Uvalde, Texas School Shooting: Latest News Updates

UVALDE, Texas — The pain of families in Uvalde, Texas, was compounded by anger and frustration Thursday as police leaders struggled to answer questions about the horrific hour it took to apprehend a gunman who opened fire on students and teachers inside Robb Elementary School.

As parents began making funeral arrangements, on a day that was to mark the last of the school year, criticism deepened in the largely Hispanic ranching community of 15,200 over the lengthy police response and officials’ failure to adequately explain their actions. Actions.

No school police officers confronted the gunman before he entered the school, a state police spokesman said Thursday, contradicting earlier reports of an encounter outside and suggesting a shortfall in the response.

“Initially, it entered without obstacles,” Víctor Escalón, regional director of the state Department of Public Security, said at a news conference. “He was not confronted by anyone.”

Parents had gathered outside the school on Tuesday when gunfire erupted inside, urging police holding them off to come in and stop the carnage. On Thursday, the focus shifted for some lawmakers in Texas and Washington from debates over the weapon the 18-year-old gunman had used, an AR-15-style rifle, to questions about the hour-long delay in ending the rampage. . Most mass shootings are over in minutes, police experts said.

Credit…Pete Luna/Uvalde Leader-News

“I call on the FBI to use its highest authority to investigate and provide a full report,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat.

Chief Daniel Rodriguez of the Uvalde Police Department and the school district’s police chief, Chief Pete Arredondo, did not respond to requests for comment.

The first report of a gunman approaching the school came around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. Moments earlier, the gunman, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, had crashed a truck into a ditch next to the school after shooting his 66-year-old grandmother in the face at her home, a few blocks from the school. school.

Albert Vargas, 62, an electrician, was working on a house near Robb Elementary School and said he saw the accident.

“I ran over there thinking someone was hurt,” he said. Then she saw that the driver was carrying a rifle. “His appearance of him matched the black clothing he was wearing,” Vargas said. He briefly fired at a nearby funeral home, he said. “And then he turned on me and fired two more rounds at point-blank range, but he also missed,” Vargas recalled.

“His face was blank. There was no expression there,” she said. “It seemed like nothing mattered except the mission she was on. He took the shots, ran, jumped a fence and headed towards the school.”

An armed officer from the Uvalde School District, who had been nearby, responded to reports that a driver involved in an accident had gotten out of his vehicle with a gun. The officer couldn’t see anyone when he arrived, according to a state police officer, but then heard gunshots as the gunman began firing at the windows and entered the building. The officer did not open fire.

Credit…Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The New York Times

Investigators were still trying to piece together the gunman’s movements during the time he was outside, before entering the building. He walked through an open door at 11:40 am, Escalon said, and began shooting inside. Police officers, including the school district officer, entered the school minutes later.

By the time officers reported the gunman to have been killed around 1 p.m., he had shot dead 19 students and two teachers, all apparently holed up with the gunman in connected classrooms.

During that terrifying time, more than an hour, parents of students trapped in the school gathered outside the building as word spread about the shooting. Some were physically restrained by police in a scene witnesses described as disorder bordering on chaos. The crowd grew to hundreds.

“Parents were crying and some were fighting verbally with the police and shouting that they loved their children,” said Marcela Cabralez, a pastor.

Miguel Palacios, a small business owner, said the desperate parents were so upset that at one point they tried to tear down the school’s chain-link fence. “Parents were on one side of the fence, Border Patrol and police were on the other side of the fence and they were trying to break it open,” he said.

Some of the parents implored the heavily armed police officers at the chaotic scene to storm the school. Others, including those who were off-duty members of law enforcement, went inside to try to find their own children.

“There were a lot of men armed to the teeth who could have gotten in faster,” said Javier Cazares, 43, who arrived at the school Tuesday as the attack was taking place. He said that he could hear gunshots; his daughter, Jacklyn, was inside.

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“They said they ran in and all that,” he said. “We didn’t see that.”

Jacklyn was killed in the shooting, along with her cousin. Mr. Cazares said that he believed a quicker police response would have made a difference. “In my opinion, more children would have been saved,” he said.

Chief Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday that officers from his department entered the school “just minutes” after the shooting began, and that more than one of them had been shot by the shooter. The state police official, who requested anonymity to describe the evolving timeline of events, said two Uvalde officers were shot as they initially tried to enter the classroom around 11:45 a.m.

At that point, authorities said, the officers backed away and began calling for help. “We have officers asking for additional resources,” Escalon said. “Tactical teams. We need equipment. We need specialized equipment. We need bulletproof vests. We need precision riflemen, negotiators.”

When the officers went down, the gunman continued to fire, the state police official said. It was during the first few minutes, police officials said, that most of the victims inside the room, a couple from what officers said were connected classrooms, were shot.

But it was not clear how many of the children or teachers who died could have been saved if the gunman had been killed earlier.

And questions remained about the decision by on-site police to await the arrival of specially trained Border Patrol officers to finally storm the classroom door about an hour after the officers had first left. Police officials have said that with the gunman isolated in one classroom, officers on scene focused on evacuating students and staff from other classrooms to prevent additional deaths.

Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

It was reported via police radio that the gunman was fatally shot by members of the tactical team around 1 p.m.

While the Uvalde Police Department has boasted of its SWAT team in the past, those officers did not appear to be involved in trying to apprehend the gunman.

The investigation into Tuesday’s shooting and the police response was being led by the Texas Rangers, a division of the Department of Public Safety. The FBI was helping collect and analyze surveillance video to better understand what happened, according to a law enforcement official.

Police active shooter training has evolved considerably since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, when the emphasis was on securing a perimeter and waiting for a tactical team before entering.

Officers are now trained to disable an active shooter as quickly as possible, before rescuing victims and without waiting for a tactical team or task force to arrive. That is true even if only two officers are available, or one willing to go in alone, said Brian Higgins, a former SWAT team commander and police chief who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and runs a security consulting firm.

Mr. Higgins emphasized that much of what happened in the Uvalde shooting remained unclear. “If by the police entry, more people would have been injured, they are in this Catch-22,” Higgins said. “You don’t want anyone else getting shot.”

As the parents looked on, police officers could be seen helping to evacuate the children still inside.

“When they started breaking windows to get the children out, I knew he was still alive, shooting,” said Victor Luna, 40, who has a 9-year-old son at the school. “It’s common sense: If it had been knocked down, the kids could have walked out the door.”

He feels that the police officers should have been willing to sacrifice their own lives to save the children. “That’s what they signed up for,” she said.

Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Law enforcement officers described a chaotic scene and a large number of children who had to be evacuated.

Jacob Albarado, an off-duty Border Patrol officer, was about to sit down to get a haircut when he got a text from his wife Trisha, a fourth-grade teacher at Robb Elementary.

“There is an active shooter,” he said in the message. “Help”, and then: “I love you”.

Mr. Albarado flew out of the barbershop and sped to school. His wife and the children he taught hid under desks and behind curtains. Her daughter, a second-grader at Robb, was locked in a bathroom, she had told him. She borrowed a shotgun from the barber, who had come with him.

Once he arrived at the school, he learned that a tactical team was already being formed to enter the wing where the gunman was hiding.

So Mr. Albarado quickly made a plan with other officers on the scene: evacuate as many children as possible. “I’m looking for my daughter, but I also know what wing she’s in,” he said, “so I start deleting all the classes in her wing.”

Two officers provided cover, guns drawn, he said, and two others guided the children to the sidewalk. “They were all hysterical, of course,” she said. When she finally saw her 8-year-old daughter, Jayda, she said, she hugged her, but then kept moving the other children.

Still barricaded inside a room in another part of the school, the gunman fired sporadically at the walls and the door, authorities said, until the tactical team entered the room and killed him.

shayla dewan, Edgar Sandoval Y eileen sullivan contributed report. jack begg, susan c beach Y kirsten-noyes contributed research.

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