The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday law enforcement officers should have entered the classroom sooner in Uvalde, Texas, during a massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead earlier this week.
The commander at the scene of the shooting at Robb Elementary School decided the incident had transitioned into a “barricaded suspect” situation, not an “active shooter” — a decision that Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said was wrong while speaking during a news conference.
“From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. Period. There’s no excuse for that,” McCraw said.
WHAT WENT WRONG:An open door, missed opportunity, ‘wrong decision’
The gunman entered the school at 11:33 a.m. Tuesday, but officers did not enter the classroom where the shooter was holed up and kill him until 12:50 p.m., McCraw said. During that time, multiple 911 calls came in from students inside the classrooms, McCraw said. During the calls, the students said they were alive and asked for police to enter to help, McCraw added.
However, the commander on scene “was convinced at the 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,” McCraw said.
“Based upon the information we have, there were children in that classroom that were at risk, and it was in fact still an active shooter situation, and not a barricaded subject,” McCraw said.
Gov. Abbott: ‘I am livid’ about police misinformation
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday he was infuriated by the changing accounts given by police about their response time and interactions with the gunman in the days since Tuesday’s school shooting.
“I was misled. I am livid about what happened,” he said.
Abbott was one of the early distributors of public information about the shooting. He said at a press conference Friday that he was sharing information with the public based on what he was told by law enforcement and other officials directly after the shooting, which has since been corrected by police.
He said he expects investigators to “get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty.”
“There are people that deserve answers the most, and those are the families whose lives have been destroyed. They need answers that are accurate,” he said. “And it is inexcusable that they may have suffered from any inaccurate information whatsoever.”
NRA convention draws large protests
As the National Rifle Association began its annual convention Friday, protesters flocked to Houston to advocate for tighter gun control in the wake of the Uvalde school massacre.
Protesters gathered around a stage outside the convention, where children stood wearing the names and photos of the 19 slain students at Robb Elementary. They held signs that read “Gun control now” and “Protect children not guns” as NRA members walked by.
Among the demonstrators was Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running for Texas governor. He called on NRA leaders and members to “join us to make sure that this no longer happens in this country.”
“Those who will be the victims of the next mass shooting, unless we act, are counting on us at this moment. Please join us now, or be left behind,” O’Rourke said.
The first 911 call alerting police to the gunman came at 11:30 a.m. after he crashed into a ditch near the school. Calls from students inside the school began at 12:03 p.m., McCraw said.
The first call lasted a minute and 20 seconds, with the student whispering and saying she was in Room 112, McCraw said. Multiple calls came from the same student, one at 12:10 p.m. advising multiple people were dead, one at 12:13 p.m. and another at 12:16 p.m. saying eight to nine students were alive.
Another call came at 12:19 from Room 111, but the student hung up when another student told the caller to do so. McCraw said three gunshots, believed to be fired at a classroom door, could be heard during a 911 call that came in at 12:21 p.m.
A 911 call at 12:36 p.m. from the first student lasted 21 seconds, McCraw said. The student “was told to stay on the line and be very quiet,” he said. The caller told the operator, “he shot the door.”
At 12:43 p.m. and 12:47 p.m., the student asked “please send the police now” and at 12:46 p.m. that she “could hear the police next door,” McCraw said.
“Clearly there were kids in the room. Clearly they were at risk,” McCraw said.
At 12:50 p.m. — when McCraw said police killed the gunman — audio of shots being fired were heard, and at 12:51 p.m., there was audio of what sounded like officers moving students from the room, he added.
The gunman crashed his vehicle into a ditch near the school at 11:28 a.m. and began firing after two men from a nearby funeral home approached, according to a timeline McCraw detailed Friday. A school resource officer arrived at the school but confronted a teacher, not the shooter, at the back of the school, McCraw said.
The gunman fired shots at the school, then he entered the building through a door a teacher had left propped open and began shooting into the adjoining classrooms where the massacre occurred at 11:33 a.m., McCraw said. At least 100 rounds were fired, investigators determined based on audio evidence.
Three police officers from the Uvalde Police Department entered the school within two minutes and were followed by four others, three from the police department and one sheriff’s deputy, McCraw said.
Two of the officers who first entered the school received grazing wounds from the suspect in an initial encounter with him, and after that, police did not engage the suspect for over an hour, according to McCraw’s timeline.
The gunman fired at 11:37 a.m., 11:38 a.m., 11:40 a.m. and 11:44 a.m., McCraw said. More police arrived by 11:51 a.m. and by 12:03 p.m. — as many as 19 police officers were in the school hallway, he added. Before they breached, officers acquired keys from a janitor because the two classroom doors were locked, McCraw said.
Members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit arrived at 12:15 p.m. At 12:21, the same time McCraw said the suspect is believed to have fired at the door, police moved down the hallway. They breached and killed the suspect at 12:50 p.m. in Room 111, McCraw said.
Dozens of magazines were found along the gunman’s path, including in his home, at the crash site of his vehicle, around the school, on the ground of a classroom and inside his rifle, McCraw said. The gunman had more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, including 142 spent cartridges found inside the school. McCraw said there were 35 spent law enforcement cartridges, eight in the hallway and 27 in the classroom where the suspect was killed.
TEXAS SCHOOL SHOOTING VICTIMS LIST: Families mourn those lost in the Texas school shooting
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray citing conflicting reports given by police about the timeline of events of the shooting and officers’ interactions with the shooter.
Texas state police have launched an examination of law enforcement’s response to the shooting. Witnesses and neighbors have contested officials’ statements about the events, while law enforcement officials have revised parts of their accounts. Officials have sought to assure the public that they responded immediately to the shooting as complaints surfaced about a delay in taking action and entering the school.
Castro said answers were needed about conflicting accounts: “Whether the school security officer and the gunman exchanged fire outside the school,” and, “How long law enforcement officers were in adjoining classrooms while the gunman barricaded himself in a classroom with students and teachers.”
University Hospital in San Antonio has released a 10-year-old girl, the first of three children who were being treated at the San Antonio center after Tuesday’s attack on Robb Elementary School.
Still being treated, according to the hospital, are a 10-year-old girl in serious condition and a 9-year-old girl in good condition.
The shooter’s 66-year-old grandmother, who had been shot in the face before the gunman took her pickup to the school, also remains in the hospital in serious condition.
-Megan Menchaca, Austin American-Statesman
School shootings are on the rise. More kids are dying from gunfire outside of school, too.
The shooting deaths of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, added to a growing wave of gun deaths and violence that’s hitting American children, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
Including the Uvalde shooting — the second-deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history — more people have died in mass killings in schools in the past five years than in the prior 12 years combined. That’s according to a database of mass killings kept by USA TODAY, the Associated Press and Northeastern University. A mass killing is defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed, not including the perpetrator. Read more.
-Doug Caruso, Javier Zarracina, Dan Keemahill and Dian Zhang
What we know about the 21 victims
Families and community members gathered Thursday to mourn the 19 children and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Tuesday’s massacre as more of the victims’ identities became known.
At a park in Uvalde, crosses bearing the names of the slain students and teachers were erected.
The two teachers who were killed, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, co-taught their fourth graders and were called hailed as heroes for protecting students. Garcia’s husband, Joe Garcia, laid flowers at his wife’s memorial site, but died suddenly later Thursday, leaving their four children with two funerals to plan.
The children who were killed included 10-year-old Xavier Javier Lopez, who loved to crack jokes and dance cumbia with his family, his mother Felicha Martinez told The Washington Post.
Layla Salazar, 10, was a fast runner who won ribbons at the school’s field day and sang along to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses on the way to school each morning, her dad Vincent Salazar said.
Jayce Luevanos, 10, woke up every morning and made his grandparents a pot of coffee, his grandfather Carmelo Quiroz said. He was happy and loved, Quiroz said. “He was our baby.” Read more.
NRA convention starts Friday; Abbott to skip in-person appearance
The National Rifle Association begins its annual convention in Houston on Friday, and leaders of the powerful gun-rights lobbying group are gearing up to “reflect on” – and deflect any blame for – the deadly shooting earlier this week in Uvalde.
Former President Donald Trump and other leading Republicans are scheduled to address the three-day firearms marketing and advocacy event, which is expected to draw protesters fed up with gun violence.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott canceled an in-person appearance at the convention and instead will be in Uvalde to speak about state resources for people affected the mass shooting. Abbott will appear at the conference via a video recording, his spokeswoman Renae Eze said. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also decided to cancel his appearance after “prayerful consideration and discussion with NRA officials,” he said.
While President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have renewed calls for stricter gun laws, NRA board member Phil Journey said the focus should be on better mental health care and trying to prevent gun violence. He said he wouldn’t support banning or limiting access to firearms.
The NRA said in an online statement that people attending the gun show will “reflect on” the Uvalde school shooting, “pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”
McConnell signals Republicans willing to engage on limited gun measures
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he wants GOP lawmakers to work with Democrats on a legislative solution for limited gun measures “directly related” to the Uvalde shooting.
In what could be a potential breakthrough on gun legislation, McConnell told CNN he met with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and encouraged him to engage with key Democratic senators “in trying to get an outcome that’s directly related to the problem. And so I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution that’s directly related to the facts of this awful massacre.”
Democrats, who hold 50 seats in the Senate, need at least 60 votes to defeat a filibuster and bring legislation to the floor, so any proposal will need the support of at least 10 Republicans, most of whom have shown little appetite to go against the gun lobby and restrict access to firearms.
Meanwhile, a small, bipartisan group of about 10 senators met for a second time Thursday to negotiate legislation on guns. The three topics they discussed included background checks for guns purchased online or at gun shows, red-flag laws designed to keep guns away from those who could harm themselves or others, and programs to bolster security at schools and other buildings.
US surgeon general says mass shootings are a public health crisis
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas shooting that incidents of gun violence “traumatize an entire nation.”
In an interview with USA TODAY on Thursday, Murthy said that gun violence is a public health crisis in the country, and that each incident retraumatizes people who have already survived shootings or who have been affected by the news of them.
“Yesterday, when I dropped my son and daughter off at school, the day after this horrific shooting, there was a part of me which didn’t want to send them, either. I hugged them close and didn’t want to let go when I was at the drop-off line. And I wasn’t alone,” he said.
Lawmakers have a moral obligation to “make sure that this time is different” and tell their constituents how they plan to address gun violence, Murthy said.
Most victims reportedly shot in first minutes of carnage
Most if not all of the victims were shot within the first minutes after the gunman arrived at the school, according to Texas law enforcement officials.
Victor Escalon, South Texas regional director of the Department of Public Safety, said at a Thursday news conference that reports of a school district police officer confronting the suspect were inaccurate.
“He walked in unobstructed initially,” Escalon said. According to the information police have, the suspect did not respond to negotiation, Escalon said. He said the majority of the gunfire — numerous rounds — were fired in the first minutes the gunman was inside the school.
Within four minutes, police were inside the school, Escalon said. But according to officials, it wasn’t until “approximately an hour later” when U.S. Border Control tactical teams arrived and killed the suspect.
Contributing: Katie Hall and John C. Moritz, Austin American-Statesman; The Associated Press