Gunman entered Texas elementary school unobstructed, was inside for an hour
Public safety official says school's door appeared to be unlocked, with no security guard
The gunman who massacred 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school Tuesday was inside for more than an hour before he was killed in a shootout, law enforcement authorities said Thursday amid mounting public anger and scrutiny over their response to the rampage.
A media briefing called by Texas safety officials to clarify the timeline of the attack provided bits of previously unknown information.
By the time it ended, though, it had added to the troubling questions surrounding the attack in the town of Uvalde, 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 entered.
After two days of providing often conflicting information, investigators said that a school district police officer was not inside Robb Elementary when 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos arrived around 11:30 a.m. local time, and, contrary to their previous reports, the officer had not confronted Ramos outside the building.
Instead, they sketched out a timeline notable for unexplained delays by law enforcement in responding to the attack.
Driven back by gunfire
Ramos crashed his truck near the back of the school at 11:28 a.m., then fired an AR-style rifle at two people coming out of a nearby funeral home, said Victor Escalon, regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Ramos then entered the school "unobstructed" through an apparently unlocked door at about 11:40 a.m., Escalon said.
But the first police officers did not arrive on the scene until 12 minutes after the crash and did not enter the school to pursue the shooter until four minutes after that. Inside, they were driven back by gunfire from Ramos and took cover, Escalon said.
The crisis came to an end after a group of Border Patrol tactical officers entered the school roughly an hour later, at 12:45 p.m., said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine. They engaged in a shootout with the gunman, who was holed up in a fourth grade classroom. Radio chatter at 12:58 p.m. indicated that he was dead.
In the hour in between, the officers called for backup, negotiators and tactical teams, while evacuating students and teachers, Escalon said.
But he largely ignored questions about why officers were not able to stop the shooter sooner, saying he had "taken all those questions into consideration" and would offer updates.
Ken Trump, president of the consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, said the length of the timeline raised questions.
"Based on best practices, it's very difficult to understand why there were any types of delays, particularly when you get into reports of 40 minutes and up of going in to neutralize that shooter," he said.
Many other details of the case and response remained murky. The motive for the massacre — the nation's deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., a decade ago — remains under investigation, with authorities saying the gunman had no known criminal or mental health history.
During the siege, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.
"Go in there! Go in there!" women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.
Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner: "There were more of them. There was just one of him."
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw defended the agency Wednesday, saying, "The bottom line is law enforcement was there. They did engage immediately. They did contain him in the classroom."
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz did not give a timeline but said repeatedly that the tactical officers from his agency who arrived at the school did not hesitate. He said they moved quickly to enter the building, lining up in a "stack" behind an agent holding up a shield.
"What we wanted to make sure is to act quickly, act swiftly, and that's exactly what those agents did," Ortiz told Fox News.
But a law enforcement official said that once in the building, the Border Patrol agents 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.
'More could have been done'
Department of Public Safety spokesman Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN that investigators were trying to establish whether the classroom was, in fact, locked or barricaded in some way.
Javier Cazares, whose daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting.
When he arrived, he said he saw two officers outside the school and about five others escorting students out of the building. But 15 or 20 minutes passed before the arrival of officers with shields, equipped to confront the gunman, he said.
As more parents flocked to the school, he and others pressed police to act, Cazares said. He heard about four gunshots before he and the others were ordered back to a parking lot.
"A lot of us were arguing with the police, 'You all need to go in there. You all need to do your jobs.' Their response was, 'We can't do our jobs because you guys are interfering,"' Cazares said.
Biden to visit
U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will travel to Uvalde, Texas, on Sunday to console families and honour the victims of Tuesday's shooting.
The White House said the Bidens would "grieve with the community that lost 21 lives in the horrific" shooting at Robb Elementary School. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president would meet with the community, local religious leaders and the victims' families.
Making the announcement, Jean-Pierre echoed Biden, who in remarks Tuesday evening, spoke from personal experience about the pain of losing a child, and called on the country to tighten gun laws in response to the shooting.
'"When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?" he said. "Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?"
Grandmother shot before school attack
Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared.
Neighbour Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.
Gallegos said he saw a car racing away from the house: "He spun out, I mean fast, spraying gravel in the air."
The grandmother soon emerged from the house, covered in blood.
"She says, 'Berto, this is what he did. He shot me,' " he recalled.
Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse within the house.