“The gunman who killed 21 people in Uvalde this week walked through an unlocked door unopposed, state troopers said Thursday.
In a significant departure from initial Texas Department of Public Safety reports, DPS Regional Director Victor Escalon said the gunman didn’t encounter resistance after he crashed his pickup in a ditch near the school Tuesday and walked to the building while indiscriminately shooting.
Previously, DPS State Director Steven McCraw said an officer outside the school “engaged” with the shooter, Salvador Ramos, but did not exchange gunfire with him. That didn’t happen.LIVE UPDATES: Follow along for the latest news and analysis on the Uvalde school shooting
In the building for about an hour, Ramos killed 19 children and two teachers in adjoining classrooms before tactical officers killed him. The massacre ranks as the second-deadliest school shooting in modern U.S. history.
Police first arrived on the scene four minutes after Ramos walked through the back door at the school, Escalon said.
Taking fire, the officers retreated, he said.
As the gunfire continued, parents of students who remained inside the school urged police to enter and stop the gunman. But it took nearly an hour before a special tactical team was able to assemble and breach a classroom that Ramos had entered and locked.
The excruciating delay — and discrepancies by the Texas Department of Public Safety in its shifting and incomplete account of the massacre’s timeline — has left law enforcement executives perplexed and elected officials frustrated at still-lingering questions about the police response.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray urging him to “thoroughly examine the timeline of events.”
“The people of Uvalde, of Texas, and of the nation deserve an accurate account of what transpired,” Castro wrote. “A block of time between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. local time has yet to be fully accounted for.”
Police tried to negotiate with Ramos while he was barricaded inside the locked classroom, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said.
“Once that shooter was in the barricade, I was in there with the hostage negotiator,” McLaughlin said. “He would answer (the call), hang up.”
Meanwhile, a mass evacuation of hundreds of other students was underway.
“Some kids came out windows, some came out the doors,” McLaughlin said. “There were parents trying to go into the building.”
It remains unclear when the scene changed from an active shooter to a potential hostage barricade situation, a transition that could have altered the police response, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.
“The response to someone who is actually actively shooting, that response has to be immediate, and it’s through the door,” McManus said. “If it turns into a barricade situation, we are not going to make an entry while nothing is happening. We’re going to go in if something happens — shooting starts, screaming starts.”
That thinking reflects changes law enforcement agencies made after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, said Fulshear Police Chief Kenny Seymour, who described that 1999 massacre as “the pendulum swing” that prompted law enforcement’s current response to active-shooter situations.
“We can’t wait,” he said. “These shootings don’t allow us to call those specialized units in. We have the training, the tools, to make a difference in these shootings.”
He understood the anguish parents were feeling waiting outside the school, he said, but added that law enforcement could have been trying to prevent adding “more potential victims” to the situation. “I have six children,” he said. “You’d be hard-pressed to keep me out of the school.”
The terror in Uvalde began shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday, authorities said, when Ramos shot his grandmother in the face.
Ramos, an 18-year-old high school dropout, took his grandmother’s pickup and drove toward Robb Elementary, crashing into a ditch about 11:28 a.m., Escalon said.
The teen jumped out of the passenger side of the vehicle carrying a Daniel Defense assault-style rifle and a backpack containing more than a half-dozen magazines filled with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Escalon said.
He spotted two people at a funeral home across the street and shot at them, Escalon said, but did not hit them.
From there, Ramos climbed over a fence and walked into the west side of the elementary school at about 11:40 a.m.
“He walked in unobstructed,” Escalon said. “He was not confronted by anybody.”
Once inside, the shooter walked into the open door of a classroom and began firing “numerous rounds,” Escalon said.
“More than 25 (shots),” he said. “It was a lot of gunfire in the beginning.”
Escalon said officials believe Ramos shot most of his victims soon after entering the classrooms.
Four minutes after the gunman walked inside, Escalon said, officers from the Uvalde Police Department and Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District showed up at the scene.
The officers “took rounds,” Escalon said, and retreated and called for help from nearby agencies.
Law enforcement swarmed to the school, including officers from the Uvalde Police Department, DPS troopers, Texas state troopers and, later, members of the Border Patrol’s elite BORTAC squad, the agency’s tactical unit trained to combat human smuggling, active shooters and other dangerous law enforcement operations.
Outside the school, parents waited in agony. They urged police to rush the building; video showed angry and horrified parents pleading with officers as gunfire could be heard in the background.
It took an hour after Ramos walked into the school for a team of the tactical officers, a Uvalde police officer and a Zavala County deputy to converge on the classroom. A Border Patrol officer killed the gunman.
The revelations of the lengthy delay in bringing down the shooter brought reminiscences of shootings in Columbine and Parkland, Fla.
“We still don’t know all the particulars,” said former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, “but we’re starting to learn the response was not consistent with 21st century, modern day responses to active shooters.”
In Houston, officers are now trained to respond to active-shooter situations by doing whatever necessary to end that threat, said Acevedo, who led the department from late 2016 to March 2021.
“If you’re the first cop, the only cop, you still need to act, to act aggressively to end the threat,” he said. “You run toward gunfire and engage the suspect.”