Law enforcement agencies were faced on Thursday with questions and criticism over how much time had passed before they stormed a Texas elementary school classroom and ended the frenzy by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.
Investigators were also unable to say for sure whether an armed security guard from the school district outside Robb Elementary in the city of Uvalde exchanged fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.
The motive for the massacre — the deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Conn., a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying the gunman had no criminal or mental health history.
During the siege, frustrated onlookers, according to witnesses, urged police to raid the school.
“Go in there! Go in there!” Women yelled at officers shortly after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.
Timeline of attack uncertain
Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said on Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour had passed from the time the gunman opened fire on the school security officer to the time the tactical team shot him.
“The bottom line is that there was law enforcement,” McCraw said. “They got to work right away. They did keep him in class.’
But a spokesman for the department said on Thursday that authorities were still trying to clarify the timeline of the attack, uncertain whether that 40-minute to an hour period began when the gunman reached the school or earlier, when he shot his grandmother at home. .
“At this point, we don’t have an accurate or reliable timeline to say the shooter was at school for this period,” Lieutenant Christopher Olivarez told CNN.
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz did not provide a timeline, but repeatedly said that the tactical officers from his office who arrived at the school did not hesitate. He said they moved quickly to enter the building, in a “stack” behind an officer holding up a shield.
“What we wanted to make sure is act fast, act fast, and that’s exactly what those agents did,” Ortiz told Fox News.
But a law enforcement officer said that once inside the building, Border Patrol officers struggled to break through the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
‘More could have happened,’ says grieving parent
Olivarez said investigators were trying to determine if the classroom was locked or barricaded in some way.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he ran to the school when he learned of the shooting and arrived while police were still outside.
Worried that the police did not come in, he came up with the idea of rushing into the school along with a number of other bystanders.
“Let’s just run in because the police aren’t doing what they should,” he said. “More could have happened.”
“They were not prepared,” Cazares added.
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Carranza had watched from across the street as the suspect crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot two people outside a funeral home, who walked away unharmed.
Olivarez told CNN the school security officer was armed outside and initial reports said he and Ramos exchanged gunshots, “but right now we’re trying to confirm that information.”
Carranza said the officers should have gone to the school earlier.
“There were more,” he said. “There was only one of him.”
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Grandma spoke to neighbor after shooting
Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother in the house they shared.
Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was rummaging in his yard when he heard the shots.
Gallegos said he saw a car run away from the house: “It turned away, I mean quickly, spewing gravel into the air.”
The grandmother soon came out of the house, covered in blood.
“She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me,’” he recalled.
Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots and that he had no history of bullying or abuse within the house.