'More could have been done': Witnesses question law enforcement response to Texas school shooting
When news of the Robb Elementary School shooting spread in Uvalde, Texas, concerned parents and residents gathered on-site, where, they said, they begged law enforcement to charge into the building and considered entering themselves while the gunman was inside for at least 40 minutes.
Since Tuesday’s massacre, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, conflicting narratives have emerged about the law enforcement response.
Javier Cazares, the father of fourth grader Jacklyn Cazares, who died in the attack, said he ran to the school after he learned about the shooting and saw some officers still outside the building.
Upset that authorities didn’t appear to be moving into the building, Cazares said, he and other bystanders wanted to charge in themselves.
“Let’s just rush in, because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to do,” he told The Associated Press, which he later confirmed with NBC News.
“More could have been done,” Cazares added. “They were unprepared.”
Video from outside the school Tuesday appears to show distressed parents and residents reacting to news of the shooting.
A woman is heard yelling: “Get in! Get in! What is the f——— deal?”
“They’re all in there. The cops aren’t doing s--- except standing outside,” a man is heard saying. “You know they’re little kids, right? Little kids, they don’t know how to defend themselves.”
It’s not clear when the video was recorded or whether officers were inside the building at the time.
Robb Elementary serves second through fourth grade students in the small town of Uvalde, about 75 miles from the Mexico border, which is home to a large Latino community.
Another video appears to show multiple parents outside the school, some yelling at armed officers in military fatigues in front of them.
Witness Juan Carranza, 24, told The Associated Press that women by the school shouted, “Go in there! Go in there!” at officers. He didn’t see the officers go in, he said.
Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday that his officers “responded within minutes.”
“Responding UPD Officers sustained gun-shot wounds from the suspect,” he said. “Our entire department is thankful that the officers did not sustain any life threatening injuries.
“I understand questions are surfacing regarding the details of what occurred. I know answers will not come fast enough during this trying time, but rest assured that with the completion of the full investigation, I will be able to answer all the questions that we can.”
State and federal law enforcement officials said Thursday they don’t have a timeline yet for the precise sequence of events from the moment the gunman crashed his grandmother’s vehicle until he was fatally shot by an officer.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a news conference Wednesday that the shooter was at the school for up to an hour before law enforcement officers breached the classroom.
“It’s going to be within, like, 40 minutes, within an hour,” McCraw said.
“The bottom line is that law enforcement was there,” he continued. “They did engage immediately. They did contain him in the classroom. They put a tactical stack together in a very orderly way and of course breached and assaulted the individual.”
Uvalde City Council member Everardo Zamora said Thursday on NBC’s “TODAY” show that while people outside accused police of inaction, officers were already in the building.
Zamora said he arrived at the school around 11:45 a.m. and saw numerous officers and Border Patrol agents who were trying to push people back and prevent them from entering the building.
“This whole place was full of police officers,” he said. “They were already in there. I seen them running in there."
NBC News reached out to the Texas Department of Public Safety overnight seeking clarification about the timeline and comment on criticism of the initial law enforcement response.
The gunman, Salvador Ramos, 18, shot his grandmother, got in a car that crashed into a ditch by Robb Elementary and went inside the school with an AR-15-style long rifle, officials said Wednesday.
As he made his way to the west side of the campus, an officer with the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District “engaged” him, but it’s unclear how, McCraw said Wednesday.
“Gunfire was not exchanged,” and “the subject was able to make it into the school,” McCraw said. It’s not clear why a school resource officer didn’t open fire.
Lt. Chris Olivarez, a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Safety, said Thursday on CNN that the gunman did exchange gunfire with two police officers who arrived at the scene. Both officers were shot.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the gunman entered the school through a back door, walked down two short hallways and went into two adjoining classrooms, where he locked the door and opened fire.
Officers from multiple units and agencies — including local police and a Customs and Border Protection tactical team — arrived but couldn’t enter the classroom.
The door to the classroom finally was opened when the principal produced a master key, state and federal law enforcement officials said.
It’s unclear why officers couldn’t break down the door or how much time it took before they got inside the classroom.
The shooter was ultimately killed when members of a CBP tactical team entered the room and shot him.
Those who were killed and hurt were all in one classroom, Olivarez told CNN.
Chance Aguirre, 9, a third grade student, recounted how he and fellow students hid in the cafeteria when they heard the shots.
“Everybody was scared. We were all panicking, because we didn’t know what was really happening,” he said in an account recorded by NBC affiliate WOAI of San Antonio.
He described seeing what felt like “thousands of police and Border Patrol” officers entering the cafeteria while he and others hid behind a stage in the room. “We had to leave the school,” he said.
Police, who haven’t shared a possible motive in the attack, said the gunman had no known criminal history or history of mental illness.
Abbott revealed that he shared three warnings on Facebook shortly before the shooting. The warnings weren’t posted publicly — they were sent in private one-to-one messages that were discovered after the shooting, Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said in a tweet.
McCraw said the shooter had bought guns and 375 rounds of ammunition just days after his 18th birthday.
On Thursday, the Uvalde Leader-News, a local newspaper, published a harrowing front page: an almost entirely black sheet except for the date “May 24, 2022,” to mark the day 21 lives were lost.
Uvalde Justice of the Peace Eulalio Diaz said Thursday afternoon on MSNBC that “all 21 victims will be back in Uvalde this afternoon, back with their families, back where they belong,” a sign that the identification process is wrapping up.
"Of course, it doesn’t stop," he said. "Because at that point the families have to make arrangements with the funeral homes, and the grieving process continues."
In addition to the 21 people who were killed, 17 others were injured.
Dr. Lillian Liao, a pediatric trauma medical director at University Hospital in San Antonio, described treating four victims: three students and the gunman’s 66-year-old grandmother, whom he shot before the school massacre.
“Broadly speaking, we were treating destructive wounds, and what that means is that there were large areas of tissue missing from the body, and they required emergency surgery because there was significant blood loss,” Liao told CNN.
Even in the wake of tragedy, there is little respite from gun threats.
Police in the Dallas suburb of Richardson found a pistol and a replica AR-15 in a teenager’s car parked outside a high school Wednesday. The teen was arrested and charged with unlawful carrying of weapons in a weapon-free school zone, a felony, Richardson police said.