With pressure mounting to explain the delayed police response to the massacre at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers, Gov. Greg Abbott scrapped plans to attend the National Rifle Assn.’s annual convention in Houston and will travel to the grieving town of Uvalde on Friday to provide more information on law-enforcement response.
Investigators are still interviewing witnesses and poring through video to piece together a timeline that explains how the 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, was able to walk up to the school with a long-arm rifle, enter through an unlocked door and barricade himself inside a classroom for nearly an hour before he was shot and killed.
Earlier this week, Abbott hailed the speedy response of “valiant local officials” who he said had engaged the gunman before he entered Robb Elementary School.
“They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire,” the Republican governor said at a Wednesday news conference. “And it is a fact that because of their quick response, getting on the scene, being able to respond to the gunman and eliminate the gunman, they were able to save lives.”
Actually, the gunman roamed outside Robb Elementary for 12 minutes before entering unchallenged through an unlocked door, according to a timeline given by Texas Ranger Victor Escalon on Thursday. More than an hour passed before the gunman was shot dead.
That delay — as a crowd of anguished parents gathered outside and begged to get in to confront the gunman — has led to growing scrutiny of the law-enforcement response to the deadliest U.S. school shooting in almost a decade. Some parents have criticized police officers for not stopping the shooter sooner. San Antonio-area Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro on Thursday urged the FBI to investigate local law-enforcement actions.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has scheduled an 11 a.m. CDT news conference Friday to provide details of the ongoing investigation. Abbott will also appear in Uvalde at a separate afternoon news conference and provide pre-recorded video remarks for the NRA gathering.
Ramos’ shooting rampage began just after 11 a.m. Tuesday, when he shot his grandmother in the face at her Uvalde home. According to officials, Ramos then posted a social media message declaring that “I’m going to shoot an elementary school” and drove off at high speed in his grandmother’s pickup truck.
At 11:28 a.m., Ramos crashed the truck in a ditch and jumped out of the passenger side, carrying a long-arm rifle. He fired at two people at a nearby funeral home as he walked toward Robb Elementary, climbed a fence and crossed the school parking lot.
At 11:40 a.m., he walked around the west side of the one-story brick school, shot multiple rounds and entered through an unlocked door. After making his way down a series of short hallways, he turned left and entered an empty classroom. From there, he found an adjoining classroom full of students and opened fire, authorities said.
This has raised questions about security in a school district that has threat-assessment teams, a threat-reporting system, social media monitoring software, fences around schools and motion detectors to detect campus breaches. According to online district records, “teachers are instructed to keep their classroom doors closed and locked at all times.”
Four minutes after Ramos entered the school, officers with the Uvalde Police Department and Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department went inside. Hearing gunfire, they attempted to enter the classroom, authorities said, but some were shot or grazed and took cover.
Sporadic gunfire erupted as police attempted “negotiations,” Escalon said.
“During the negotiations, there wasn’t much gunfire apart from keeping officers at bay,” he said.
According to Texas law-enforcement sources, the classroom door was locked and reinforced to prevent police from breaching it easily, and it took time to locate a key that could open it.
It was not until an hour after police entered the building that a U.S. Border Patrol tactical officer arrived from an off-duty position and killed Ramos.
A Texas law-enforcement source told the Los Angeles Times that officers fired 15 shots when they finally entered the classroom. Radio communications indicate the officers reported the gunman was dead at 1 p.m.
Even though Uvalde is a small city of 16,000, its school district has its own police department, formed a few months after the 2018 school mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. It had six officers and one security guard. One of its newest hires, Officer Adrian Gonzalez, had been an assistant commander and SWAT training commander at the Uvalde Police Department for 10 years and had taken training courses in advanced SWAT tactics and how to respond to active shooters and rescue hostages.
“They failed,” said Carlos Ovalle, 32, a county worker who rushed to the school Tuesday in a bid to save his 8-year-old daughter, Makaylah, who survived. “Someone off duty got there faster than they did.”