Uvalde police response under review after news that gunman was barricaded in school for 1 hour

·8 min read

UVALDE — Amid reports that the gunman was barricaded inside a Uvalde classroom for an hour as community members outside begged officers to charge into Robb Elementary School, state police are conducting a top-to-bottom review of how police responded to Tuesday's attack that killed 19 children and their two teachers.

In a briefing Thursday afternoon, Texas Department of Public Safety official Victor Escalon said investigators were still working through an overload of information to determine what happened, with new details emerging but many more questions left to answer.

'He was our baby': Families share stories of those who died in Uvalde school shooting

New information, Escalon said, included:

• The 18-year-old gunman began shooting before he entered the school.

After shooting his grandmother in the face — she was in critical but stable condition Thursday at a San Antonio hospital — the gunman took her pickup and crashed it near the school, exiting from the passenger side with a rifle and a bag full of ammunition.

The Texas Department of Public Safety holds a press conference Thursday in Uvalde. The DPS is conducting a top-to-bottom review of how police responded to Tuesday's attack that killed 19 children and their two teachers in a Uvalde school.
The Texas Department of Public Safety holds a press conference Thursday in Uvalde. The DPS is conducting a top-to-bottom review of how police responded to Tuesday's attack that killed 19 children and their two teachers in a Uvalde school.

"He sees two witnesses at the funeral home across the street from where he wrecked. He engages and fires towards them. He continues walking towards the school. He climbs a fence. Now he's in a parking lot, shooting at the school, multiple times," Escalon said.

• Early reports that a school district police officer had confronted the gunman before he entered the school were incorrect, Escalon said.

"He walked in unobstructed, not confronted by anybody," he said.

• Twelve minutes after the first report to police about the wreck outside Robb Elementary, the gunman entered the school through a door that was apparently unlocked, though that has not been fully confirmed, Escalon said.

More: Bystanders report urging police to charge into Uvalde school during shooting

A police officer sets flowers from a mourner at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School on Thursday, May 26, 2022. Police were not allowing community members to enter the shooting site.
A police officer sets flowers from a mourner at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School on Thursday, May 26, 2022. Police were not allowing community members to enter the shooting site.

Four minutes later, the first officers with the school district and the Uvalde Police Department entered the school but pulled back after coming under fire, he said.

"They don't make entry initially because of the gunfire they are receiving" and call for help, including requests for special equipment, body armor, precision shooters and negotiators, Escalon said.

The police response shifted to getting students and teachers out of other classrooms, and about an hour later a Border Patrol tactical team arrived, entered the classroom where the gunman was barricaded and shot him dead, Escalon said.

Investigators still have found no motive for the attack, Escalon added.

'Go in there! Go in there!'

The investigation by the Texas Rangers into the police response is not intended to lay blame but rather to determine whether the school officers returned gunfire and what prevented them and Uvalde police from stopping the killer before he entered the fourth grade classroom and reportedly announced, "It's time to die."

Sources close to the investigation, not authorized to speak on the record, said the review of law enforcement actions 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 await final collection of evidence at the scene and analysis of ballistics.

In a chaotic and heart-wrenching scene, neighbors and parents screamed and pleaded with officers to enter the school and save the children.

“Go in there! Go in there!” nearby 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, Carranza said.

Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez said officers with the city and school district responded within minutes and took gunfire inside the school, with two Uvalde officers sustaining gunshot wounds that are not life-threatening.

“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,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to investigate the law enforcement response, citing conflicting accounts of the shooting that are "at odds with those provided by witnesses."

"The people of Uvalde, of Texas, and of the nation deserve an accurate account of what transpired," he wrote in a Thursday letter.

Escalon pleaded for understanding from those frustrated with the pace of information, saying the investigation involves interviews with survivors and numerous first responders, as well as collecting and sifting physical evidence and video.

The work is taking a toll, he said.

"It's very hard to take. It's traumatic. We're all hurting inside for the community members of Uvalde, Texas," Escalon said. "We speak for the victims, and we take that dearly."

Uvalde graduation ceremony postponed

Also Thursday, the school district announced that Friday's graduation ceremony for Uvalde High School will be postponed "out of the deepest respect for the families and our community affected by the tragedy." No new date was announced.

"This is a difficult time for everyone," the district posted on its website. "Please keep all families in your prayers."

President Joe Biden also announced that he and the first lady will travel to Uvalde on Sunday to meet with the families of the victims and "grieve with the community."

That grief grew Thursday with news that Joe Garcia, the husband of teacher Irma Garcia, who was killed in Tuesday's shooting, died of a heart attack shortly after placing flowers at the memorial site of his wife, who had been his high school sweetheart, Thursday morning.

"What happened was my Uncle Joe went to go leave flowers for my Tia (Aunt) Irma, his wife, and whenever he got back, he sat down at the kitchen table with his entire family, and after three minutes, he just fell over," nephew John Martinez of San Marcos told the Detroit Free Press.

Now the four Garcia children — ages 23, 19, 15 and 13 — are planning two funerals, Martinez said.

Bryan Mills and his wife, Diana Olvarez-Mills, pray with a local chaplain while paying their respects to Robb Elementary School shooting victims Thursday at the Uvalde Town Square. Lutheran Church Charities brought 21 crosses to the town square for each victim.
Bryan Mills and his wife, Diana Olvarez-Mills, pray with a local chaplain while paying their respects to Robb Elementary School shooting victims Thursday at the Uvalde Town Square. Lutheran Church Charities brought 21 crosses to the town square for each victim.

At sound of gunfire, children hid

As the town of 16,000 residents struggled with scope of its loss, hundreds of people packed the Uvalde County Fairplex for a Wednesday night prayer vigil that was short but intensely emotional as participants listened intently, at times wiping away tears and consoling one another.

Political leaders were in attendance, as were many of the children who survived the shooting, including Mario Jimenez, a fourth grader who was in a neighboring classroom when the shooting started. Jimenez said the students were getting ready to go outside for recess when another class ran back inside. That’s when he says they heard banging and decided to hide.

“After that, all we heard is just police saying for him to come out,” he said. “A couple minutes later, the police ended up breaking the window. They started carrying us out.”

His father, also named Mario Jimenez, said he was able to quickly find a therapist for his son through his job. They've already had the first of several sessions.

The younger Mario Jimenez said he knew all of the students who were killed or injured in the shooting, and his father, who was born and raised in Uvalde, said he also knows most of the victims' parents.

“Right now, we’re just taking it day by day, seeing how he copes with it, seeing how we cope with it,” the father said.

Pastor Tony Gruben from Baptist Temple Church, who helped organize the vigil, focused his attention and prayers on the children who survived the school shooting.

“Pray for those children that saw what happened to their friends,” he said. “May God heal their little hearts, their little souls. Pray for each of us as we help them."

Thelma Martinez writes a message Thursday on a cross at a memorial in Uvalde for the Robb Elementary School shooting victims.
Thelma Martinez writes a message Thursday on a cross at a memorial in Uvalde for the Robb Elementary School shooting victims.

'We're all united in this'

Meantime, about 200 people gathered Wednesday evening for a vigil on the steps of the Texas Capitol, where speakers shared their anger, pain and sadness while participants held hands and cried. Flowers and candles were laid in front of framed photos of each victim.

The event, billed as “emergency community mourning,” was organized by the Coalition Austin. Co-chair and founder Dylan MacAdams said he planned the vigil because he wanted to give people a place to be together and to feel less powerless and less alone.

“I think bringing everyone together and showing that everyone feels that way, and that we're all united in this, and that we aren't alone in these feelings, can help a lot people,” he told the American-Statesman.

The audience included many families with young children and a number of teachers. Some people held protest signs with such messages as “Protect kids, not guns” and “No more silence, end gun violence.”

Salvador Ramos' mother speaks

The mother of the gunman told ABC News that her son was “not a monster" but could "be aggressive."

"I had an uneasy feeling sometimes, like 'what are you up to?'" Adriana Reyes told ABC News. "He can be aggressive ... if he really got mad."

Reyes added, "We all have a rage, that some people have it more than others."

The gunman — identified as Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old Uvalde resident — legally purchased two AR-15rifles in the past two weeks, but Reyes said she was not aware that he had bought the weapons or ammunition.

According to ABC, Reyes also expressed sympathy for the children who were killed and their families. "Those kids, … I have no words," Reyes said. "I don't know what to say about those poor kids."

Statesman staff writers Sarah Asch, Richard Hall, Megan Menchaca, Luz Moreno-Lozano; USA Today writers Michael Collins and Rebecca Morin; Arizona Republic writer Rafael Carranza; Detroit Free Press writer Phoebe Wall Howard and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Uvalde shooting: Witness reports lead to investigation into police