UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway outside classrooms for more than 45 minutes during the attack on a Texas elementary school this week before agents used a master key to open a door and confront a gunman, the authorities announced on Friday.
The commander at the scene believed the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was barricaded in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde during Tuesday’s attack and the children were not at risk, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said. Steven McCraw a press conference.
“He was convinced at the time that there was no longer a threat to the kids and that the issue was barricaded and that they had time to get organized” to get into the classroom, McCraw said.
“Of course it wasn’t the right decision. It was the wrong decision,” he said.
McCraw said US Border Patrol agents eventually used a master key to open the classroom’s locked door, where they confronted and killed Ramos, who killed 19 students and two teachers.
McCraw said shortly after Ramos entered the classroom where they killed Ramos, there was a barrage of gunfire, but the gunfire was “sporadic” for much of the 48 minutes while officers waited outside the hallway. He said investigators didn’t know if or how many children died in those 48 minutes.
During the attack, teachers and children repeatedly called 911 asking for help, including a girl who pleaded, “Please send the police now,” McCraw said.
Questions have arisen about the time it took officers to enter the school to confront the shooter.
It was 11:28 a.m. Tuesday when Ramos’ Ford pickup truck crashed into a ditch behind the low-lying school in Texas and the driver jumped out with an AR-15 style rifle.
Twelve minutes later, authorities said, 18-year-old Ramos entered the halls of Robb Elementary School and found his way to a fourth-grade classroom, killing 19 students and two teachers in an as yet unexplained spasm of violence.
But it was not until 12:58 p.m. that the police radio said Ramos had been killed and the siege was over.
What happened in those 90 minutes in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the town of Uvalde has fueled public anger and scrutiny of law enforcement’s response to Tuesday’s killing spree.
“They say they stormed in,” said Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter Jacklyn Cazares was killed in the attack and who ran to the school as the massacre unfolded. “We didn’t see that.”
Friday’s update on the attack’s timing came after authorities refused to explain why officers couldn’t stop the gunman sooner, with Victor Escalon, regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, telling reporters Thursday he had ” considering all these questions answered,” but was unwilling to answer them.
Thursday’s briefing, convened by Texas security officials to clarify the attack’s schedule, provided previously unknown information. But when it ended, it had added to the troubling questions surrounding the attack, including the time it took police to reach the scene and confront the gunman and the apparent failure to lock a school door he entered .
After two days during which often conflicting information was provided, investigators said a school district police officer was not at the school when Ramos arrived and that, contrary to their previous reports, the officer had not confronted Ramos outside the building.
Instead, they outlined a timeline notable for unexplained delays by law enforcement.
After an accident involving his truck, Ramos shot two people coming out of a nearby funeral home, Escalon said. He then entered the school “unhindered” at around 11:40 a.m. through an apparently unlocked door
However, the first police officers did not arrive at the scene until 12 minutes after the crash and only entered the school four minutes later to pursue the shooter. Inside, they were driven back by gunfire from Ramos and took cover, Escalon said.
The gunman was still inside at 12:10 p.m. when the first US Marshals Service deputies arrived. They sped to school from nearly 70 miles away in the border town of Del Rio, the agency said in a tweet on Friday.
The crisis ended after a group of tactical Border Patrol agents entered the school at 12:45 p.m., Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Travis Considine said. They engaged in a shootout with the gunman holed up in the fourth grade classroom. He was dead just before 1 p.m.
Escalon said officials called in support, negotiators and tactical teams during this time while they evacuated students and teachers.
Ken Trump, president of consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, said the length of the schedule raises questions.
“Based on best practices, it’s very difficult to understand why there was any delay, especially when you get reports of 40 minutes and more where the goal was to neutralize this shooter,” he said.
Many other details of the case and the reaction remained obscure. The motive for the massacre — the deadliest school shooting in the country since Newtown, Connecticut, nearly a decade ago — continued to be investigated, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.
According to witnesses, frustrated onlookers during the siege prompted police officers to rush into the school.
“Get in there! Get in there!” Women shouted at officers shortly after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.
Carranza said officers should have entered the school earlier: “There were more of them. There was only one of him.”
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz did not give a timetable, but said repeatedly that his agency’s tactical officials who arrived at the school did not hesitate. He said they moved quickly to enter the building and lined up in a “stack” behind an agent holding up a sign.
“What we wanted to make sure was to act fast, act fast, and that’s exactly what these agents did,” Ortiz told Fox News.
But a police officer said once inside the building, agents had trouble breaking down the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN that investigators were trying to determine if the classroom was actually locked or barricaded in some way.
Cazares said when he arrived he saw two officers outside the school and about five others escorting students out of the building. But 15 or 20 minutes passed before officers arrived with shields equipped to confront the gunman, he said.
As more parents flocked to the school, he and others urged police into action, Cazares said. He heard four shots before he and the others were ordered back to a parking lot.
“A lot of us were arguing with the police, ‘You all have to go in there. You all have to do your jobs.” Their response was, ‘We can’t do our jobs because you’re interfering,’” Cazares said.
As for the armed school officer, he was driving nearby but was not on campus when Ramos was involved in an accident with his truck.
Investigators concluded that the school officer was not positioned between the school and Ramos, allowing him to confront the gunman before entering the building, the police officer said.
Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, which campaigns for safer schools, warned that it is difficult to get a clear understanding of the facts shortly after a shooting.
“The information we have a few weeks after an event is usually very different than what we get in the first day or two. And even that’s usually pretty inaccurate,” Dorn said. With catastrophic events, “it usually goes eight to 12 months before you really have a decent picture.”
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