Law enforcement authorities faced questions and criticism on Thursday over how long it took before they stormed a classroom at an elementary school in Uvalde and put an end to the rampage of a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.
Investigators also haven’t been able to say for sure whether an armed school district security guard outside Robb Elementary exchanged gunfire with the assailant, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, during his arrival on Tuesday.
The motive for the rampage – the country’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut a decade ago – is still under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no priors. known criminal or mental health.
During the siege, which ended when a Border Patrol team burst in and shot Ramo dead, frustrated onlookers urged police to charge into the school, witnesses said.
” Go for it ! Go for it ! women yelled at police shortly after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who observed the scene from outside his house across from the school.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour passed between when Ramos opened fire on the school security guard and when the tactical team shot him.
But a department spokesperson later said authorities could not give a solid estimate of how long the shooter had been at the school.
“The bottom line is that law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They engaged immediately. They contained (Ramos) in the classroom.
Meanwhile, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said Border Patrol agents had difficulty opening the classroom door and had to ask a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he rushed to school when he heard about the shooting, arriving as police were always gathered outside.
Upset that the police wouldn’t move in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other passers-by.
“Let’s go fast because the cops aren’t doing anything like they’re supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“They weren’t prepared,” he added.
Carranza had seen Ramos crash his truck into a ditch outside the school, grab his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shoot two people outside a funeral home, who fled unharmed .
Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN the school security guard outside was armed and initial reports indicated 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 killing.
Carranza said the officers should have entered the school earlier.
“There were more. There was only one,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, hundreds of people filled the stands at the city’s fairgrounds for a vigil. Some cried. Some closed their eyes while mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children as speakers led prayers for healing.
Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and injured his grandmother in the house they shared.
Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was wading through his yard when he heard the gunshots.
Ramos ran out the front door and across the yard to a truck parked in front of the house and fled: ‘He sped off, I mean fast,’ spraying gravel into the air, said Gallegos.
Ramos’ grandmother came out covered in blood: “She said, ‘Berto, that’s what he did. He shot me.’ She was hospitalized.
Gallegos said he didn’t hear any arguments before or after the shots were fired and didn’t know of any history of bullying or abusing Ramos, whom he rarely saw.
Lorena Auguste was a substitute teacher 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 that the girl was fine.
But that night, her niece had a question.
“Why did they do this to us?” asked the girl. “We are good kids. We haven’t done anything wrong.