Nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway outside of the classrooms during this week’s attack on a Texas elementary school for more than 45 minutes before agents used a master key to open a door and confront a gunman, authorities said Friday.
The on-site commander believed the gunman was barricaded in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, during Tuesday’s attack and that the children were not at risk, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a news conference.
“He was convinced at the time that there was no more threat to the children and that the subject was barricaded and that they had time to organize” to get into the classroom, McCraw said.
“Of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision,” he said.
McCraw said U.S. Border Patrol agents eventually used a master key to open the locked door of the classroom where they confronted and killed 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, who killed 19 students and two teachers.
McCraw said there was a barrage of gunfire shortly after the gunman entered the classroom where they killed him but that shots were “sporadic” for much of the 48 minutes while officers waited outside the hallway. He said investigators do not know if any children died during those 48 minutes, and if they did, they don’t know how many died.
Teachers, children called 911
Throughout 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 mounted over the amount of time it took officers to enter the school to confront the gunman.
It was 11:28 a.m. local time Tuesday when the shooter slammed his Ford pickup into a ditch behind the low-slung Texas school and jumped out carrying an AR-15-style rifle.
Twelve minutes after that, authorities say, the gunman entered the halls of Robb Elementary School and found his way to a fourth-grade classroom, where he killed 19 students and two teachers in a still unexplained spasm of violence.
But it wasn’t until 12:58 p.m. that law enforcement radio chatter said the suspect had been killed and the siege was over.
Questions about police response
What happened in those 90 minutes, in a working-class neighbourhood near the edge of the town of Uvalde, has fuelled mounting public anger and scrutiny over law enforcement’s response to Tuesday’s rampage.
“They say they rushed in,” said Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, and who raced to the school as the massacre unfolded. “We didn’t see that.”
Friday’s update on the timeline came only after authorities declined to explain why officers had not been able to stop the shooter sooner, with Victor Escalon, regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, telling reporters Thursday that he had “taken all those questions into consideration,” but was not ready to answer them.
The Thursday briefing, called by Texas safety officials to clarify the timeline of the attack, provided bits of previously unknown information.
But by the time the briefing ended, it had added to the troubling questions surrounding the attack, including about the time it took police to reach the scene and confront the gunman, and the apparent failure to lock a school door he used to enter the building.