Biden in Uvalde, Texas: In the face of grief and calls to ‘do something,’ the president promises, ‘We will’

Hearing anguished pleas to “do something” as he emerged from a midday mass in Uvalde, Biden told the crowd, “We will.” But after a day of somber remembrance, it remains unclear if or how a nation’s grief will translate into meaningful action to prevent future massacres.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden witnessed periodic outbursts of anger during their visit to Uvalde, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers last week. It was the second time in as many weeks that they mourned alongside families whose loved ones had died in a mass shooting.

Their armored black limo arrived at a makeshift memorial outside Robb Elementary School around 11:15 a.m. Central Time, pulling up next to the sea of ​​flowers, stuffed animals and photos that has grown since the day of the massacre.

The first lady carried a large bouquet of white roses to place in front of the brick sign at Robb Elementary School. The Bidens, both dressed in black, stood quietly for a moment in the midday sun. The president made the sign of the cross and wiped away a tear.

After speaking with the school principal and local officials, Biden and the first lady walked to a row of memorial wreaths, each marking one of the children or teachers killed. They touched cardboard cutouts of each, their photos on the front surrounded by garlands of white flowers, in quiet observation.

The Bidens attended mass at the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, where Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller invited children from the devastated community to sit in the front.

“Our response must be one of hope and healing,” he said, urging the community to “resolve to support each other in respecting our differences.” The choir sang “On Eagle’s Wings”.

Biden and the first lady spent the afternoon meeting privately with family members of the victims at Uvalde County Arena and first responders at Garner Field, before returning home to Delaware.

An adviser traveling with the president said he hoped to “convey empathy and understand how incredibly awful this is for them” and “offer some comfort, if at all possible.”

It was a solemn task made all the more grueling by the serious failings of law enforcement responding to Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde. And it came without a promise of major legislative action to prevent further carnage, although a bipartisan group of lawmakers have begun talks to identify potential areas for action.

The frustrations of an angry public were felt at the memorial site. Some onlookers waiting for Biden began to shout when Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott arrived to accompany the president.

“Please, Governor Abbott, help Uvalde County,” one man shouted. “We need change. Our children don’t deserve this.”

As Biden drove off, similar cries for help could be heard before he got into his vehicle.

A day before his visit, Biden spoke of the agony of parents he would meet on Sunday.

“I will be traveling to Uvalde, Texas to speak to these families. As I speak, these parents are literally preparing to bury their children, in the United States of America, to bury their children. There are too many too much violence, too much fear, too much grief,” Biden told graduates Saturday at the University of Delaware commencement ceremony.

For Biden, the trip represented a grim duty to join grieving families in their darkest times. He often draws on his own experience of losing two children – a young girl to a car accident and her adult son to brain cancer – to console his fellow parents.

“Losing a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped out. There’s an emptiness in your chest, and it feels like you’re being sucked into it and you can’t ever get out. It’s suffocating . And it’s never quite the same,” Biden said the night of the shooting, speaking from the Roosevelt Room shortly after returning from a two-country visit to Asia.

President Joe Biden hugs Robb Elementary School principal Mandy Gutierrez as he and first lady Jill Biden visit Uvalde, Texas on Sunday.

In Uvalde, a community shattered by last week’s shooting, many came to watch the president and first lady make their way through the memorial site.

“I think President Biden making an appearance here is a good thing. It’s in order. That’s what we need. We need the leader of the free world to be here, and sympathize with us.” , Ronald Garza, a commissioner for Uvalde County, said on CNN.

The Bidens’ visit to Texas came 12 days after the couple traveled to Buffalo, New York, to visit the site of a racist massacre at a grocery store. This shooting killed 10 people. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to the city on Saturday to attend the funeral of Ruth Whitfield, 86, the oldest victim of the attack.

“This is a moment that compels all good people who love people to just say we won’t put up with this. Enough is enough,” Harris said before laying a bouquet on a memorial outside the Tops Friendly Markets store where the shooting took place on May 14. As he left, Harris called for a ban on assault weapons like those used to kill in Uvalde and Buffalo.

The President’s and Vice President’s dual visits to communities affected by the mass murders were a stark reminder of the scourge of gun violence that plagues the nation. Biden, who has spent much of his career enacting tougher gun laws, called for action again this week.

But he stopped short of demanding that Congress pass a specific bill; the White House says it is up to Senate Democratic leaders to determine how to proceed on potential legislation. And he hasn’t named a gun violence task force beyond officials already in the administration.

Biden and his aides also admit there is little more he can accomplish through executive action that could prevent the kinds of massacres now occurring with horrific frequency.

On Sunday, Senator Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he sensed a “different feeling” among his congressional colleagues regarding the possibility of passing gun control measures in the wake of the shooting of Uvalde. But the Illinois Democrat suggested to CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ Dana Bash that if anything went through, its reach would be limited due to the need to compromise with Republicans.

In Texas, Biden also faced heartbreaking accounts of the shooting that state law enforcement officials said amounted to police misconduct. The decision by responding officers not to enter the classroom where the shooting occurred – despite calls to 911 from students pleading for help – leaves open the question of whether lives could have been lost. saved.

The White House said it would not prejudge an investigation into police actions. But the timeline revelations, made Friday at a heartbreaking press conference in Uvalde, only added to the sense of angst Biden faced during his visit.

This story and title have been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Jasmine Wright contributed to this report.

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