Nearly 20 officers stood for about 45 minutes in the hallway outside the adjoining Texas classrooms where the gunman killed students and teachers this week before U.S. Border Patrol agents unlocked the door to confront and kill him, authorities said Friday.
At least some of the 911 calls made during the Tuesday attack on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde came from inside the connected classrooms where 18-year-old Salvador Ramos was holed up, Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said during a contentious news conference.
The commander at the scene believed Ramos was barricaded inside and that the children were not at risk, McCraw said.
“It was the wrong decision,” he said.
McCraw released new details about the attack in which Ramos killed 19 children teachers, though his motive remains unclear.
The Border Patrol agents eventually used a master key to open the locked door of the classroom where they confronted and killed Ramos, he said.
There was a barrage of gunfire shortly after Ramos entered the classroom where officers eventually killed him, but that shots were “sporadic” for much of the 48 minutes when officers waited in the hallway, McCraw said. He said investigators do not know if or how many children died during that time.
Throughout the attack, teachers and children repeatedly called 911 asking for help, including a girl who pleaded: “Please send the police now,” McCraw said.
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. Tuesday when Ramos’ Ford pickup slammed into a ditch behind the low-slung Texas school and the driver jumped out carrying an AR-15-style rifle.
Twelve minutes after that, authorities say, Ramos entered the school and found his way to the fourth-grade classroom where he killed the 21 victims.
But it wasn’t until 12:58 p.m. that law enforcement radio chatter said Ramos had been killed and the siege was over.
What happened in those 90 minutes, in a working-class neighborhood near the edge of the town of Uvalde, has fueled 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.”
Friday’s briefing came only after authorities spent three days providing often conflicting and incomplete information.
According to the new timeline provided by McCraw, After crashing his truck, Ramos fired on two people coming out of a nearby funeral home, officials said.
Contrary to earlier statements by officials, a school district police officer was not inside the school when Ramos 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 p.m., Ramos 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.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Travis Considine said investigators haven’t yet determined 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, as many as 19 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 70 miles (113 kilometers) away in the border town of Del Rio, the agency said in a tweet Friday.
But the police commander inside the building 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 after a group of Border Patrol tactical officers entered the school 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 the fourth-grade classroom. Moments before 1 p.m., he was dead.
Ken Trump, president of the consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, said the length of the timeline raised questions.
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