UVALDE, Texas – A Texas law enforcement officer sought to reassure the public Thursday that immediate efforts were made to stop the gunman at the school shooting where 19 children and two teachers were killed as complaints surfaced about a delay in taking action.
The suspect, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, initially shot at Robb Elementary School from the parking lot before entering “unobstructed” at 11:40 a.m. through an apparently unlocked door, Victor Escalon, South Texas regional director of the Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference.
Four minutes later, Escalon said, local police arrived.
“They hear gunfire, they take rounds, they move back, get cover, and during that time they approach where the suspect is at,” said Escalon, adding that the gunman entered a classroom at that time as the officers requested additional help.
While waiting for backups, Escalon said the officers evacuated students and teachers while the shooter barricaded himself inside a fourth-grade classroom . According to some reports, all the victims were shot in that room. Escalon did not respond to a question about why police couldn’t break through.
As the drama unfolded, some community members outside the school urged police officers to charge in. “Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who saw the scene from outside his house. The officers did not immediately enter the building, he said.
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Most if not all of the victims were shot within the first minutes after the gunman arrived at the school, according to the timeline from Texas law enforcement officials obtained by The New York Times. The timeline also indicates early reports that the gunman initially exchanged fire with an officer outside the school are incorrect. The Times, which said the timeline was described by a person familiar with the investigation, said the officer was actually in a car nearby and rushed to the scene after the first 911 calls came in.
As the officer arrived at the school, the gunman was already approaching, began firing at the school and entered, according to the Times. Within minutes, other law enforcement officers arrived and two members of the Uvalde Police Department entered the school. The gunman already had gone inside a pair of adjoining classrooms and was shooting, according to the timeline. The two officers attempted to enter, were shot, and retreated as the shooting continued inside the classroom, according to the Times.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said a Border Patrol tactical team shot the gunman 40 minutes to an hour after he fired on a school security officer, though the department later said it could not estimate how long the gunman was in the school.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press the Border Patrol agents who rushed to the school had trouble breaching the classroom door, finally getting a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.
“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (the gunman) in the classroom.”
Texas officials are scrutinizing the law enforcement response. Sources close to the investigation said the review is routine after a major incident, but it has intensified in this case because of differing accounts from neighbors and witnesses about what police did and when. Authorities also are awaiting final collection of evidence at the scene and analysis of ballistics.
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School officials announced Thursday they have canceled high school graduation set for Friday evening at the Honey Bowl stadium. In a statement, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent District did not say when the graduation would be rescheduled. “Out of the deepest respect for the families and our community affected by the tragedy we have experienced, the Uvalde High School Graduation Ceremony has been postponed,” the statement said. “This is a difficult time for everyone. Please keep all families in your prayers.”
Thursday was supposed to be the district’s last day of classes, but they were halted after the shooting. Officials on Thursday were instead distributing snack kits to families whose kids ordinarily get meals at school.
Adriana Reyes, the mother of gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, told ABC News her son was “not a monster” but could be “aggressive.” Reyes said she wasn’t aware that her son bought two rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the week before Tuesday’s deadly rampage. She last saw her son on his birthday, May 16, she said.
“We all have a rage, some people have it more than others,” Reyes told ABC.
She expressed sympathy for the victims.
“Those kids … I have no words,” Reyes said. “I don’t know what to say about those poor kids.”
Reyes told Britain’s Daily Mail that Ramos kept to himself and had few friends. The shooter’s grandfather, Rolando Reyes, told the Daily Mail his grandson did not graduate high school.
“You would try to tell him, but kids nowadays they think they know everything,” he said.
Grieving residents tried to comprehend the unimaginable loss and console friends and neighbors. In Uvalde, a South Texas city of 16,000 residents, nearly everyone knew a family touched by the bloodshed – either directly or indirectly. In addition to the 21 who were killed in the attack, 17 were wounded.
“To say the least, Uvalde has been shaken to its core,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a Wednesday news conference at Uvalde High School. “Families are broken apart. Hearts are forever shattered, and all Texans are grieving with the people of Uvalde.”
During the news conference, Abbott said the gunman sent social media messages about his intentions half an hour before the rampage. Shortly after the revelation, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke confronted the governor, accusing him of “doing nothing” about gun violence.
Before being escorted away, O’Rourke said, “This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state, or they will continue to be killed just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”
Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the shooting, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Chris Olivarez said. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, one of several responding to the scene, shot and killed the gunman, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told USA TODAY on Tuesday night.
All the children were fourth graders. The two longtime teachers were identified as Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia.
Audrey Garcia, a parent of one of Mireles’ former students, thanked the teacher for supporting her daughter Gabby, now 23, when she was in third grade. In a Twitter tribute, Garcia called Mireles a “beautiful person & dedicated teacher.”
“There are no words,” she wrote. Read more here.
BLOODSHED SINCE SANDY HOOK:Uvalde school shooting among deadliest school attacks in past 10 years
Gun manufacturer Daniel Defense, which saw its sales spike after the massacre in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, is under scrutiny after the Texas shooting because the gunman purchased one of the company’s rifles and brought it to Tuesday’s attack.
Though Daniel Defense is largely shielded from civil liability by the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, such cover has been pierced, and the company may face years of expensive litigation, not to mention public backlash.
Families of the Sandy Hook victims successfully sued Remington, the producer of the Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle used in the assault. In February, the gunmaker agreed to a $73 million settlement in the case, which hinged on marketing materials targeted at young men that suggested proof of masculinity and fears of having your “man card” revoked. Daniel Defense’s marketing and the focus on “tactical” and combat gear could invite civil action.
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Schools around the country increased security as a precaution. Schools in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Virginia, Maryland and Florida were among those offering counseling.
In Connecticut, where 20 first graders and six educators were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, state police said they sent extra troopers to schools Wednesday, although no specific threats had been received.
“This assault on the most innocent of our citizens is deeply disturbing and heartbreaking,” state police Col. Stavros Mellekas said in a statement. “At this time, our focus will be on protecting all school populations here in our state.”
Contributing: Nick Penzenstadler, USA TODAY; The Associated Press