take everyone standing up and doing this together.
I hope that we hear encouraging words but it's going to take more than thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers haven't brought my dead mom back in the past near decade. It's not going to bring back the 15 people that were killed at Robb Elementary School today. We need action.
BLITZER: And when you think of the kids who were killed at Sandy Hook, the kids killed today in Texas for no reason whatsoever, and you think of the suffering now that is going to continue for years and years and years to come. The parents, grandparents, the uncles, the aunts, the family members, all the brothers and sisters who are going to have to live with this, because you've had to live with this all these years as well and give us a sense of how horrible it's been.
LAFFERTY: I honestly can't put it into words. There are days where all I hear or smell or see is my mom all around me. There are days I wake up and I can't remember the sound of her voice or what her laugh sounded like.
And I'm not quite sure which side of that is more painful. But these families in that community are walking in to hell and there is definitely a network of people out there who have lived it who are step you get up to support them, I'm certainly offering any support I can provide but it's not going to just go away. Not for the families, not for the community.
It's -- it's life-changing. It's devastating, it's traumatizing and every single time it happens it brings it back like it was yesterday.
BLITZER: Yeah, I remember going up to Connecticut to where you are at the time to report on the horrible, horrible mass murder there and it's just heartbreaking to see it continuing to happen here in the United States of America, my deepest, deepest condolences to the families and the loved ones. These kids -- may they rest in peace and may their memories, as we say, be a blessing.
Erica Lafferty, thank you for joining us, I hope next time we speak under different conditions.
Once again, President Biden just landed at Joint Base Andrews, pictures just coming in from outside Washington, D.C. He's expected to head over to the White House and address the nation later tonight, a little bit more than an hour or so from now, 8:15 p.m. Eastern from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, will be speaking about this mass murder in Texas that has just occurred.
Let's go back to Phil Mattingly. He's joining us from the White House right now.
What else are you hearing over there, Phil? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you
see the president emerging now from Air Force One. He's landed on Joint Base Andrews. He will soon board Marine One to come back from the White House during that flight.
He was briefed by several top advisers including his deputy chief of staff, General O'Malley Dillon, and he also placed a phone call to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, where he pledged, quote, any and all assistance the governor may need in the weeks and month days ahead. But as you noted, he will be giving remarks in a little more than hour, while he was receiving briefings about what has been happening on the ground in Uvalde. He's also been working on those remarks, drafting those remarks.
This is obviously a very emotional subject, very personal subject for the president who has dealt with so many of these as vice-president and president. Those remarks will be delivered shortly, what he wants to say, what he plans to say for a nation that, Wolf, has become so used to these horrors happening over and over again, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, thoughts and prayers are one thing but specific action to deal with this horrendous problem we have here in the United States is something else.
Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.
And CNN special coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."