Vigils were held in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, a day after an 18-year-old gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers at the the Robb Elementary School. It was the deadliest school shooting in the United States in nearly a decade. All of the victims were in the same fourth grade classroom. The White House says President Biden will visit Uvalde in the coming days.
Meanwhile, chilling details have emerged about the events leading up to the massacre. Officials say the gunman lawfully purchased two semiautomatic assault rifles and up to 375 rounds of ammunition last week, just after his 18th birthday. On Tuesday morning, he texted a teenage girl he’d befriended in Germany, writing, “I just shot my grandma in her head,” followed immediately by the message: “Ima go shoot up a elementary school [right now].” Police say the gunman made his way past an armed school security officer, then barricaded himself inside the school for over an hour, wounding two police officers before he was shot dead by a Border Patrol agent. Some parents report they tried to storm the school as they waited for police to respond, but were pushed back.
On Wednesday, Texas gubernatorial candidate and former Democratic Congressmember Beto O’Rourke interrupted a press conference held by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in Uvalde. Video of the incident shows O’Rourke approaching the stage and telling Abbott, “This is totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.” O’Rourke was shouted down by top Texas Republicans and escorted from the room by police.
Governor Abbott has declined to say whether he still plans to attend the National Rifle Association’s 2022 annual meeting, which is set to open in Houston on Friday. Texas Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Republican Senator Ted Cruz still plan to attend, as does former President Donald Trump.
World leaders continue to react in horror to the latest mass shooting in the United States. At the Vatican, Pope Francis said Wednesday he was “heartbroken” by the massacre in Texas.
Pope Francis: “It is time to say 'enough' to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons. Let us all make a commitment. Let us all make a commitment so that tragedies like this cannot happen again.”
In Ukraine, fierce fighting continues to rage around the besieged industrial city of Severodonetsk, where sustained Russian artillery attacks this week have killed at least six civilians. Russian forces are also advancing on the city of Lyman in the southeastern Donetsk region. On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blasted Henry Kissinger, after the former U.S. secretary of state said Ukraine should trade some of its territory for a peace agreement with Russia. Zelensky compared Kissinger’s proposal to the appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
President Volodymyr Zelensky: “Mr. Kissinger emerges from the deep past and says that a piece of Ukraine should be given to Russia so that there is no alienation of Russia from Europe. It seems that Mr. Kissinger’s calendar is not 2022, but 1938, and he thought he was talking to an audience not in Davos, but in Munich of that time.”
Russia’s parliament has voted to abolish an upper age limit for people wishing to join the military. Once President Vladimir Putin signs the measure into law, Russians over the age of 40 will be able to enlist in the Armed Forces. On Wednesday, Putin visited a military hospital in Moscow, where he met with soldiers injured in Ukraine for the first time since he ordered his troops to invade more than three months ago. Also on Wednesday, Putin signed a decree fast-tracking Russian citizenship for residents of Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has extended emergency powers, citing the war in neighboring Ukraine. The move grants Orbán’s far-right, nationalist government sweeping powers to enact policies without the input of the Legislature. Orbán, who recently won a fourth term as prime minister, has been accused of turning Hungary into a “ballot-box dictatorship.”
In Afghanistan, at least 14 people were killed in a series of bomb attacks on Wednesday. Five people died and 22 others were injured after a bomb exploded at a mosque during evening prayers in the capital Kabul. Meanwhile, in northern Afghanistan, nine people were killed and 15 others injured in a series of blasts targeting minivans carrying minority Shiite Muslims in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Afghanistan’s ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for those attacks. The violence came as UNICEF warned some 1.1 million Afghan children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year.
Thousands of people across the Middle East have been hospitalized with respiratory problems, after a massive sandstorm settled over the region this week. Kuwait suspended airline flights, Iran canceled classes for schoolchildren, and Saudi officials warned drivers over zero-visibility conditions on roads. On Monday, Iraq’s government canceled most public services as the country’s ninth major sandstorm in less than two months arrived. The United Nations Environment Program says Iraq is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change and desertification.
In Pakistan, temperatures in the city of Jacobabad hit a record 51 degrees Celsius Wednesday, or 124 degrees Fahrenheit. Farmers in the region say extreme heat this year is killing crops and drying up water supplies.
Farmer: “The mango crop yield has been reduced by 50% this year. This is because of the scarcity of water. Mango farmers have suffered losses, and so did the traders.”
The Biden administration says it will seek to ban the disposal of mining waste in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, citing its authority under the Clean Water Act. The move by the Environmental Protection Agency could spell the end of the Pebble Mine project — a proposed open-pit gold and copper mine that would require constructing a massive power plant, natural gas pipeline and huge, toxic tailing ponds.
In Davos, Switzerland, climate activists on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum are demanding world leaders act urgently on the climate — and on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is Kenyan environmentalist Elizabeth Wathuti.
Elizabeth Wathuti: “I think one of the main things about the war in Ukraine is the fact that it has continued to exacerbate the impacts of climate change, and especially the rising food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. And what we’re hearing is the fact that this crisis, people talk about it, but we are not talking about the Ukraine crisis and the climate crisis at the same time, and it’s as though people are not aware of the fact that this crisis also continues to impact the communities on the frontline.”
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at least 23 people have been killed in one of the deadliest police operations in the nation’s modern history. The police raid targeted Vila Cruzeiro, one of Rio’s “favelas” — historically low-income communities that trace their origin to the legacy of slavery and the system of racial oppression in Brazil that continues to this day. Officials say military police were dispatched early Tuesday to capture leaders of a suspected drug-trafficking organization when gunfire erupted. Witnesses say police arrived shooting to kill. One resident, a 41-year-old woman, died after she was struck by a stray bullet. Derê Gomes, a professor and leader of the Federation of Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas, spoke just after the killings.
Derê Gomes: “Regardless of whether a person was involved in a crime, if it’s proven these were executions, well, no one should have been executed. There is no death penalty in Brazil, right? So I think we need to carry out a very serious and very rigorous investigation to understand how these murders took place.”
President Biden marked the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder by signing an executive order aimed at reforming policing. Joining Biden at Wednesday’s signing ceremony was George Floyd’s family, as well as that of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in 2020 when police executed a no-knock warrant at her apartment.
President Joe Biden: “This is a call to action based on a basic truth: Public trust, as any cop will tell you, is the foundation of public safety. If they’re not trusted, the population doesn’t contribute, doesn’t cooperate.”
Biden’s order directs federal agencies to revise use-of-force policies, banning tactics like chokeholds and restricting practices like no-knock warrants, while establishing a national database of police misconduct. Biden’s executive order came as a reform bill — the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — remains stalled in the Senate amid Republican opposition.
The Goldman Environmental Foundation held its annual awards ceremony Wednesday, honoring the world’s foremost grassroots environmental activists. This year’s winners include Nigeria’s Chima Williams, an environmental lawyer who worked with communities to hold Royal Dutch Shell accountable for the environmental impact of its oil spills in Nigeria. Other winners include Ecuador’s Alexandra Narváez and Alex Lucitante, who together spearheaded an Indigenous movement to protect Cofán ancestral territory from gold mining. Also winning a Goldman Award this year was Nalleli Cobo of Los Angeles, California, who in March 2020, at the age of 19, led a community coalition to permanently shut down an oil drilling site in her community. Cobo survived childhood asthma and a bout of cancer she blamed on toxins from the oil wells.
Nalleli Cobo: “What formally began in January 2011 as a grassroots campaign in South Los Angeles fighting the oil well next door, operating on land owned by the archdiocese, ends in January 2022 with the city of Los Angeles voting unanimously to phase out oil and gas wells. We won’t stop here. We need to ensure our elected officials act on this. I fight because I believe everyone has a right to breathe clean air, despite age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or ZIP code. I fight so no future generations has a childhood like mine.”