Panicked children called at least half a dozen times from Texas classrooms where a massacre was underway, begging police to intervene, while about 20 officers waited in a hallway for nearly an hour before entering the room and killing the gunman. , authorities said Friday.
According to Colonel Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, at least two children called 911 from connecting fourth-grade classrooms after 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Ramos killed 19 children and two teachers.
“He’s in room 112,” a girl whispered on the phone at 12:03 a.m., more than 45 minutes before the police entered the classroom.
The commander at the scene, the chief of the police department for the school district in Uvalde, Texas, believed that Ramos had been barricaded inside and that children were no longer in danger, giving police time to prepare, McCraw said.
“Of course, from the benefit of hindsight where I am now, it was not the right decision,” said McCraw. “It was the wrong decision.”
Some of the mostly 9- and 10-year-old students trapped with the gunman survived the massacre, including at least two who called 911, McCraw said, though he didn’t give a specific number.
Between 12:03 a.m., half an hour after Ramos first entered the building, and 12:50 a.m., when police entered and killed Ramos, there were at least eight calls from the classroom to 911.
Someone who failed to identify McCraw called at 12:16 p.m. and told police “eight to nine” students were still alive, the colonel said. Three shots were heard during a call at 12:21 p.m.
The same girl who made the first call begged the operator to “please send the police now” at 12:43 PM and 12:47 PM
According to McCraw, officers arrived within three minutes of that last call when a US Border Patrol tactical team used a janitor’s key to open the locked door and fatally shot Ramos.
Several officers had their first gunfight with Ramos shortly after he entered the school at 11:33 a.m., when two officers were shot at by bullets and took cover. There were as many as 19 officers in the hallway at 12:03 a.m., McCraw said — the same time the first 911 call was received from the classroom.
Videos released Thursday showed frantic parents outside the school urging police to storm the building during the attack, with some having to be stopped by police.
Standard security protocols advise police to confront an active school shooter without delay, a point McCraw acknowledged Friday.
“If there is an active shooter, the rules change,” he said.
Police found 142 used bullets in the school from Ramos’ rifle, as well as nearly two dozen more on school grounds outside the building, McCraw said. Ramos fired at least 100 rounds into the classrooms in the first minutes of his attack, based on audio evidence, before the first wave of officers confronted him.
In all, Ramos had 60 magazines and 1,657 cartridges, including some in his truck when he crashed it in front of the school before the attack, and two magazines that were found in his home.
McCraw described other times when Ramos could have been thwarted. A school official, responding to calls about an armed man who crashed into a car at the funeral home across the street, drove right past Ramos, who was crouched next to a vehicle on the school grounds.
The door that gave Ramos access to the building had been held open by a teacher, McCraw said.
The attack, the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade, has sparked the long-standing national debate over gun laws.
Elsewhere in Texas, the National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun rights advocacy group, opened its annual meeting in Houston on Friday. Prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, are expected to address the convention.
Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who was also scheduled to speak, will instead make recorded comments and head to Uvalde for an afternoon press conference.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat who has urged Congress to approve new gun restrictions, will visit the community of 16,000 people, about 80 miles (80 km) west of San Antonio, on Sunday.
Investigators are still looking for a motive. Ramos, a school dropout, had no criminal record and no history of mental illness.
His attack started in the house he shared with his grandmother, when he shot her in the face and fled to the school. She remains in the hospital.
The gunman’s father, also named 42-year-old Salvador Ramos, expressed regret for his son’s actions in an interview published Thursday by news site The Daily Beast.
“He should have just killed me, you know, instead of doing something like that to someone,” the elder Ramos told the site.