The police commander at the scene of the Uvalde elementary school massacre decided to wait for help before confronting the gunman because he believed the situation had shifted from an active shooter to a barricaded hostage situation, with the children not at risk, a decision that a Texas official condemned as “wrong” on Friday.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a Friday press conference that 19 officers waited for about 45 minutes to breach the fourth-grade classroom where 19 children and two teachers were killed in Tuesday’s attack at Robb Elementary School.
“From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision. Period,” Mr. McCraw said at the briefing. “There was no excuse for that.”
He also said that a teacher propped open the back door at 11:27 a.m., enabling 18-year-old Salvador Ramos to enter the school unimpeded at 11:33 a.m. after crashing his grandmother’s truck outside the building at 11:28 a.m.
Minutes earlier, the teen shot his grandmother in the face, but she was able to call 911 and seek help from a neighbor. She was transported to a San Antonio hospital and remains in stable condition.
Seven officers arrived at the school at 11:35 a.m., but they fell back after the gunman fired at them, hitting two of them with what were non-life-threatening injuries. By 12:03 p.m., there were 19 officers in the school hallway, Mr. McCraw said.
SEE ALSO: Despite ample school security plan, Texas shooter found gaps
“There was 19 officers in there,” he said. “In fact, there was plenty of officers to do whatever needed to be done, with one exception, which is that the incident commander inside believed they needed more equipment and more officers to do a tactical breach at that point.”
The officers waited for the arrival of the Border Patrol tactical unit at 12:15 p.m. They obtained keys to the locked classroom from the janitor. At 12:50 p.m., the team breached the door, and shot and killed the gunman.
The timeline provided at the press conference shows that it took an hour and 15 minutes from the time the first officers arrived to burst into the classroom and confront the gunman.
Even though the incident commander treated the situation as a barricade situation, at least two students and a teacher called 911 during the siege. At 12:16 p.m., a caller from inside the classroom told 911 that there were eight to nine students still alive.
Both of the children who called from inside the classroom survived the attack, Mr. McCraw said.
“A student, a child, called back and was told to stay on line and be very quiet,” he said. “She told 911 that he shot the door. At approximately 12:43 and 12:47, she asked 911 to please send the police now.”
SEE ALSO: Texas school shooting spurs new questions about ‘good guys with guns’
Mr. McCraw did not name the incident commander but said he was the chief of police of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District.
“He was convinced at that time that there was no more threat to the children and that the subject was barricaded and that they had time to organize with the proper equipment to go in,” Mr. McCraw said.
The district has six school resource officers. None of them was at the Robb campus as the gunman walked toward the school carrying a rifle and a backpack of ammunition, but one officer was there almost immediately.
He arrived at 11:31 a.m. after hearing a 911 call about a man with a gun. Unfortunately, he sped right past the shooter.
“[He] drove immediately to the area, sped to what he thought was the man with a gun to the back of the school, what turned out to be a teacher, and not the suspect,” Mr. McCraw said. “In doing so he drove right by the suspect who was hunkered down behind a vehicle.”
It was one of several unlucky breaks and missed opportunities. Another came when the teacher who had left the back door open ran back inside, retrieved her phone, and came back to the exit door but did not close it.
The gunman left a trail on social media, but in private chat rooms on Instagram, not public posts.
In September, he asked his sister to help him buy a gun, and she “flatly refused,” Mr. McCraw said.
In a Feb. 28 four-person chat on Instagram, there was a discussion about Ramos being a school shooter. The next day, he talked about buying a gun. Two days later, someone said, “word on the street is that you’re buying a gun,” and Ramos replied, “just bought something.”
On March 14, he said “10 more days” in an Instagram chat. Another user asked “are you going to shoot up the school or something,” to which Ramos replied “no” and “stop asking dumb questions and you’ll see,” Mr. McGraw said.
The department said Tuesday that Ramos bought two AR-platform rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition in three separate purchases at a local sporting-goods store from May 17-20, shortly after his 18th birthday.
He also reportedly posted photographs of the rifles on Instagram.
The Texas Rangers are leading the investigation into the Uvalde shooting in concert with the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and local law enforcement.
The attack was the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six faculty members were killed.
The 20-year-old gunman, who shot and killed his mother before attacking Sandy Hook Elementary School, committed suicide at the scene.