Texas’ chief safety official has admitted police made “the wrong decision, period” by not storming a classroom while they waited for the school janitor to get the keys, as well as tactical support.
Colonel Steven McCraw revealed the time between officers arriving on the scene at Robb Elementary and deciding to enter the classroom was 40 minutes and in the meantime frightened students made multiple emergency calls begging for help.
Police officers who had followed the gunman into the building remained in the hallway, with as many as 19 officers waiting outside the classroom and making no effort to get inside, he said.
Col McCraw said the commanding officer on scene — the Uvalde school district’s chief of police — had believed the situation no longer involved an “active shooter” and was a “barricaded subject situation”.
The police chief made the decision that “there was time to retrieve the keys, and wait for a tactical team with the equipment to go ahead and breach the door and take on the subject,” said Colonel McCraw.
About 75 minutes after the attack began, the tactical unit entered the classroom using keys from a janitor and killed the gunman who was carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
By that time 19 students and two teachers had been shot dead.
“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. But again, I wasn’t there,” he added.
“We believe there should have been an entry as soon as you can.
“When there’s an active shooter, the rules change,” said Colonel McCraw, who is director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The admission comes after grieving parents questioned why police on scene had not acted sooner as mums and dads begged them to storm the classroom and save their children.
After the gunman had been shot dead, police found as many as 1,657 rounds of ammunition and 60 magazines in his possession.
One surviving student who spoke to CNN said it felt like three hours that she was lying there waiting for help. She smeared herself in the blood of a friend and played dead.
Miah Cerrillo, 11, described the horrific experience inside the classroom, shared by teachers Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia.
She said they had been watching ‘Lilo and Stitch’ and the class was finishing up lessons when teachers got word about a shooter in the building.
CNN reports one teacher went to lock the door but the shooter was already there and shot out the window in the door, backing the teacher into the room as he followed.
He made eye contact with one of the teachers and said ‘Goodnight’ before shooting her and opening fire, shooting the other teacher and many students.
After the gunman went into an adjoining classroom and fired shots, Miah and her friend managed to get her dead teacher’s phone and call 911 for help, telling a dispatcher, ‘Please come … we’re in trouble’, writes CNN.
Colonel McCraw said survivors, including children, were calling the 911 emergency number from the classroom long after 18-year-old Salvador Ramos had entered the elementary school.
Someone whom Colonel McCraw did not identify called 911 multiple times starting at 12.03pm, telling police in a whisper that there were multiple dead and that there were still “eight to nine” students alive, the colonel said.
A student called at 12.47pm and asked the operator to send police “now”.
Meanwhile the National Rifle Association has has started its annual convention which is being staged in Texas in the city of Houston as the debate over gun control once again rages.
Protesters have begun chanting outside the convention where Republicans including US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former President Donald Trump are scheduled to address the gun-rights group.
Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott will limit his appearance at the NRA’s annual meeting to a recorded video and will make a return trip to Uvalde
He will hold a news conference there after a meeting with state and local officials, as well as town residents.
The recent shootings have re-ignited a national debate over US gun laws, with the Uvalde massacre coming just 10 days after an avowed white supremacist shot 13 people at a supermarket in a mostly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York.
President Joe Biden and fellow Democrats have vowed to push for new gun restrictions, despite resistance from Republicans. Mr Biden is due to travel to Uvalde on Sunday.
Governor Abbott, a Republican seeking re-election in November, has said that stringent gun laws do not prevent violence, citing states such as New York, and that policymakers should instead focus on mental health treatment and prevention.
But a first attempt by Democrats to respond to the back-to-back the two recent mass shootings has failed in the US Senate.
Republicans blocked a domestic terrorism bill that would have opened debate on hate crimes and gun safety.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to nudge Republicans into taking up a domestic terrorism bill that had cleared the House quickly last week after mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo and a church in Southern California targeting people of colour. He said it could become the basis for negotiation.
But the vote on Thursday failed along party lines, raising fresh doubts about the possibility of compromise on gun safety measures.
“We’re disappointed,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
She said it’s “shameful” that the National Rifle Association and others have stood in the way of advancing such measures.
“The president has been very clear that’s it’s time to act,” she said.
Rejection of the bill, just two days after the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers, brought into sharp relief the persistent failure of Congress to pass legislation to curb the nation’s epidemic of gun violence.
Senator Schumer said he would give bipartisan negotiations in the Senate about two weeks to try to forge a compromise bill.