Anger erupted Thursday as law enforcement agencies faced mounting criticism over delays in storming a Texas elementary school where a barricaded gunman shot 19 children and two teachers this week.
At a hastily called news conference Thursday, a state police director acknowledged the lone gunman was inside the classroom for an hour before officers stormed the school and killed him.
As reporters shouted questions, Victor Escalon, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, struggled to establish a timeline for the rampage.
Gunman Salvador Ramos entered the school through an “apparently” unlocked door at 11:45 a.m. and quickly began shooting, Escalon said. Local Uvalde Police Department officers entered the building five minutes later, then pulled back after three cops were shot, Escalon said.
An hour passed before a U.S. Border Patrol tactical team rushed the classroom and shot Ramos to death, according to Escalon’s timeline. He said “negotiations” for back-up were underway during that time, but declined to specifically address why 60 minutes passed with students and teachers being shot with round after round.
Investigators are still trying to piece together what happened, Escalon said.
He also said that previous law enforcement reports that a school resource officer had confronted the gunman were incorrect.
Also, according to Escalon’s timeline, Ramos walked around the campus for 12 minutes, firing rounds from a semi-automatic rifle, before he entered the school. He said he could not account for that time frame, and would provide more details at a later time.
The press conference raised more questions than answers as distraught relatives condemned the response by law enforcement.
“The police were doing nothing,” said Angeli Rose Gomez, who told the Wall Street Journal she drove 40 miles to o Robb Elementary School, where her children are in second and third grade. “They were just standing outside the fence. They weren’t going in there or running anywhere.”
Gomez was handcuffed by police outside the school, where she said she and other parents were pressing officers to intervene. Once the cuffs were removed, Gomez said she jumped a fence, sprinted inside the school and came out with her children.
The motive for the massacre remains under investigation by multiple local, state and federal agencies. It is the worst school shooting in U.S. history since the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter in 2012, in which 20 children and six adults were shot to death.
At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott had praised first responders, saying they acted quickly and saved lives.
“The reality is as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse,” Abbott said. “The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed amazing courage by running towards gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives,” he said.
But during Tuesday’s siege, screaming parents stood outside the school, held back by armed law enforcement officers, and shouted for officers to storm the school, according to witnesses and a video shot by a bystander.
“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, resident Juan Carranza, 24, told The Associated Press late Wednesday. He said he watched the scene from outside a house across the street.
Video shot by a bystander and posted to TikTok showed armed law enforcement officers holding back screaming relatives outside the school, who wailed and sobbed. The video was also posted online by TMX News.
“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”
But a department spokesman said Thursday that authorities are still trying to clarify the attack’s timeline, and are uncertain whether that period of 40 minutes to an hour began when the gunman reached the school, or earlier, when he shot his grandmother at the home they shared.
“Right now we do not have an accurate or confident timeline to provide to say the gunman was in the school for this period,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that a law enforcement official said Border Patrol agents, who eventually killed the gunman, had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation, The AP said.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, told the AP he raced to the school after hearing of the shooting.
The father said he was upset because officers were not rushing the building. He said suggested to other bystanders that they should charge the school.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“The situation could’ve been over quick if they had better tactical training, and we as a community witnessed it firsthand. I’m a gun owner and I do not blame the weapons used in this tragedy. I’m angry how easy it is to get one and (how) young you can be to purchase one,” he said.
Salvador Ramos, 18, legally purchased two AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and more than 300 rounds of ammunition days before the shooting, authorities said. He entered the school carrying a backpack and one of those rifles, the governor said.
The high school dropout wrote three chilling Facebook messages Tuesday
He first wrote “I’m going to shoot my grandmother,” 30 minutes before arriving at the Robb Elementary School in the border town of Uvalde, Gov. Abbott said Wednesday.
Ramos then wrote a second message. “I shot my grandmother.” Then, 15 minutes before he pulled the trigger on an AR-15 rifle in a crowded classroom, he wrote, “I am going to shoot an elementary school.”
Abbott described the writings as social media posts, but a Facebook spokesperson said they were included in a direct message to another party. The company is assisting the investigation, the spokesperson said.
A fourth-grade student interviewed by KENS-TV Wednesday night said he survived by hiding under a table that had a cloth draped over it. The gunman, he said, entered his classroom and said, “It’s time to die.”
The child, who was not identified by the station, said one of his classmates called for help, only to be shot dead by Ramos.
“When the cops came, the cop said: ‘Yell if you need help!’ And one of the persons in my class said ‘help.’ The guy overheard and he came in and shot her,” the boy said. “The cop barged into that classroom. The guy shot at the cop. And the cops started shooting.”
Once the shooting subsided, the child said he came out from under the table.
His instructors, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, saved the lives of their students, but lost their own.
“They were nice teachers,” he said. “They went in front of my classmates to help. To save them.”