ROME – Pope Francis asked that society work to stop school shootings after 19 children and two adults were killed by a gunman in Texas on Tuesday.
“My heart is shattered for the school tragedy in Texas,” Francis said at the end of his Audience on Wednesday. “I pray for the children and adults killed and their families.”
The pontiff also asked for all to “say enough to the indiscriminate arms trade.”
“Let us all commit ourselves so that such tragedies can never happen again,” he said.
The gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School – which teaches children aged seven to 10 – in the city of Uvalde in south Texas, before he was killed by law enforcement, officials said.
The 18-year-old suspect was armed with several weapons, investigators say.
The teenager is suspected of shooting his grandmother before the rampage. Local media reports that he may have been a high school student in the area.
Two children killed in the shooting have been identified by U.S. media. Family members confirmed the deaths of 10-year-olds Xavier Lopez and Amerie Jo Garza in statements on Tuesday night.
The incident marks the 27th school shooting this year.
Nearly 500 pupils are enrolled in the predominantly Hispanic school around 85 miles west of the city of San Antonio.
The Associated Press reports that a U.S. Border Patrol official who was nearby when the shooting began rushed into the school and shot and killed the gunman, who was behind a barricade. Uvalde, which is fewer than 80 miles from the border with Mexico, is home to a Border Patrol station.
The Uvalde Memorial Hospital posted on Facebook earlier that 13 children had been taken to hospital “via ambulances or buses.”
A 66-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl were in a critical condition at a hospital in San Antonio, University Health Hospital officials said.
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, condemned the attack both through a statement and on Twitter, saying that “there are no words to adequately convey the deep sadness and sorrow and overwhelming shock at the incomprehensible loss of life of 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde this afternoon at the hands of a young gunman.”
“When will these insane acts of violence end? It is too great a burden to bear. The word tragedy doesn’t begin to describe what occurred. These massacres cannot be considered ‘the new normal’,” he said in a statement released by the archdiocese.
Underlining that the Catholic Church consistently calls for the protection of all life, Garcia-Siller said that these mass shootings are a most pressing life issue on which all in society must act — elected leaders and citizens alike.
“God have mercy on our children, their families, their communities,” he posted on Twitter. “Darkness is dense with one more shooting in our country. Let us help one another to spark light and warmth. May we keep each other in company. Prayers are needed.”
In a second tweet, he said: “Life is precious from conception to natural death. Let us pray for our little ones.”
On Wednesday, two hours before the audience began, he had yet another message, but this time addressed the pontiff: “Holy Father Pope Francis, say some prayers for the souls of our little ones killed today and two teachers. Uvalde is in mourning. The families are having a very dark time. Your prayer will do good to them. Gracias por ayudarnos. Queremos ser como Jesús. Cuente con nuestra oración.” (Thank you for helping us. We want to be like Jesus. Count on our prayers.)
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma