UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement authorities faced questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed an Uvalde elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.
Investigators were also unable to say with any certainty whether an armed school district security officer outside Robb Elementary exchanged fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, when he first arrived on Tuesday.
The motive for the rampage — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.
During the siege, which ended when a Border Patrol team burst in and shot Ramo to death, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.
“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside his house, across the street from the school.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him.
But a department spokesman said later that authorities could not give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school.
“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside.
Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“They were unprepared,” he added.
Carranza had watched as Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a funeral home, who ran away uninjured.
Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN that the school security officer outside was armed and that initial reports said he and Ramos exchanged gunfire. “But right now we’re trying to corroborate that information,” Olivarez said.
After entering the school, Ramos barricaded himself in a classroom and began to kill.
Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.
“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.
On Wednesday night, hundreds packed the bleachers at the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil. Some cried. Some closed their eyes tight, mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children as the speakers led prayers for healing.
Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared.
Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.
Ramos ran out the front door and across the yard to a truck parked in front of the house and raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air, Gallegos said.
Ramos’ grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.
Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, whom he rarely saw.
Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.
But that night, her niece had a question.
“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings
Jake Bleiberg, Jim Vertuno And Elliot Spagat, The Associated Press
New report details missed chances to stop Uvalde shooting
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A police officer armed with a rifle watched the gunman in the Uvalde elementary school massacre walk toward the campus but did not fire while waiting for permission from a supervisor to shoot, according to a sweeping critique released Wednesday on the tactical response to the May tragedy.
Some of the 21 victims at Robb Elementary School, including 19 children, possibly “could have been saved” on May 24 had they received medical attention sooner while police waited more than an hour before breaching the fourth-grade classroom, a review by a training center at Texas State University for active shooter situations found.
The report is yet another damning assessment of how police failed to act on opportunities that might have saved lives in what became the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
“A reasonable officer would have considered this an active situation and devised a plan to address the suspect,” read the report published by the university’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program.
Authors of the 26-page report said their findings were based off video taken from the school, police body cameras, testimony from officers on the scene and statements from investigators. Among their findings:
— It appeared that no officer waiting in the hallway during the shooting ever tested to see if the door to the classroom was locked. The head of Texas’ state police agency has also faulted officers on the scene for not checking the doors.
— The officers had “weapons (including rifles), body armor (which may or may not have been rated to stop rifle rounds), training, and backup. The victims in the classrooms had none of these things.”
— When officers finally entered the classroom at 12:50 p.m. — more than an hour after the shooting began — they were no better equipped to confront the gunman than they had been up to that point.
—”Effective incident command” never appears to have been established among the multiple law enforcement agencies that responded to the shooting.
The gunman, an 18-year-old with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, entered the building at 11:33 a.m. Before that a Uvalde police officer, who the report did not identify, saw the gunman carrying a rife toward the west hall entrance. The officer asked a supervisor for permission to open fire, but the supervisor “either did not hear or responded too late,” the report said.
When the officer turned back toward the gunman, he already gone inside “unabated,” according to the report.
The report is one of multiple fact-finding reviews launched in the aftermath of the worst school shooting in Texas history. A committee formed by Texas legislators has also interviewed more than 20 people, including officers who were on the scene, behind closed doors for several weeks. It is unclear when they will release their findings.
It follows testimony last month in which Col. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the state Senate that the police response was an “abject failure.” He pinned particular blame on Chief Pete Arredondo, saying that as on-scene commander the Uvalde schools police chief made “terrible decisions” and stopped officers from confronting the gunman earlier.
Arredondo has tried to defend his actions, telling the Texas Tribune that he didn’t consider himself the commander in charge of operations and that he assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response. He said he didn’t have his police and campus radios but that he used his cellphone to call for tactical gear, a sniper and the classroom keys.
According to he report released Wednesday, Arredondo and another Uvalde police officer spent 13 minutes in the school hallway during the shooting discussing tactical options, whether to use snipers and how to get into the classroom windows.
“They also discussed who has the keys, testing keys, the probability of the door being locked, and if kids and teachers are dying or dead,” the report read.
McCraw said police had enough officers and firepower on the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to have stopped the gunman three minutes after he entered the building, and they would have found the door to the classroom where he was holed up unlocked if they had bothered to check it.
A lawyer for Arredondo and a spokeswoman for the Uvalde city police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Arredondo is on leave from his job with the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and resigned from his position as a city councilor last week.
Public leaders, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, initially praised the police response in Uvalde. Abbott said officers reacted quickly and ran toward the gunfire with “amazing courage” to take out the killer, thereby saving lives. He later said he was misled. In the days and weeks after the shooting, authorities gave conflicting and incorrect accounts of what happened. The fallout has driven recriminations and rifts between local at state authorities. On Tuesday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez released a letter asking Abbott to move administration of a victims relief fund from the local prosecutor’s office to the Texas Department of Emergency Management. They wrote that they’ve received numerous complaints about District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, “including the failure to timely deliver victim’s compensation resources to those in need.″
Busbee’s office declined to comment Wednesday.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.
Find more AP coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting
Paul J. Weber And Jake Bleiberg, The Associated Press
In the midst of chaotic shooting, strangers save a young boy
By Martha Irvine in Chicago
CHICAGO (AP) — A woman — stunned and speechless in the chaos of a July 4 parade massacre — walked up to Greg Ring and handed him a 2-year-old boy, covered in blood.
Ring had fled the scene in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park with his wife and three children to an area behind a popular pancake house.
“We kind of met eyes and didn’t say anything…. I put my arms out, and she gave him to me,” Ring said Thursday, when describing the exchange with the unidentified woman, who then laid down in front of their car in shock.
The boy pointed in the direction of the parade route, saying “Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy.”
Ring’s wish to help the boy carried him back to the scene. He tucked the boy’s face in his chest, so he couldn’t see the carnage. But Ring quickly realized it was too dangerous.
“Active shooter! Get back down!” a police officer shouted. Ring fled again.
He and his family got to their car and took the boy to a Highland Park fire station. “I have a boy. He’s not ours,” he told the department staff, who asked him to keep the boy as authorities searched for the shooter and helped the wounded.
“They were getting ready for war,” Ring said.
The family drove to Ring’s in-laws, where they hunkered down. There, the boy sat with Ring’s 4-year-old, watching a Mickey Mouse show.
“He asked my wife to wipe him off because he had blood on him that wasn’t his,” said Ring, an insurance broker from Highland Park.
They were later able to identify the boy and reunite him with his grandparents.
Aiden McCarthy’s parents, Kevin and Irina, both died in the shooting, which left five others dead and more than two dozen wounded.
Friends of the McCarthys said Irina’s parents would care for the boy going forward.
“Aiden … will have a long road ahead to heal, find stability, and ultimately navigate life as an orphan. He is surrounded by a community of friends and extended family that will embrace him with love, and any means available to ensure he has everything he needs as he grows,” Irina Colon, a family friend, wrote on a GoFundMe account she created for the family and Aiden. The account has raised more than $2 million.
On Thursday, Ring was still trying to process what happened at the July 4 parade. He said he’s not a hero and just did what anyone would have done in the situation.
“I’m just filled with immense gratitude. I’m really sad. I don’t know, I don’t know how I feel. I have not slept for a minute the last two nights,” he said.
“What could’ve happened — it is nothing short of a miracle that the five of us — me, my wife and my three kids — one of us or all of us isn’t dead. I do not understand. Everybody around us was hit or got shot.”
Four of others who were killed were identified Tuesday as Katherine Goldstein, 64; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; Stephen Straus, 88; and Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, and Eduardo Uvaldo, 69.
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