Texas officers waited more than an hour to confront school shooter as kids kept calling 911
Governor says he was 'misled' about law enforcement response: 'I am livid'
Students trapped inside a classroom with a gunman repeatedly called 911 during this week's attack on a Texas elementary school, including one who pleaded, "Please send the police now," as officers waited more than an hour to breach the classroom after following the gunman into the building, authorities said Friday.
The commander at the scene in Uvalde — the school district's police chief — believed that the 18-year-old gunman was barricaded inside adjoining classrooms at Robb Elementary School and that children were no longer at risk, Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a contentious news conference.
"It was the wrong decision," he said.
Friday's briefing came after authorities spent three days providing often conflicting and incomplete information about the more than an hour that elapsed between the time the shooter, Salvador Ramos, entered the school and when U.S. Border Patrol agents unlocked the classroom door and killed him.
Three police officers followed the shooter into the building within two minutes. In the next half hour, as many as 19 officers piled into the hallway outside. But another 47 minutes passed before the Border Patrol tactical team breached the door, McCraw said.
As the gunman fired at students, law enforcement officers from other agencies urged the school police chief to let them move in because children were in danger, two law enforcement officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
One of the officials said audio recordings from the scene capture officers from other agencies telling the school police chief that the shooter was still active and that the priority was to stop him.
The shooter killed 19 children and two teachers inside the room. The motive for the massacre — the country's deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Conn., almost a decade ago — remained under investigation. Authorities have said Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.
There was a barrage of gunfire shortly after the shooter entered the classroom where officers eventually killed him, but those shots were "sporadic" for much of the time that officers waited in the hallway, McCraw said. He said investigators do not know if children died during that time.
Throughout the attack, teachers and children repeatedly called 911 asking for help, including the girl who pleaded for the police, McCraw said.
Young survivors of the attack said they pretended to be dead while waiting for help.
Miah Cerrillo, 11, told CNN that she covered herself with a friend's blood to look dead. After the shooter moved into an adjacent room, she could hear screams, more gunfire and music being blared by the gunman. Samuel Salinas, 10, who also played dead, told ABC's Good Morning America that the assailant shot teacher Irma Garcia before firing on the kids.
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.
Five minutes after that, authorities say, the gunman entered the halls of the school and found his way to the fourth-grade classroom where he killed the 21 victims.
But it was not until around 12:50 p.m. that police killed the gunman, McCraw said, when shots could be heard over a 911 call from a person inside the classroom as officers breached the room.
Questions about police response
What happened during that time frame, 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."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday that some of the information he relayed to the public days earlier had been incorrect. He said he had been "misled" and was "livid" about it.
Abbott had previously praised the police for their "amazing courage by running toward gunfire" and their "quick response."
He said Friday his previous statements were repeats of what he had been told.
Abbott said the response to the attack is now being investigated by the Texas Rangers and the FBI.
According to the new timeline provided by McCraw, after crashing his truck, Ramos fired on two people coming out of a nearby funeral home.
Contrary to earlier statements by officials, a school district police officer was not at the school when the shooter arrived. When that officer did respond, he unknowingly drove past Ramos, who was crouched behind a car parked outside and firing at the building, McCraw said.
At 11:33 a.m., the shooter entered the school through a rear door that had been propped open and fired more than 100 rounds into a pair of classrooms, McCraw said. He did not address why the door was propped open.
Two minutes later, three local police officers arrived and entered the building through the same door, followed soon after by four others, McCraw said. Within 15 minutes, officers from different agencies had assembled in the hallway, taking sporadic fire from Ramos, who was holed up in a classroom.
Ramos was still inside at 12:10 p.m. when the first U.S. Marshals Service deputies arrived. They had raced to the school from nearly 113 kilometres away in the border town of Del Rio, the agency said in a tweet Friday.
But the commander inside the building — the school district's police chief, Pete Arredondo — decided the group should wait to confront the gunman, on the belief that the scene was no longer an active attack, McCraw said.
The crisis came to an end at 12:50 p.m. after officers used keys from a janitor to open the classroom door, entered the room and shot and killed Ramos, he said.
Arredondo couldn't immediately be reached for comment Friday. No one answered the door at his home and he didn't reply to a phone message left at the district's police headquarters.
'Go in there!'
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."
Cazares said that 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 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.
A Wall Street Journal report detailed how one of the parents on the scene was handcuffed by federal marshals who accused her of interfering with a police investigation. After local officers convinced their colleagues to set her free, she ran into the school and emerged with her two kids, the paper reported.
On Friday, Gov. Abbott had been set to attend the annual convention of the National Rifle Association, which is being held across the state in Houston. Instead he addressed the gun-rights group's convention by recorded video and went to Uvalde.
At the convention, speaker after speaker took the stage to say that changing U.S. gun laws or further restricting access to firearms isn't the answer.
"What stops armed bad guys is armed good guys," Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told those gathered in Houston.
Former president Donald Trump was among Republican leaders speaking at the event, where hundreds of protesters angry about gun violence demonstrated outside, including some who held crosses with photos of the Uvalde victims.
- A previous version of this story stated that officers waited 48 minutes to confront the shooter. In fact, authorities said officers waited more than an hour, from the time the first officers followed the shooter into the school, to breach the classroom.May 27, 2022 11:59 PM ET
- A previous version of this story stated that officials said 12 minutes had elapsed between when the gunman's truck crashed and when he entered the school. In fact, they said it was five minutes.May 27, 2022 3:42 PM ET
With files from CBC News and The Canadian Press