“The on-scene commander at that time believed that he had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject,” Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Col. Steven McCraw said.
“From the benefit of hindsight where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said of the supervisor’s call not to confront the shooter. “It was the wrong decision. Period. There’s no excuse for that.”
In all, 80 minutes passed between when officers were first called to the school at 11:30 am to when a tactical team entered locked classrooms and killed the gunman at 12:50 pm, McCraw said. The tactical team was able to enter using keys from a janitor, he added.
“The levels of failure are just incredible, beyond belief,” said Anthony Barksdale, the former acting Baltimore police commissioner.
“They should have reacted quicker, faster,” he said. “Had they done that? You know, maybe we would have a different result.”
School back door had been propped open
McCraw also revealed further details about how the gunman was able to enter the school unobstructed.
A school teacher who had propped open a locked back door a minute earlier saw the crash and gunman and went to call 911 — leaving the door propped. That 911 call came at 11:30 am
The gunman then moved toward the school parking lot and began shooting into classroom windows, McCraw said. A school resource officer, who was not on campus at the time, heard the 911 call and rushed to the school but drove past the suspect, who was hunkered down behind a vehicle, McCraw said.
The suspect then entered the school via the propped door at 11:33 am and went to the adjoining classrooms 111 and 112, where he continued shooting, McCraw said.
Two minutes later, seven officers arrived at the school and approached the locked classrooms where the gunman had barricaded himself. Two of the officers were shot by the suspect from behind the door and suffered graze wounds, McCraw said.
The gunman fired 16 more rounds inside the locked classrooms between 11:37 and 11:44 am, and more officers continued to arrive at the hallway, McCraw said.
At about the same time, the Robb Elementary school posted on its Facebook that the school was on lockdown due to gunshots in the area. Outside the school, distraught parents soon began to arrive, desperate to know whether their kids were still alive, leading to confrontations with police trying to set up a perimeter.
Inside the school, there were as many as 19 law enforcement officers in the hallway at 12:03 pm, yet they remained outside and waited for further tactical team and equipment, McGraw said.
That very minute, at 12:03 pm, police received a 911 call from a girl who identified herself and whispered she’s in Room 112, McCraw said. She stayed on the phone for 1 minute, 23 seconds. At 12:10 pm she called back and said there were multiple people dead. She called again three minutes later.
Members of the Border Patrol tactical team, known as BORTAC, arrived with shields at 12:15 pm There they waited.
The girl called again at 12:16 pm and said there were eight to nine students alive, McGraw said. Another student called 911 from Room 111 three minutes later but hung up at the urging of another student. On a 911 call at 12:21 pm, three shots can be heard, he said.
The gunman had fired over 100 rounds in the first minutes of the shooting, but the gunfire after that was sporadic and aimed at the door, McCraw said.
“The belief was that there may not be anybody living anymore and that the subject has now tried to keep law enforcement at bay or entice them to come in to (die by) suicide,” he said.
A female student called 911 at 12:36 pm that lasted for 21 seconds, but then called back and was told to stay on the line and remain quiet. At 12:43 pm and 12:47 pm she asked 911 to please send police now.
Finally, at 12:50 pm, the tactical team entered the room and shot and killed the suspect.
Surviving children describe what happened inside
Children who survived the shooting described what happened inside the school during the mayhem.
Miah and her classmates were watching the movie “Lilo and Stitch” when teachers Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia got word of a shooter in the building. One teacher went to lock the door, but the shooter was right there — and shot out the door’s window, Miah said.
As her teacher backed into the classroom, the gunman followed. He then looked a teacher in the eye, said “Goodnight,” and shot her, the girl recalled.
And then he opened fire, shooting the other teacher and many of Miah’s friends. Bullets flew by her, Miah said, and fragments hit her shoulders and head. The gunman next went through a door into an adjoining classroom. Miah heard screams and more gunshots. When the firing stopped, the shooter started playing music that was “sad, like you want people to die,” the girl said.
Scared he would come back to kill her and her few surviving friends, Miah put her hands into the blood of a slain friend lying next to her and smeared herself with it, she said. The girl and a friend managed to grab a dead teacher’s phone and call 911 for help, she said. She told a dispatcher, “Please send help because we’re in trouble.”
The pair then lay down and played dead.
Another student in a different classroom, 10-year-old Jayden Perez, said when he and his classmates heard gunfire, his teacher locked the door and told them to “hide and be quiet.”
Jayden said he was hiding near the storage area for backpacks during the shooting. Others in his class were under a table. The entire time, he wondered what was going to happen to them.
“It was very terrifying because I never thought that was going to happen,” he told CNN. “(I’m) still sad about some of my friends that died.”
He does not want to go back to school again.
“No, because after what happened. I don’t want to. I don’t want anything to do with another shooting or me in the school,” he said. “And I know it might happen again, probably.”
Parents outside school begged for action
Outside the school, chaos and confusion reigned as distraught parents showed up and implored law enforcement to force their way in and kill the gunman. One father even asked officers to give him their gear, he said.
“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,” Victor Luna told CNN. His son survived.
Instead, officers held parents behind yellow police tape, refusing to let them enter as crying and screaming echoed around them, several videos show.
Members of the US Marshals Service can be seen in one video holding back parents who pleaded to enter the school. US Marshals said in a statement they were called to the school at 11:30 am and arrived about 40 minutes later from Del Rio, about 70 miles away.
The first deputy US Marshals to arrive entered the school to assist the Border Patrol tactical team already engaging with the shooter. The deputies also rendered aid to victims. Other deputies were asked to secure the perimeter around the school, but never arrested or placed anyone in handcuffs, the agency said.
“Our deputy marshals maintained order and peace in the midst of the grievance-stricken community that was gathering around the school,” the agency said.
Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez issued a statement Thursday defending his officers’ response to the shooting amid the growing criticism.
“It is important for our community to know that our officers responded within minutes” alongside school resource officers, he said.
CNN’s Tina Burnside, Carroll Alvarado, Adrienne Broaddus, Bill Kirkos, Joe Sutton, Shimon Prokupecz, Travis Caldwell, Michelle Krupa, Elizabeth Wolfe, Jamiel Lynch, Whitney Wild, Andy Rose, Amanda Musa, Alexa Miranda, Monica Serrano, Amanda Jackson, Carroll Alvarado and Holly Yan contributed to this report.