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School-shooting response questioned

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-05-27 11:30

People react in front of a memorial outside Robb Elementary school, two days after a gunman killed nineteen children and two adults, in Uvalde, Texas, US May 26, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Parents outside site of massacre in Texas pleaded with police to enter building sooner

Texas law enforcement authorities faced questions Thursday over whether they acted fast enough to end the shooting rampage at an elementary school where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers as witnesses said parents of students trapped inside pleaded for them to storm the school.

"Go in there! Go in there!" women shouted at officers soon after the attack on Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, according to Juan Carranza, who saw the scene from outside his house, reported USA Today.

The officers didn't immediately enter the building, he said. They should have entered the school sooner, Carranza said. "There were more of them. There was just one of him,'' he said referring to the 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, who had barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom where most victims died.

Victor Escalon, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, provided new details at a news conference in front of the school on Thursday, a day that was to be the last one before summer break for students.

The gunman shot his grandmother Tuesday morning and then used her truck to drive to Robb Elementary School, crashing it into a nearby ditch at 11:28 am, according to Escalon.

The first report of a gunman approaching the school came in around 11:30 am on Tuesday, authorities said.

Escalon said the gunman had lingered outside the school for 12 minutes, firing shots before walking into the school at 11:40 am and barricading himself in a classroom where he killed the children and teachers.

"He walked in [to the school] unobstructed initially," Escalon said, disputing initial reports that the gunman was confronted by a school district police officer. He said that was incorrect, and no one encountered Ramos as he arrived at the school. "There was not an officer readily available and armed," Escalon said.

Escalon said he couldn't say why no one stopped Ramos from entering the school. Most of the shots Ramos fired came during the first several minutes after he entered the school, the official said.

The first police arrived on the scene at 11:44 am and exchanged gunfire with Ramos, authorities said.

A Border Patrol tactical team went into the school an hour later, around 12:40 pm, and was able to get into the classroom and kill Ramos, Escalon said.

Asked whether the police should have gone into the classroom sooner, Escalon said, "I don't have enough information to answer that question just yet.

"We're working every angle that's available," he said about the investigation of the shooting. "We won't stop until we get all the answers."

Most, if not all, of the victims were believed to have been shot within the first minutes that the gunman arrived at the school, according to a preliminary timeline compiled by Texas law enforcement officials and described by a person familiar with the investigation, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Javier Cazares, whose 9-year-old daughter was killed in the massacre, told the Times that officials have been misrepresenting the response of law enforcement officials. "They said they rushed in and all that; we didn't see that," said Cazares, 43, who was outside the school during the attack and heard gunshots.

Cazares told The Washington Post he was running errands nearby when he rushed to Robb Elementary, where several other parents had gathered, and soon they started hearing gunshots.

"There were five or six of [us] fathers, hearing the gunshots, and [police officers] were telling us to move back," Cazares told the Post. "We didn't care about us. We wanted to storm the building. We were saying, 'Let's go,' because that is how worried we were, and we wanted to get our babies out."

The Post reported Thursday that a video posted to a parent's Facebook account it had reviewed shows families outside the school were frustrated by the police response and wanted to enter the building themselves.

Daniel Rodriguez, the police chief in Uvalde, a largely Hispanic city of 16,000 about 80 miles west of San Antonio, released a statement Thursday responding to questions about officers' actions during the shooting.

"Our officers responded within minutes alongside Uvalde C.I.S.D. officers," he said, referring to the school district's police force. He said some of the responding officers were injured. "I understand questions are surfacing regarding the details of what occurred," he said. "I know answers will not come fast enough during this trying time."

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Department, defended the response to the shooting, saying officers saved lives.

"The bottom line is law enforcement was there," he told USA Today. "They did engage immediately. They did contain (the gunman) in the classroom."

McCraw told reporters Wednesday that the Border Patrol tactical team shot the gunman 40 minutes to an hour after he opened fire on a school security officer, though the department said later that it couldn't give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school or when he was killed.

A department spokesman, Lieutenant Christopher Olivarez, told CNN on Thursday that authorities were still working to clarify the timeline of the attack, uncertain whether that period of 40 minutes to an hour began when the gunman reached the school, or earlier, when he shot his grandmother at home.

US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz didn't give a timeline but said repeatedly that the tactical officers from his agency who arrived at the school didn't hesitate. He said they moved rapidly to enter the building, lining up in a "stack" behind an agent holding up a shield.

"What we wanted to make sure is to act quickly, act swiftly, and that's exactly what those agents did," Ortiz told Fox News.

A law enforcement official said that once in the building, the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. Olivarez said investigators were trying to establish whether the classroom was locked or barricaded in some way.

Authorities have said that so far, they have found no apparent motive or history of mental illness or criminal record that would have predicted that the gunman would carry out such a rampage.

In addition to the 21 people killed, 17 were injured in what is now the deadliest school shooting since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 in which 20 first-graders and six educators were killed.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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