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Families reunite at a Uvalde community center after elementary school shooting

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

We've spent the last several hours following news of another mass shooting in the United States. This time, it's an elementary school in the town of Uvalde, Texas, about 85 miles from San Antonio. Fourteen children and one teacher are dead.

Jacob Beltran covers crime and breaking news for the San Antonio Express-News, and he's on the scene there. He joins us now with the latest. And Jacob, thank you for making time to share details with us as you're also trying to gather information.

JACOB BELTRAN: Of course. Thank you for having me.

PFEIFFER: I understand you've been at a community center where children and parents were or maybe are being reunited. Would you describe the scene for us?

BELTRAN: Sure. So this community center, it's got a lot of green grass. You've got some stone siding to the building. A lot of these families that you mentioned are still sitting on this low-hanging stone wall just waiting for some word as to what the status of their own children is.

I spoke with one gentleman named Jesse Rodriguez (ph) who was telling me that he still hasn't heard either from any hospitals or from officials here what the status of his 10-year-old little girl, Anabelle (ph), is.

PFEIFFER: He just doesn't know either way, whether he hasn't been reunited yet or whether something worse happened.

BELTRAN: Correct. And so it's very difficult for him to show his emotion because he just doesn't know how he's going to find her.

PFEIFFER: Have parents been told what the holdup is, why there's a delay in them getting this information?

BELTRAN: No, we haven't heard any word from officials here at the scene. Some parents seem to be getting some information. Little by little, you can see the emotion on their faces as they react in tears. They've got a lot of support from family members that are here. And on that note, if I may, there are a lot of family members who also have their own children at the school who did survive, who were reunited.

So there's a lot of mixed emotions here at the scene. Some people are happy that they were reunited and are now just concerned about these children that remain unaccounted for.

PFEIFFER: Jacob, I saw you tweet that voting is happening at the center, apparently at the same time. That sounds very surreal that these two things could be happening simultaneously.

BELTRAN: That's right. So earlier today, the scene was indeed surreal, as you still had a lot of signs for campaigners, for local precincts. You had blue. You had red signs. And people were being escorted into and out of the building by border patrol agents and ATF agents, some wearing body armor, others carrying rifles. So it was an odd thing to have all these different elements at play here.

Some - there was a lot of silence. It was very still. And that silence would sometimes be broken by a very brief, emotional outburst. Parents who were picking up their children could be seen walking out in tears, either from the parents or from a child who was clinging onto their mother's shirt.

PFEIFFER: We know the basics. It appears that a lone, teenage gunman entered the school, opened fire, and now 15 people are dead. Have any more details emerged about the shooter, his motive, anything more?

BELTRAN: We haven't heard anything about a motive. So far, we've been learning that he may have been a former student at an area high school, but we're still working to confirm these details. Honestly, motive is still hanging in the air. But as you've heard from the chief earlier, investigators believe so far that he was acting alone.

PFEIFFER: What can you tell us about this city - I understand it's a small city - and the community there?

BELTRAN: That's right. So the city has a population about under 20,000. It's mostly Hispanic. It's beautiful Texas hill country. Whenever you think of that word, this is the kind of south of the Texas - southern pass of the Texas hill country, excuse me. And it's where a lot of people come to get away. You've got a beautiful river nearby, a lot of resorts in the area, and so definitely just a great place for people to come. But it's unfortunately been stricken by this horrific tragedy today.

PFEIFFER: Small enough that it sounds like everyone probably knew someone or a good chance they did.

BELTRAN: That's right. In fact, one of the families here is supporting another family who - a gentleman who wasn't able to drive himself because his vehicle became trapped by a lot of other emergency vehicles. So he's been taking his relatives where he can also to try to find word of what happened to his child.

PFEIFFER: And by the way, quickly, Jacob, do you know roughly the size of the student population at this school - this elementary school?

BELTRAN: I believe around 600, if I'm not mistaken.

PFEIFFER: Thank you very much again for covering this as you're also reporting on it. We may hear from you again as we continue to cover this.

Again, as we are reporting on a mass shooting today at an elementary school in Udalve (ph), Texas, about 85 miles from San Antonio. Fourteen children and one teacher are dead.

We've been talking with Jacob Beltran of the San Antonio Express-News. Jacob, again, thank you very much for your time.

BELTRAN: Of course. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.