Proving we will always blame literally anything but readily available assault rifles for mass shootings, in the wake of Tuesday’s horrific shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a young woman and a 15-year-old girl in Germany are being blamed for their contact with the gunman.
Before 18-year-old Salvador Ramos attacked Robb Elementary School, it seems the last people he exchanged messages with were a random female Instagram user he had ominously tagged in a photo of assault rifles days earlier, and a 15-year-old girl in Germany who says they met on a livestreaming app called Yubo.
Despite America’s unique and entirely preventable gun violence crisis, and policies that paved the way for the Uvalde shooting, this young woman and a teenage girl are being accused of complicity in the attack—and tragically seem to be internalizing the blame. Both have expressed remorse for not taking action, as if there’s anything either of them could have done once Ramos legally got his hands on assault rifles and ammunition.
On Tuesday morning, before the shooting, Ramos reportedly messaged the Instagram user, “I’m about to.” When she asked “about to what,” he replied, “I’ll tell you before 11.” He then urged her to respond, telling her, “I got a lil secret I wanna tell u.” Ramos’s last message to her read, “Ima air out.” Less than three hours later, he opened fire on Robb Elementary School.
The female Instagram user eventually shared screenshots of the direct messages they’d exchanged and expressed grief as well as regret and feelings of guilt that she hadn’t taken action to stop him. What followed was a barrage of harassment and conspiracy theories, including that she was Ramos’s girlfriend and was planning to go to Uvalde to “finish” the shooting. She soon made her Instagram private, and as of Thursday, appears to have deleted or deactivated the account altogether.
But while her account was still public, she revealed screenshots of people messaging her, accusing her of helping to plan the attack and calling her a “child killer.” Posts on her Instagram grid were inundated with threats and comments blaming her for not calling the police.
“He’s a stranger I know nothing about him he decided to tag me in his gun post,” the Instagram user clarified in a story post while her account was still public. “I’m so sorry for the victims and their families I really don’t know what to say.” In another story post, she emphasized that she doesn’t even live in Texas, and—obviously—had no idea what Ramos was about to do. She also explained that the “only reason I responded to him was because I was afraid of him.” Ramos, you’ll note, had literally tagged her in a photo of guns. Still, Instagram—the same platform that so vigilantly monitors “threats” like Black Lives Matter activism or sex workers—permitted his account to remain active, and even allowed him to message with her.
As for the 15-year-old German girl, the New York Times reports that moments after allegedly shooting his grandmother, Ramos texted the 15-year-old: “I just shot my grandma in her head,” and added, “Ima go shoot up a elementary school rn.” The German teen told the Times that just days before the shooting, Ramos had FaceTimed her from a gun store where he purchased two AR-15 rifles, one of which he used to carry out the Tuesday shooting. The girl told the newspaper she regretted not contacting authorities from where she lives in Germany, and said, “I just could never guess that he’d actually do this.”
Mass shootings in the US are caused by dangerously lax gun laws and easily accessible assault rifles that can kill dozens of people in a matter of seconds. Texas state law explicitly allowed the 18-year-old, who isn’t old enough to purchase alcohol or rent a car, to buy an assault rifle, receive “a large package of ammunition in the mail,” and, ultimately, murder 19 school children. Around the world, the US is an absolute outlier in gun violence, as well as the prevalence of gun ownership and assault rifles. As Jezebel’s Laura Bassett has pointed out, given the fact that this almost never happens in Germany (especially after they tightened their gun laws in 2002, following a mass shooting) it seems likely the 15-year-old German girl couldn’t have even imagined that Ramos was being serious.
On top of the blame and harassment both of them have faced, Ramos’ contact with them, in many ways, placed both of them in danger. The vast majority of mass shootings are preceded by acts of domestic and gender-based violence; Ramos shot his grandmother shortly before carrying out the attack, and reportedly had “an aggressive streak and would send inappropriate messages to female [co-workers].”
Ramos never met the German teenager or female Instagram user in person and didn’t appear to threaten them. Nonetheless, his contact with them left them with trauma and guilt, and of course, made them the victims of horrifying public harassment campaigns and conspiracy theories.