Onlookers pleaded for police to enter Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas while the gunman who killed 21 people was inside the school for roughly an hour, according to reports from the Associated Press and The New York Times.
The shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was inside the school for about 40 minutes to an hour before he was shot several times by Border Patrol agents, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) chief Steven McGraw said at a news conference on Wednesday, raising questions about why it took so long to stop the attack.
“Go in there! Go in there!” frustrated onlookers shouted at officers during the attack, according to the AP, but witness Juan Carranza told the outlet the officers did not go in.
“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” Carranza told the outlet.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter Jacklyn was killed in the shooting, said he raced to the school while officers were still gathered outside and suggested charging inside with other bystanders.
“There were five or six of [us] fathers, hearing the gunshots, and [police officers] were telling us to move back,” Cazares told The Washington Post. “We didn’t care about us. We wanted to storm the building. We were saying, ‘Let’s go’ because that is how worried we were, and we wanted to get our babies out.”
There are also questions about the initial information provided by police about the shooting. Though some reports initially said police exchanged gunfire with Ramos before he entered the school, officials now say no gunfire was exchanged until he entered the school. And although DPS spokespersons repeatedly said that the suspect barricaded himself in a classroom and started shooting after he was confronted by police, McCraw said Wednesday that the officers “were responsible” for containing the gunman in the classroom. All of the children killed in the shooting were in a single classroom, according to DPS Lt. Christopher Olivarez.
A law enforcement official told the AP that Border Patrol agents involved in the response also had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to unlock it with a key.
“Bottom line, law enforcement was there, they did engage immediately, they did contain him in a classroom,” McCraw said. “They put a tactical stack together, in a very orderly way, and breached and assaulted the individual.”
McCraw declined to provide a timeline of events during a news conference on Wednesday but a state official told the Times that the gunman, who first shot his grandmother and then crashed her pickup truck outside the school at around 11:30 am, was killed shortly after 1 pm. Four Border Patrol agents from a tactical team entered the school and three of the agents fired their weapons after entering the classroom while the other held a shield.
The school went into lockdown around 11:43 am, according to a timeline put together by the Washington Post. Ramos encountered a school police officer after crashing the truck before making his way into the school through a side entrance. Two Uvalde police officers arrived and tried to get inside, exchanging gunfire with Ramos. Both officers were wounded and the gunman was forced into the classroom.
By 12:10 pm, a Facebook live stream showed that police had established a perimeter around the school. By 12:17 pm, school officials announced on social media that there was an “active shooter.”
Shots were still being heard at 12:52 pm, according to the Post. “Do not attempt to get closer,” a voice warned on the EMS radio channel.
Around this time, the Border Patrol tactical team formed a “stack” and eventually breached the classroom and killed Ramos in a shootout. “It was unclear whether he killed the students when he first barricaded himself inside or just before the police breached the room,” the Post reported.
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Law enforcement officials during Wednesday’s news conference acknowledged a “failure” to prevent the shooting but insisted that quick actions by law enforcement likely saved lives.
Texas officials after the shooting rejected calls to toughen gun laws and instead called to provide schools with armed police officers or even to arm teachers despite multiple armed officers being unable to stop the gunman.
The Uvalde City School District has its own police department with a chief, five officers, and a security guard. Schools around the country have taken similar measures: amid a rise in mass school shootings, the number of school resource officers around the country has skyrocketed. But researchers have found no evidence that school resource officers contributed to any reduction in mass shooting deaths.
“The idea that a standard armed school police officer is gonna stop someone in that situation has proven not to be true, time and time again,” Alex Vitale, coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and author of “The End of Policing” told The Intercept, adding that police and security guards are often the “first casualties in mass shooting events.”
Instead, research has shown that more mental health counselors, social workers, and alternative resolution dispute programs help keep schools safe, experts told the outlet.
“Instead of marshaling a robust preventative intervention, we wait until the problem expresses itself as a mass killing, and then we microanalyze the police response,” Vitale said. “This is a completely backwards way to approach the problem. Because policing is an inherently inadequate response to these things. By the time the shooting starts, the police intervention is going to be reactive. People will already be dead.”