The official account of what happened during a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is under scrutiny following the reporting of new details.
At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott praised police for their response to the massacre Tuesday that killed 19 kids and two teachers. A Border Patrol officer fatally shot the gunman, whom authorities identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.
“The reality is, as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse," Abbott said. "The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed amazing courage by running towards gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives. 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. Unfortunately, not enough.”
However, the Associated Press reported late Wednesday that police waited outside the school for at least 40 minutes while parents and onlookers urged them to do something.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” Javier Cazares, whose daughter Jacklyn was killed in the attack, told the AP. “More could have been done.”
“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.”
“Nobody was telling him anything,” said Desiree Garza, whose niece Amerie Jo was killed. “He was trying to find out. He wanted to know where his daughter was.”
A nearly seven-minute video posted to social media seems to support the AP’s story, showing police restraining parents outside the school, including holding one person on the ground. Uvalde, a small city of about 16,000 people, spends roughly 40% of its annual city budget on police.
Police said the shooter had barricaded himself inside the school, but the AP reported that he barricaded himself by locking the door. Border Patrol had difficulty breaching the locked classroom door and had to get a staff member with a key to unlock it.
“The bottom line is, law enforcement was there. They did engage immediately. They did contain [Ramos] in the classroom,” Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told reporters Wednesday.
On Thursday afternoon, Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez issued a statement saying he "[understood] questions are surfacing regarding the details of what occurred" but that police had responded “within minutes” and had suffered gunshot wounds.
Law enforcement did not provide a televised press briefing on Tuesday evening. Abbott spoke briefly about the shooting in the late afternoon before attending a campaign fundraiser. School district leadership gave brief statements without providing any details or taking questions.
Officials said Wednesday that they had immediately engaged the shooter so he was pinned down and couldn’t access other areas of the school. NBC News reported early Thursday morning that, “for the second time, it appears the information initially provided by Texas law enforcement officials was wrong. The shooter was not stopped by the first officer that encountered him. And he wasn’t pinned down but rather appears to have locked himself in a classroom.”
Law enforcement had previously said the shooter was wearing body armor, but it also retracted that initial claim.
In an interview Wednesday evening with San Antonio outlet KENS 5, a fourth grader who said he had been hiding in a classroom indicated that police officers’ actions may have caused another child who was hiding from the shooter to get shot.
“When the cops came, the cop said, ‘Yell if you need help!’ And one of the persons in my class said ‘help.’ The guy overheard, and he came in and shot her,” said the boy. “The cop barged into that classroom. The guy shot at the cop. And the cops started shooting.”
The two teachers in the fourth-grade classroom, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, were killed. The student said they were “nice teachers” who “went in front of my classmates to help. To save them.”
Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN Thursday morning that authorities were still gathering information on what happened, including why it took officers so long to enter the building.
“I can tell you right now, as a father myself, I would want to go in too, but it’s a volatile situation,” Olivarez said when asked about Cazares’s comments. “We have an active shooter situation, we’re trying to preserve any further loss of life, and as much as they want to go into that school, we cannot have individuals go into that school, especially if they’re not armed.”
Olivarez said the school did have surveillance video that the FBI was obtaining.
“We’re trying to establish every single timeline, as far as how long the shooter was inside the classroom, how long did the shooting take place, but as of right now we have not been able to establish that,” he said. “We want to provide factual information as opposed to just providing timelines that are preliminary. We estimate anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour.”
Olivarez also said they were still gathering the exact details of the initial confrontation between the shooter and a school resource officer. Olivarez said the initial report he had received was that gunfire was exchanged between the two, but that information had yet to be corroborated.