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DPS Director: It was 'the wrong decision' not to engage Uvalde shooter sooner

White crosses with flowers in front of the Robb Elementary School sign. The school building is in the background.
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
A memorial outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde where a shooter killed 19 students and two faculty members on Tuesday.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said a commander on the scene at the elementary school in Uvalde chose not to engage the shooter because it was believed children were no longer at risk.

As children trapped inside a Uvalde classroom Tuesday were calling 911 and pleading for help from authorities, a police commander at the scene made the decision not to break into the room and engage the shooter who ultimately shot and killed 19 students.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Friday the scene commander believed the shooter had barricaded himself in the classroom and that no more children were at risk.

“The on-scene commander at the time believed that it had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject,” he said. “Obviously, based upon the information we have, there were children in that classroom that were at risk, and it was, in fact, still an active shooter situation and not a barricaded subject.”

McCraw said 19 officers were in the school at the time, and authorities were instead trying to get keys to the room rather than engage the shooter.

The director later added: “With the benefit of hindsight, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. There’s no excuse for that.”

The gunman also killed two teachers, making this the worst school shooting since 2012.

McCraw said the gunman entered through a door a teacher had left propped open.

Several officers that arrived on the scene first retreated after they were shot at, McCraw said. Later, instead of engaging, additional officers inside the school waited for backup and tactical gear, McCraw said. The Friday briefing comes after Gov. Greg Abbott initially told reporters on Wednesday that — as bad as the situation was — it “could have been worse” but for law enforcement’s actions.

“They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives,” Abbott said.

What initially followed were conflicting reports about the response however, including whether the gunman, who has been identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was engaged by a school resource officer as was initially reported.

McCraw clarified that was not the case and it’s unclear why. The resource officer did respond to the 911 call about a person with a gun, McCraw said. But the officer drove past the gunman who was hiding behind vehicles. “[He] drove immediately to the area, sped to what he thought was the man with the gun to the back of the school, which turned out to be a teacher and not the suspect,” McCraw said. “In doing so, he drove right by the suspect who was hunkered down behind a vehicle where he began shooting at the school."

The gunman then started the onslaught in two adjoining classrooms, where officers said he fired at least 100 rounds in those first moments. He wasn’t shot and killed until about an hour later, according to a timeline McCraw gave. McCraw also gave a synopsis of one 911 call from inside the classroom, made by a person he declined to identify. The person initially called the police at 12:03 pm and identified herself, whispering she was in room 112.

“At 12:10 she called back in room 112 and advised there were multiple dead,” McCraw said. She then called back a few minutes later to say there were 8 to 9 students alive. Calls continued to come in until the shooter was finally killed — more than an hour after he entered the school just after 11:30 am.

McCraw said police recovered dozens of magazines at the school, including more than 30 that were in the gunman’s backpack that he didn’t take inside. There were dozens more found at his house afterward.

“He had purchased and had a total of 1,657 total rounds of ammunition, 315 of those rounds were inside the school," he said. "142 of those were spent cartridges, 173 were live rounds."

The new details Friday come after reports that officers outside the scene were trying to stop parents and other bystanders from going in to the building after they became frustrated that the police were not engaging.

The Associated Press reported that Uvalde resident Juan Carranza saw people shouting: "Go in there! Go in there!" at the officers as he watched the scene unfold from his home across the street.

Friday afternoon Abbott said he was misled by law enforcement when he was first briefed after the shooting.

“I am livid about what happened. I was on this very stage two days ago and I was telling the public information that had been told to me in a room just a few yards behind where we’re located right now,” he said from the Uvalde High School auditorium. “And as everybody has learned the information that I was given turned out, in part, to be inaccurate.”

Abbott said he expects law enforcement leading the investigation, including the Texas Rangers and the FBI, to “get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty.”

The shooting happened just three days before the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston Friday, the first for the organization since the pandemic. Abbott was scheduled to speak but instead withdrew to be in Uvalde for the press briefing this afternoon. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also changed his plans and will not attend.

“While a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and an NRA member, I would not want my appearance today to bring any additional pain or grief to the families and all those suffering in Uvalde,” Patrick said in a statement.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are scheduled to visit Uvalde Sunday to "grieve with the community," the White House announced Thursday.