UPDATED: 4:00 p.m. ET
Conflicting reports from law enforcement in Texas about certain facts surrounding the deadly Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde have seemingly prompted more questions than answers. A press conference on Thursday afternoon only seemed to exacerbate that truth when an official with the Texas Department of Public Safety fell short of providing much more clarity.
Victor Escalon’s briefing for the media undermined previous accounts from the Texas Department of Public Safety that were only provided a mere hours before the press conference.
There were some new details learned from the press conference, including how Salvador Ramos managed to enter the school “unobstructed” and whether there was a school resource officer on the premises at the time.
Escalon confirmed previous reports that Ramos around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday crashed a pickup truck he drive to the school after he shot his grandmother in the face at the home they shared in Uvalde. He also confirmed Ramos shot at people outside of a nearby funeral home before the gunman walked to the school.
That’s where, Escalon said, Ramos began shooting outside of the building before he entered at about 11:40 a.m. He said video footage showed him entering the school and shooting inside the school.
About four minutes later, Escalon said police first arrived on the scene and “received gunfire” from Ramos, delaying when they could enter the building.
Escalon said that’s when police needed time to negotiate with Ramos as well as call for backup while evacuating students and school staff.
It would take “about an hour later” for U.S. Border Patrol to arrive and kill the suspect.
When asked, Escalon said there was not a school resource officer at Robb Elementary at the time of the shooting. He neither confirmed nor denied whether an officer was supposed to be there.
Escalon also said he was unsure whether the door Ramos used to enter the school was locked.
He said most of Ramos’ gunfire happened in the beginning, making it unclear what took officers so long to reach him in the fourth-grade classroom the gunman targeted.
When asked about it, Escalon said he would need to “circle back” and answer that at a later time.
While dozens of families are mourning the loss of their young loved ones who were killed in the Uvalde school shooting, the investigation into the carnage has shifted its focus to the police response that witnesses say left much to be desired.
To hear neighbors and parents tell it, a fine blend of apparent police hesitancy and ineptitude allowed 18-year-old Salvador Ramos‘ plenty of time to carry out his deadly shooting spree that killed 19 fourth-grade students and two adults in a single classroom late Tuesday morning in the Texas town about 75 miles from the Mexican border.
A new article from the Associated Press suggests that the heavily armed Ramos not only encountered an alleged school resource officer in the still-not fully explained moments leading up to the shooting outside of the school who also inexplicably did not prevent him from entering the building.
Instead, according to witness accounts, police ultimately assembled outside Robb Elementary School and left Ramos in the building for as long as a full hour until Border Patrol arrived. None of the trained law enforcement officers were able to break down the door that Ramos reportedly barricaded himself behind, the Associated Press reported. It would take at least 40 minutes for law enforcement officials to get a school staff member to unlock the door with a key, allowing Border Patrol to enter the building and ultimately shoot and kill Ramos.
Questions linger about whether a swifter police response could have saved more lives.
Onlookers during those tense moments outside of the school while Ramos was killing children yelled at police to rush the building, according to the Associated Press.
“Go in there! Go in there!” women implored officers outside of the school.
Witness Juan Carranza, who lives across the street from the school, told the Associated Press that he suggested to the growing crowd that they storm the school to stop the shooter and said the police settled on a more passive response.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” Carranza recalled saying. “More could have been done.”
He described the police as “unprepared.”
Carranza said he saw Ramos crash the truck he drove to the scene, get out and use an assault rifle to shoot at two people outside. When police arrived, Carranza suggested they had the advantage over Ramos just based on the sheer number of officers on the scene.
“There were more of them,” Carranza said. “There was just one of him.”
The police narrative is decidedly different from that of eyewitnesses. Law enforcement has said “a school district security officer” may have exchanged gunfire with Ramos before the gunman ran into the building and shot at two Uvalde police officers responding to the shooting.
“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” Steve McCraw, Director and Colonel of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told reporters on Wednesday. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”
Ramos’ motive remained unclear as of Wednesday night.
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District had a security plan in place in case there was ever a shooting at one of its facilities. According to the district’s own 21-point “preventative security measures,” provisions included hiring members of law enforcement, including a police chief, one detective and two officers, having “threat assessment teams” in place, monitoring social media for threats and training and drills for students and staff.
One of the key policies listed in Uvalde schools’ security plan specifically addresses classroom doors.
“Teachers are instructed to keep their classroom doors closed and locked at all times,” the policy reads in part.
Ramos, of course, carried out the killing in a single classroom.
The police response in Uvalde has been drawing comparisons to what happened in 2018 during a shooting rampage at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In that instance, Scot Peterson, an armed school resource officer assigned to the school and wearing his uniform, including a bulletproof vest, “failed to confront” shooter Nikolas Cruz, who went on to kill 17 people and injure 17 others in one of Florida’s deadliest mass shootings. Even after Cruz went into the school building, Peterson never followed him. He was accused of hiding for 45 minutes while the shooting took place.
The police response in Uvalde stands in stark contrast to how law enforcement reacted to a mass shooting at a supermarket less than two weeks earlier in Buffalo, New York. In that instance, armed security guard Aaron Salter Jr. fired at 18-year-old Payton Gendron in an effort that officials say helped save lives until police arrived and took the gunman into custody.