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.
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.”
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.