Texas police admitted yesterday they made the wrong decision not to confront the Uvalde school gunman sooner as it emerged that children trapped inside were calling 911 repeatedly to beg for help for almost an hour.
Law enforcement officials were accused of failing to follow standard procedure as about 20 officers waited in a hallway for nearly an hour while the massacre unfolded – and even turned away specially equipped agents who arrived to help.
After two days of unclear and contradictory accounts from police about the response to the rampage in which 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School, a law enforcement official said in a press conference yesterday that an armed school officer did not in fact encounter or exchange fire with the attacker before he entered the school, as previously claimed.
Police who arrived at the school retreated when Salvador Ramos shot at them, state authorities said.
Even when specially equipped federal border agents arrived at the scene, local police would not allow them to go in, according to The New York Times.
Meanwhile, at least two children under assault called 911 several times, with one telling police in a whisper that there were multiple dead and that there were still “eight to nine” students alive.
An hour elapsed before a tactical unit led by border agents went into a classroom and killed the gunman.
Videos from the minutes after the shooter entered the building show frantic parents being held back by police. Some were handcuffed.
Ramos arrived at the school in Uvalde at 11.33am and fired more than 100 rounds by the time seven police officers entered two minutes later. They were met with gunfire and receded.
Colonel Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the on-scene commander believed the attacker had stopped shooting and barricaded himself inside.
With the benefit of hindsight, he said, it was clear there were still students inside and in danger.
“Of course it was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision, period,” Col McCraw told reporters.
The initial response appears to have diverged from guidance implemented since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, which says officers should pursue shooters without waiting for specialised back-up.
The Texas Police Chiefs Association’s own policy manual says “the first two to five responding officers should form a single team and enter the structure”. Police also revealed that Ramos marched into the school unobstructed through a door that had been propped open by a teacher.
Yesterday, horrifying details emerged from survivors. One schoolgirl recalled that Ramos “backed the teacher into the classroom... looked her right in the eye, and said ‘Goodnight’, and then shot her and killed her”.
Miah Cerrillo (11) said she smeared the blood of a classmate over her and pretended to be dead in case the shooter re-entered her classroom.
In a video, parents at the rear of the school building can be seen complaining that police were doing nothing as the country’s worst school shooting in a decade unfolded. Angeli Rose Gomez, whose children were inside, told The Wall Street Journal she was handcuffed by federal marshals after she and others pushed police to intervene.
It also emerged that an off-duty Border Patrol agent whose wife taught at the school and whose child attended it, rushed to the scene mid-haircut with a shotgun he borrowed from his barber after his wife texted him, saying: “There’s an active shooter. Help.”
Jacob Albarado helped evacuate children and teachers, including his eight-year-old daughter.
The manufacturer of the gun used in the shooting has pulled out of a National Rifle Association convention taking place just a few miles from Tuesday’s tragedy. However, organisers of the Houston event refused calls to cancel. Texas governor Greg Abbott, who was scheduled to speak in person, said he would instead give a virtual address.
Ramos bought the rifles after his 18th birthday from gun company Daniel Defence, which said it would “co-operate with all federal, state and local law enforcement authorities in their investigations”.
Daniel Defence is one of the largest gun manufacturers in the country, with sales nearing $100m (€92m), according to Forbes.
The National Rifle Association, which has been instrumental in preventing stricter firearms regulations, said the shooting was “the act of a lone, deranged criminal”.
Telegraph Media Group Limited