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The 18-year-old gunman who killed 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, was not confronted by police before he entered the school, a Texas law enforcement official said Thursday, contradicting earlier comments from authorities and raising further questions about the police response to the massacre.
“He walked in unobstructed initially,” Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Regional Director Victor Escalon said. “So from the grandmother’s house, to the (ditch), to the school, into the school, he was not confronted by anybody.”
A DPS representative on Wednesday said a school resource officer had “engaged” with the suspect before he went in the school.
Escalon’s comments came in a news conference that added further confusion to the timeline of Tuesday’s horrific shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. The massacre marked the deadliest US school shooting in nearly a decade and was at least the 30th school shooting at a K-12 school in 2022. And it has thrown the nation – where active shooter attacks jumped more than 50% last year – yet again into a fury of anger and grief amid renewed calls for gun laws reform.
LATEST UPDATES: The Texas school massacre
In his comments, Escalon said that the suspect, Salvador Ramos, shot his grandmother and then wrecked his truck in a ditch outside the school at 11:28 a.m. He exited the truck with a rifle and shot at two people across the street, Escalon said. He then approached the school and shot at the building multiple times and walked in through an apparently unlocked door at 11:40 a.m., according to Escalon.
That door is normally locked, “unless you are leaving to go home on the school bus,” former principal Ross McGlothlin told CNN’s Newsroom on Thursday.
There was no school resource officer on site or available at the time, he said. Inside, the suspect walked into a classroom and fired more than 25 times, Escalon said. The majority of the gunfire was in the beginning of the attack, he said.
Officers arrived at the school at 11:44 a.m., but when they went to confront the gunman, they received fire and took cover, Escalon said. Three law enforcement officers went in the same door the shooter used to enter the school and four went through another school entrance, DPS spokesperson Chris Olivarez told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Officers called for more resources and personnel, evacuated students and teachers in other parts of the school, and at some point entered “negotiations” with the suspect, Escalon said. After about an hour, a US Border Patrol tactical team came to the classroom, forced entry and fatally shot the suspect, he said.
Olivarez said officers saved lives despite waiting before physically confronting the suspect.
“At that point, they had the suspect contained inside the classroom,” he told CNN. “If those officers weren’t there, if they did not maintain their presence, there is a good chance that gunman could have made it to other classrooms and commit more killings.”
The news conference underscored the confusion and disorganization of the police response and failed to answer questions as to how the gunman was able to remain inside the classroom for such a long time.
Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez issued a statement Thursday defending his officers’ response to the shooting. Two responding officers were shot by the suspect but are expected to survive.
“It is important for our community to know that our officers responded within minutes” alongside school resource officers, he said.
Olivarez said Thursday morning the suspect had barricaded himself in the classroom, which was attached to an adjoining room. All of the 21 killed and 17 injured were inside those classrooms, officials have said.
“We’re still trying to establish if that classroom was locked, and if it was locked, was there some type of barricade, was there some type of locking mechanism that did not allow those officers to make entry,” he said.
Since the Columbine school shooting of 1999, emergency responder protocol in such situations is to end the threat as quickly as possible because fatalities occur in seconds to minutes.
“It’s almost incomprehensible for me to come up with a rational explanation as to why you would wait 30 minutes to an hour to get in there,” Andrew McCabe, CNN senior law enforcement analyst, said before the news conference. “The door breaching, if it’s just a locked door, that doesn’t take 30 minutes to get into.”
What happened outside the school
Texas police struggle to explain response to school shooter
03:11 - Source: CNN
US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said about 80 to 100 agents responded to the shooting.
“They didn’t hesitate. They came up with a plan. They entered that classroom and they took care of the situation as quickly as they possibly could,” Ortiz said.
The lengthy response time, as well as a lack of communication to the public, created a chaotic situation outside the school as parents arrived, desperate to know if their kids were still alive. One father said he asked a law enforcement officer for gear.
“I told one of the officers myself, if they didn’t want to go in there, let me borrow his gun and a vest and I’ll go in there myself to handle it, and they told me no,” the father told CNN’s Jason Carroll. His son survived.
What happened inside the classrooms
Police officers walk past a makeshift memorial for the shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday.
Victims’ family members and first responders offered first descriptions of some of the horrors inside the classrooms.
Angel Garza, a first responder and father of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, arrived at the school Tuesday and gave medical aid to a girl covered head-to-toe in blood. The girl said she’d seen her best friend killed – and the best friend’s name was Amerie.
“How are you going to look at this girl and shoot her?” Garza told CNN on Wednesday. “My baby, how do you shoot my baby?”
Amerie had just gotten a cell phone two weeks ago for her 10th birthday, he said. He learned from two other students that Amerie had tried to call 911 during the shooting.
“She just died trying to save her classmates,” Garza said. “She just wanted to save everyone.”
Chief Jason Owens, who heads the Del Rio sector for Border Patrol, told CNN that the uniforms of the agents who responded to the scene were “covered in blood.”
“I took my agents back to the Uvalde station. I had to bring new uniforms for them to change into,” he said.
School district spent over $450,000 on security
The area around the Robb Elementary School signs has become a memorial dedicated to the victims of the May 24 mass shooting.
Celia Correa Sauceda, right, hugs her friend Stacey Mazuca after they and other mariachi musicians from San Antonio performed during a memorial in Uvalde on Wednesday, June 1. Sauceda, who plays violin, is an elementary teacher in San Antonio. She said she was in Uvalde to be a voice. "We cannot forget what happened, and it needs to stop," Sauceda said.
Mateo López sings during a mariachi performance at a Uvalde memorial on June 1.
Pallbearers carry Amerie Jo Garza's casket into the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde on Tuesday, May 31.
Jose Mata, brother of shooting victim Xavier Lopez, carries a wooden cross decorated with a baseball bat to place it at Xavier's memorial outside his home in Uvalde on May 31.
President Joe Biden looks back at the crowd gathered outside of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church after attending Mass in Uvalde on Sunday, May 29. People in the crowd shouted, "Do something!" And as Biden looked back at them he said, "We will."
A cutout photograph of one of the victims is taken onto school grounds Saturday, May 28, in preparation for Biden's visit the next day.
Mourners gather in the main plaza in Uvalde on May 28.
A choir from The Light of the World Church sings songs in Uvalde on Friday, May 27, to support families who lost loved ones in the shooting.
The Light of the World Church offers prayers for the families impacted by the shooting.
Vanessa Palacios, left, and Melissa García write the victims' names on their storefront, Cut Loose Hair Emporium, on May 27.
Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, points to a map of the shooter's movements during a news conference on May 27. In all, 80 minutes passed between when officers were first called to the school at 11:30 a.m. to when a tactical team entered locked classrooms and killed the gunman at 12:50 p.m., McCraw said.
The friends and family of Maranda Mathis, one of the young victims of the school shooting, grieve her loss in front of a cross bearing her name on May 26. "These children should be remembered for all the right reasons," a family member said.
Tyler Garcia raises up a sign that says "#UvaldeStrong" during a car wash and food sale that was raising money for the families of those who lost loved ones in the shooting.
Congregants at St. Philip's Episcopal Church light candles in Uvalde to remember the shooting victims on May 26.
Copies of the Uvalde Leader-News sit on stands at a market on May 26.
Crosses bear the names of shooting victims on May 26.
People in Uvalde light candles during a memorial for the shooting victims on May 25.
A prayer vigil is held in Uvalde on May 25.
An officer with the Texas Highway Patrol prays with a community member before taking his flowers to the growing memorial in front of Robb Elementary School.
From left, Michael Cavasos, Brenda Perez and Eduardo Galindo are seen in the foreground as they wait in line to donate blood in Uvalde on May 25. Galindo, who lives in Uvalde, said: "When it hits you in your hometown, you wake up and say, 'Wow.' ... We have to be here and show support for these families right now." Approximately 200 people donated blood to South Texas Blood and Tissue, who would be delivering the units to surrounding area hospitals.
People attend Mass at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde on May 25.
Flowers are seen at the memorial in front of the school.
Texas gubernatorial nominee Beto O'Rourke, bottom right, confronted Gov. Greg Abbott and other officials during a news conference about the shooting on May 25. "The time to stop the next shooting is right now and you are doing nothing," O'Rourke told Abbott. The two will face off in November's election.
Law enforcement vehicles are lined up outside the school on May 25.
People pray outside the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center in Uvalde on May 24. The civic center is where students were transported after the shooting.
Kladys Castellón prays during a vigil that was held in Uvalde on May 24.
Law enforcement officials work the scene after the shooting on May 24.
People comfort each other outside the civic center in Uvalde.
Students run to safety after law enforcement officers helped them escape from a window at the school.
Law enforcement personnel run near the scene of the shooting on May 24. US Customs and Border Protection, which is the largest law enforcement agency in the area, assisted with the response.
People react outside the Uvalde civic center on May 24.
A Texas state trooper walks outside the school on May 24.
A woman reacts outside of the civic center in Uvalde.
A child gets on a school bus under the watch of law enforcement on May 24. Robb Elementary teaches second through fourth grades and had 535 students in the 2020-21 school year, according to state data. About 90% of students are Hispanic and about 81% are economically disadvantaged, the data shows.
People react outside the civic center in Uvalde. This marks at least the 30th shooting at a K-12 school in 2022.
Law enforcement officials and other first responders gather outside the school following the shooting.
A woman cries and hugs a young girl while on the phone outside the civic center in Uvalde.
Another child gets on a bus to leave the school.
A woman cries as she leaves the civic center.
Law enforcement officials stand outside the school following the shooting. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been assisting local police with the investigation.
People sit on the curb outside of the school as state troopers guard the area on May 24.
Police walk near the school following the shooting.
A woman and a child leave the Uvalde civic center on May 24.
The Uvalde school district had a safety plan that included its own police force, social media monitoring and a threat reporting system to “provide a safe and secure environment” for students.
The two-page document on the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District website lists 21 different measures it says it has undertaken for the safety of the school community, ranging from an app for reporting bullying to physical security measures like fencing and a buzz-in door system. It’s not clear to what degree the plan was developed with active shooters in mind.
Records show the district spent about $200,000 on security and monitoring services in 2017-18 and that figure rose to more than $450,000 in the 2019-20 school year.
The district employed four police officers, including a chief, detective, and two officers. The district also had additional security staff “who patrol door entrances, parking lots and perimeters of the campuses.”
The plan included a “threat reporting system” for “students, parents, staff, and community members” to share information that is deemed “troubling,” which could include information “about weapons, threats, fights, drugs, self-harm, suicide or disclosures made that are concerning.” The policy states reports could be made through the district site or to a district staff member.
The security plan also refers to lockdown drills. “Students receive training on the Standard Response Protocol for lockout, lockdown, evacuate, shelter, and hold. In addition, drills are held for each of these emergency actions on a regular basis.”
Two other schools, Uvalde High School and Anthon Elementary, have security vestibules, though it is not clear whether Robb had one.
Families identify loved ones they lost
People attend a vigil Wednesday for those killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The two teachers who were killed, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, had co-taught together for five years.
Garcia, a wife and mother to four children, was “sweet, kind, loving,” according to a GoFundMe campaign set up to raise funds for funeral expenses and family needs. “She sacrificed herself protecting the kids in her classroom. She was a hero. She was loved by many and will truly be missed,” the campaign said.
Mireles had been teaching for 17 years and “was a vivacious soul” who “spread laughter and joy everywhere she went,” relative Amber Ybarra told CNN.
“She made you feel like she was only teaching your child,” said Erica Torres, whose son Stanley was in her third and fourth grade classes. “Like, there’s no other students but him. She made you feel so good.”
José Flores Jr., 10, was also killed in the shooting, his father José Flores Sr. told CNN. He was his mother’s “little shadow,” she said. José Jr. was bursting with energy and loved to play baseball and video games, his father said.
Lexi Rubio, 10, had made the All-A honor roll and gotten a good citizen award just hours before she was shot and killed, her parents Felix and Kimberly Rubio told CNN.
“We told her we loved her and would pick her up after school. We had no idea this was goodbye,” Kimberly Rubio wrote in a post on Facebook.
Nine-year-old Eliana “Ellie” Garcia, was among those killed, family members confirmed to CNN affiliate KHOU. She loved the movie “Encanto,” cheerleading and basketball and dreamed of becoming a teacher, her grandparents, Rogelio Lugo and Nelda Lugo, told the LA Times.
Third-grader Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10, and her cousin died Tuesday, her family members confirmed to CNN affiliate KHOU. The cousin’s name has not been released.
Shooter was a loner who bought two rifles a week earlier
The gunman, Ramos, was a local high school dropout with no criminal history and no known mental health history, officials said. He had just turned 18 and legally bought two AR-15-style rifles and ammunition for his birthday. Those who knew him described him as a loner with few, if any, friends, who was often in fights.
Before he began his rampage, Ramos allegedly messaged a girl who lives in Germany about his intentions.
He complained his grandmother was “on the phone with AT&T abojt (sic) my phone,” according to screenshots reviewed by CNN and an interview with the 15-year-old girl, whose mother gave permission for her to be interviewed.
“It’s annoying,” he texted her.
Minutes later, he texted: “I just shot my grandma in her head,” immediately followed by the message, “Ima go shoot up a(n) elementary school rn (right now).”
The shooter shot his 66-year-old grandmother in the face before driving to Robb Elementary, where he crashed his car in a nearby ditch, authorities say. The grandmother was in serious condition as of Wednesday, officials said.
The gunman’s maternal grandfather told CNN he knows many of the families affected by the massacre.
“Some of them are my friends, and I’m going to have to face them some day,” Rolando Reyes said in Spanish.
He said his wife “did everything for (the shooter),” including cooking for him and picking him up from late work shifts at a fast food restaurant, and he does not understand why the 18-year-old would lash out at her.
Reyes said a bullet pierced his wife’s jaw and upper cheek and she will need significant reconstructive surgery. She is at a hospital in San Antonio.
CNN’s Alexa Miranda, Monica Serrano, Dakin Andone, Steve Almasy, Peter Nickeas, Tina Burnside, Jamiel Lynch, Andy Rose, Elizabeth Joseph, Sara Smart, Amanda Jackson, Caroll Alvarado, Isabelle Chapman, Daniel A. Medina, Curt Devine, Priscilla Alvarez, Elizabeth Wolfe, Jennifer Henderson and Gregory Krieg contributed to this report.