UVALDE, Texas — A year before the Uvalde school massacre, the gunman had already earned the nickname “school shooter” — a running joke among those he played online games with. He had also started wearing all black and making over-the-top threats, especially toward women, who he terrorized with graphic descriptions of violence and rape.
Story originally published by The Texas Tribune on July 17, 2022.
Those details are part of an interim report by the House committee investigating the incident, which points to a trail of missed signs leading to one of the worst mass shootings in Texas — one that was months in the making.
The report, released Sunday, presents the most complete picture to date of the 18-year-old who killed 19 students and two teachers in his former fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary. The findings are based on law enforcement interviews with family members, data on the shooter’s phone and testimony presented to the committee.
Salvador Ramos — who the committee is only referring to as “the attacker” so as to deny him the notoriety and fame he desired — also shot and wounded his grandmother, Celia Gonzales, before storming the school.
He was born in Fargo, North Dakota but moved to Uvalde as a child with his sister and mother, who struggled with a long history of drug use. A former girlfriend interviewed by the FBI said she believed the shooter had been sexually assaulted at an early age by one of the mother’s boyfriends but that the mother didn’t believe him, according to the report.
Relatives described him as someone shy and quiet who was reluctant to interact with others because he had a speech impediment. When he started school, his pre-K teacher described him as a “wonderful student,” always ready to learn and with a positive attitude.
Then, something changed. He started falling behind in school but never received special education services, despite being identified as “at-risk” and having someone request speech therapy for him, according to the report, citing school records.
Family and friends told the committee he was bullied throughout the fourth grade over his stutter, short haircut and clothing. He often wore the same clothing day after day. One time, a girl tied his shoelaces together causing him to fall on his face, a cousin said.
Beginning in 2018, he was recording more than 100 absences a year, along with failing grades. But the report authors said it was unclear whether a school resource officer ever visited his home. By 2021, when he was 17 years old, he had only completed ninth grade, the report’s authors wrote.
When students started to return to school following the pandemic, he dropped out. Instead of trying to fit in, as he had done in the past, he grew more isolated and retreated to the online world. Uvalde High School officials involuntarily withdrew him on October 28, citing “poor academic performance and lack of attendance.”
In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Ariana Diaz, a senior at Uvalde High School and one of the shooter's former classmates, described him as a "popular loner," someone who everyone knew, but who kept to himself. She also said that after COVID, he seemed to be in what she described as a “dark place,” and started wearing all black and combat boots.
He became depressed and lonely, those who knew him said.
He would tell his girlfriend at the time that he wouldn’t live past 18, either because he would commit suicide or “wouldn’t live long,” the girl later told the FBI in an interview, according to the report. When she broke up with him in mid-2021, he started harassing her and her friends, the girl told officials.
Online, the report authors said, he started to show an interest in gore and violent sex, sometimes sharing videos and images of suicides and beheadings. He became enraged and threatened others, especially female players, when he lost games.
Privately, he wrote about his challenges connecting with others or feeling empathy for them, saying he was “not human.” His search history, the authors of the report wrote, suggest he was wondering whether he was a sociopath. His internet searches led to him receiving an email about obtaining psychological treatment for the condition.
Attacking women became a pattern. He was also fired from his job at a Whataburger after a month for threatening a female coworker. And later he was let go of his job at Wendy’s.
Despite losing his jobs, living at home allowed him to save money. By the end of 2021, when clues of his plans first surfaced, he ordered rifle slings, a red dot sight and shin guards, as well as a body armor carrier he wore the day of the Robb Elementary massacre. But because he was still 17 at the time, he wasn’t legally allowed to buy the weapons and at least two people he asked refused.
He started becoming fascinated with school shootings and increasingly seeking notoriety and fame on social media, the report said.
In late 2021, the committee said Ramos shared a video online showing him driving around with someone he said he had met online, holding a clear plastic bag with a dead cat inside, which Ramos “discarded in the street and spit on while his driver laughed.” The video then showed him dry firing BB guns at people and ended with footage of emergency services responding to a serious car accident, which he claimed his driver had caused, according to the report.
But despite all the threats and violent talk, none of his online behavior was reported to law enforcement. It’s unclear whether other users reported his behavior to any social media platform, but the committee concluded it doesn’t appear there were any actions taken to restrict his access or to report him to authorities as a threat.
He moved in with his grandmother, who had retired from the local school district after 27 years, after having a blowout argument with his mother that was livestreamed on Instagram. The report doesn't specify who livestreamed it, but The Washington Post reported that two months prior to the shooting, he posted an Instagram story in which he screamed at his mother who, according to a high school classmate, he said was trying to kick him out of their home.
He confided in an older cousin who was also staying with their grandmother that he didn’t want to live anymore. But the cousin told authorities she thought she’d gotten through to him after a lengthy “heart-to-heart.”
Instead, Ramos began to buy more firearm accessories beginning in February, including 60 30-round magazines. As soon as he turned 18, on May 16, he started buying guns and ammunition. In the end he bought two AR-15-style rifles and thousands of rounds. In total, he spent more than $6,000, the committee found.
He had no criminal history nor had he ever been arrested. There was nothing in his background that kept him from owning the weapons. And while multiple gun sales within a short period of time are reported to the ATF, the committee report authors point out that the law only requires purchase of handguns to be reported to the local sheriff.
“Here, the information about the attacker’s gun purchases remained in federal hands,” they wrote.
Online, the shooter started to reference a timeline, foreshadowing his plans.
On April 2, he sent someone a direct message on Instagram, “Are you still gonna remember me in 50 something days?”
The person responded, “probably not.”
“Hmm alright we’ll see in may,” Ramos responded.
At least, one friend from out of town started to become worried and proposed visiting him in Uvalde. But when the friend said he wouldn’t be able to go until July or August, he said “damn that’s too late.”
Five days before he went on a rampage, a man targeted and killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo, N.Y. supermarket. The mass shooting didn’t go unnoticed by Ramos. He saved news stories and other information about it. He also spent time with a cousin’s son who went to Robb Elementary to get information about his schedule and lunch periods, officials reported.
On the eve of the shooting, Ramos sent out messages to people about something he was going to do the following day.
“I got a lil secret,” he wrote to a German girl he had befriended.
It was impossible to do that day, he explained, because he was waiting for something to be delivered.
His order of 1,740 hollow points arrived later that day.