Nearly 20 officers were in the hallway near the classrooms at Texas Elementary School for more than 45 minutes before agents used the master key to open the door and confront the gunman, authorities said Friday.
WALDE, Texas (AP) – Students in a class with an armed man repeatedly called 911 during an attack on a Texas elementary school this week, including one that asked, “Please send police now.” when officers waited in the corridor for more than 45 minutes, authorities said Friday.
The commander at the scene in Uwalde, the school district’s police chief, believed that 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos had been barricaded in nearby Robb Elementary School classrooms and that the children were no longer at risk, said Stephen McCrow, head of Texas. This was stated by the Department of Public Safety at a controversial press conference.
“It was the wrong decision,” he said.
Friday’s briefing came after authorities spent three days presenting often conflicting and incomplete information about the 90 minutes that passed between Ramos entering the school and when U.S. Border Patrol opened the classroom door and killed him.
When border guards were to enter the room, there were as many as 19 officers in the corridor outside, McCrow said.
Ramos killed 19 children and two teachers in the room. His motives remain unclear, authorities said.
Shortly after Ramos entered the classroom, where officers eventually killed him, a barrage of gunfire ensued, but those shots were “sporadic” for most of the 48 minutes officers waited in the hallway, McCrow said. He said investigators did not know whether the children had died at the time.
Throughout the attack, teachers and children repeatedly called the 911 service for help, including a girl who asked the police, McCrow said.
Questions are growing about how long it took officers to enter the school to confront an armed man.
It was 11:28 a.m. Tuesday when a Ramas Ford pickup truck crashed into a ditch behind a Texas low school and the driver jumped out with an AR-15 rifle. Five minutes later, authorities said, Ramos entered the school and ended up in the fourth grade, killing 21 victims.
But only at 12:58 a.m. did law enforcement on the radio report that Ramos had been killed and the siege was over.
What happened in those 90 minutes in a working-class neighborhood near the town of Uwalde sparked growing public anger and control over law enforcement response to the riot on Tuesday.
“They say they rushed,” said Javier Casares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacqueline Casares, was killed in the attack and rushed to school when the massacre unfolded. “We haven’t seen it.”
According to a new schedule provided by McCroe, after his truck crashed, Ramos shot two people coming out of a nearby funeral home, officials said.
Contrary to earlier statements by officials, the school police officer was not at the school when Ramos arrived. When that officer responded, he unknowingly drove past Ramas, who was squatting behind a car parked outside and shooting at the building, McCrow said.
At 11:33 p.m., Ramos entered the school through an open back door and fired more than 100 shots into a couple of classrooms, McCrow said. He did not say why the door opened.
Two minutes later, three local police officers arrived and entered the building through the same door, followed shortly by four more, McCrow said. Within 15 minutes, as many as 19 officers from various departments gathered in the corridor, receiving sporadic fire from Ramas, who hid in the classroom.
Ramos was still inside at 12:10 a.m. when the first deputies of the U.S. Marshals Service arrived. They rushed to a school from nearly 70 miles (113 kilometers) in the border town of Del Rio, the agency said on Twitter on Friday.
But the building commander, school district police chief Pete Aredondo, decided the group should wait to confront the gunman, believing there was no more active attack on the scene, McCrow said.
The crisis ended at 12:50 a.m. after officers used janitor keys to open the classroom door, entered the room and shot Ramas, he said.
On Friday, it was not possible to immediately get a comment from Arredondo. No one opened the door in his house, and he did not respond to a phone call left at the district police department.
Governor Greg Abbott, who praised police response at a news conference Wednesday, said on Friday that he had been “misled” and “flooded”.
In his earlier statements, the governor told reporters, he repeated what he was told. “The information I was given turned out to be partly inaccurate,” he said.
Abbott said exactly what happened should be “thoroughly, exhaustively” investigated.
Earlier, Abbott praised law enforcement for their “amazing courage to flee to the fire” and “quick response.”
Ken Trump, president of the consulting firm National School of Safety and Security Services, said the length of time is questionable.
“Based on best practice, it’s very difficult to understand why there were any delays, especially when you get reports of 40 minutes or more to neutralize that shooter,” he said.
The motive for the massacre – the deadliest school shooting in the country since Newtown, Connecticut, nearly a decade ago – remained under investigation. Authorities said Ramas had no known criminal or mental history.
According to witnesses, during the siege, frustrated observers urged police to break into the school.
“Go there! Come there! ” the women shouted at the officers shortly after the attack began, said 24-year-old Juan Caranza, who watched the scene from behind the house across the street.
Carranza said officers should have entered the school earlier: “There were more of them. There was only one of them. “
Casares said that when he arrived, he saw two officers near the school and about five others accompanying the students from the building. But 15-20 minutes passed before the arrival of officers with shields equipped to confront the armed man.
As more parents flocked to the school, he and others demanded police, Cazares said. He heard about four shots before he and others were ordered back to the parking lot.
“Many of us argued with the police: ‘You all need to go.’ You all have to do your job. ” Their response was, “We can’t do our job because you’re interfering,” Cazares said.
Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, which works to make schools safer, warned that soon after the shooting it is difficult to understand the facts.
“The information we have a couple of weeks after the event is usually very different from the one we get in the first day or two. And even that is usually quite inaccurate, ”Dorn said.
By Friday, however, it was known enough that many parents were struggling with fear.
Visiting the downtown memorial, Cassandra Johnson of the neighboring Hondo community said she was so worried the day after the attack that she did not allow her twin boys to go to school.
Before sending the eight-year-olds back, she studied the school building, figuring out which windows she needed to break to get to them. And she drew hearts on their hands with markers so she could identify them when the worst happens, Johnson said, laying flowers at about 21 white crosses in honor of the victims.
“These kids can be my kids,” she said.
Associated Press reporters Claire Galafar of Uwalde and Jake Blaiberg of Dallas contributed to the report.
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