Texas authorities on Friday outlined a series of stunning new developments in the investigation into the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead earlier this week.
The intense news conference Friday included acknowledgments from authorities that police were too slow to confront the gunman and addressed many of the contradictory remarks made by police over the days since the shooting at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday.
It also spurred new questions about law enforcement’s response to the attack and why officers waited in a hallway outside a classroom where the shooter was holed up for more than 45 minutes as gunfire sporadically rang out and children called 911 for help.
“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,” said Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Young students called 911 pleading for help
The first 911 calls from the attack started at 12:03 p.m. The caller whispered she was in room 112. The person called back at 12:10 p.m., saying multiple people were dead, then again at 12:13 p.m. and 12:16 p.m.
She told 911 operators “eight to nine students” were alive, McCraw said.
A student from the adjoining room, 111, called at 12:19 p.m. “She hung up when another student told her to hang up,” he added.
During another call at 12:21 p.m., at least three gunshots could be heard.
A child inside one of the classrooms called at 12:36 p.m., 12:43 and 12:47, pleading for 911 operators to “please send the police now.”
At 12:36, a call lasted 21 seconds. A “student, child” told 911 that “he shot the door,” McCraw said. At 12:43 and 12:47, “she asked 911 to please send the police now.” McCraw said.
At least two students called 911 during the shooting, McCraw said later in the news conference. Both of those children survived the attack.
New timeline of attack raises questions in police response
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 and nearly 20 officers huddled inside the school and didn’t attempt to get inside the room.
Three police officers from the Uvalde Police Department entered the school within two minutes of the attack and were followed by four others, 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.
Teacher propped open door, allowing gunman entry
Authorities say a door to the school that was propped open by a teacher minutes before the shooting allowed the gunman entry into the building.
McCraw outlined video surveillance footage showed a teacher at the school propped open the door at 11:27 a.m.
A minute later, the suspect crashed into a nearby ditch by the school and a funeral home across the street. Two witnesses went to help but fled when they saw the driver was armed.
The teacher who propped open the door ran inside to get a phone and call 911 to report a man with a gun had crashed into a ditch.
“That back door was propped open. It wasn’t supposed to be propped open,” McCraw said. “It was supposed to be locked. And certainly the teacher that went back for her cellphone propped it open again. So that was an access point that the subject used.”
School officer wasn’t there, didn’t confront gunman
After two days of providing often conflicting information, investigators said that a school district police officer was not inside the school when the gunman arrived, and, contrary to their previous reports, the officer had not confronted Ramos outside the building.
McCraw said when that officer did respond to the first 911 call at 11:30 a.m. about the crash and a man with a gun, he unknowingly drove past the shooter, who was crouched behind a car parked outside the school. That was when the shooter started firing at the building, McCraw said.
The gunman entered the school minutes later at 11:33 a.m.
Minutes later, local police officers responded to the school and entered through the back door, which was still propped open. More arrived. Within about 15 minutes, as many as 19 officers were assembled in the hallway outside a classroom where the gunman was holed up with students and teachers.
‘Wrong decision’: School police chief thought gunman was barricaded
McCraw said authorities made a critical error in not engaging the gunman sooner as the timeline shows officers were huddled outside the classroom for about 48 minutes as the gunman continued “sporadic” shooting inside.
He explained the incident commander — the school district’s police chief who is identified as Pete Arredondo on the department’s website — inaccurately determined the incident had transitioned from an active shooter situation to a barricaded gunman.
Arredondo could not immediately be reached for comment at his district office or on phone numbers listed for him in public records.
During that time, sporadic gunfire was heard inside and children were calling 911 with reports of students still alive inside the classroom. McCraw said the incident commander believed shots were being fired at the door, in an attempt to lure police to the room.
He said there were “plenty of officers to do whatever needed to be done” even though the incident commander “believed they needed more equipment and more officers to do a tactical breach at that point.”
“Obviously, based upon the information that we have, there were children in that classroom that were at risk, and it was, in fact, an active shooter situation and not a barricaded subject,” McCraw said.
Asked later by a reporter why officers did not enter the classroom, McCraw responded with a question.
“The question simply is this. There’s a 20-minute gap, and if the 911 operators were aware that children were alive in that classroom, why weren’t officers notified of that? And if that’s the case, why didn’t any take action?” he said.
‘If I thought it would help, I’d apologize’ to the parents
Throughout the press conference, reporters asked McCraw if he would apologize to parents and families.
“Ultimately, this is tragic,” McCraw said. “What do you tell the 19, the families of 19 kids, or the families of two teachers?”
Minutes later, a reporter with Univision asked McCraw again if he would apologize to “all those families who were outside, screaming to get in” that day.
“What do I say to the parents? I don’t have anything to say to the parents other than what had happened.” He added: “We’re here to report the facts so they have the facts.”
Later, another reporter asked, “Are they owned an apology?”
McCraw replied: “If I thought it would help, I’d apologize.”
McCraw in tears: ‘Forget how I’m doing, what about the parents’
McCraw started to tear up when a reporter asked how he was doing. He had to stop several times throughout the press conference, visibly uncomfortable, to regain his posture as he read aloud details of the massacre.
“Forget how I’m doing,” he said, his lips quivering and tears welling up in his eyes. “What about the parents of those children?”
He said he and fellow officers take an oath to “uphold the law and protect people” and this was a moment to find the facts and determine why this happened, how to prevent it from happening again and ways officers can respond better next time.