Police made the ‘wrong decision’ by not storming an elementary school classroom in Uvalde, Texas, when a gunman killed 19 children inside, the most told senior security official.
“If I thought it would help, I would apologize,” Steven McCraw said at a heated press conference on Friday.
Officers delayed entry because they didn’t believe it was still an “active shooter” situation, he said.
But the students inside made several calls asking the police to come.
Mr. McCraw confirmed that there was a 40-minute gap between the arrival of the police unit at Robb Elementary School and the moment they decided to storm the classroom where the shooter had barricaded himself.
The senior officer at the scene decided to wait for the school janitor to arrive with the keys as they believed either ‘no children were in danger’ at the time or ‘no one was living anymore’ .
The belated response, combined with video footage showing frustrated parents outside the school being attacked and handcuffed by police while the shooter was still inside, led to growing public anger and a scrutiny of how law enforcement handled the situation.
Authorities have struggled to give a clear timeline of how events unfolded in Uvalde.
On Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he was “livid” that he had been “misled” about some information, which he made public at a press conference earlier this week.
“As everyone has learned, the information given to me turned out to be partly inaccurate,” he said.
He also revealed an anonymous donor paid $175,000 (£139,000) for the victims’ funerals. “We appreciate this anonymous donor for his generosity,” he said. “And we will ensure that these resources are in good hands.”
The gunman crashed his car near the school around 11.30am local time, Mr McCraw revealed, and circled the building firing ‘over a hundred rounds’ into classrooms as he sought to enter .
A school district officer, who was not on campus at the time, immediately attended the scene following a 911 call, but “drove right by the suspect who was crouching behind a vehicle,” McCraw said.
At 11:35 a.m., the attacker entered the school through a door opened earlier by a teacher and barricaded himself in a classroom.
Police officers followed him into the building a few minutes later but remained in the hallway.
Mr McCraw confirmed that as many as 19 police had gathered outside the classroom but made no immediate effort to enter.
It wasn’t until 12:51 p.m. that a tactical unit entered the classroom and killed him – about 75 minutes after the attack began.
The on-scene commander – the Uvalde School District Police Chief, who was not present at Friday’s press conference – said it was no longer an “active shooter”.
The description is at odds with the disclosure that at least four 911 emergency calls were made from inside the school – some of children barricaded inside with the shooter – pleading for police to come.
“Please send the police now”
At Friday’s press conference, Texas Security Officer Steven McCraw recounted the 911 emergency calls students made from inside the school after the shooter entered.
12:03 – A student called 911, identified herself and whispered that she was in room 112 at school.
12:10 – She called back, informing that there were several deaths.
12:13 – The same student called a third time.
12:16 – She called 911 and said there were eight to nine students alive.
12:19 – A 911 call was made by another person in room 111. She hung up when another student told her to.
12:21 – You could hear during the call that three shots were fired.
12:36 – Original caller called back, told to stay on the line and be very quiet. She said he [the gunman] shot at the door.
12:43 and 12:47 – She asked 911 to “please send the police now”.
12:46 – She [the student] said she could hear the police next door.
12:50 – Shots were fired and could be heard during the call.
12:51 – It was very noisy, it sounded like officers were dragging children out of the room. At that time, the first child who called was outside before the call was dropped.
“In hindsight where I’m sitting now, of course, it wasn’t the right decision. It was the wrong decision. There’s no excuse for that,” McCraw said.
Growing emotional amid a barrage of angry questions after admission, he called the mistakes “tragic”.
The great-grandfather of 10-year-old Alexandria Rubio, who died in the attack, told the BBC he thought the police were “cowards”.
Ruben Mata Montemayor said he saw officers “walking” towards Robb Elementary during the attack. “If there was danger at school, why weren’t they running? he said.
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After the shooter was shot, police found up to 1,657 rounds and 60 magazines in his possession.
They later discovered that he had warned of some of his actions in private messages to a Facebook friend. It was earlier alleged that he made the statements – “I shot my grandma” and “I’m going to shoot a school” – as public posts on the platform.
Mr McCraw said the suspect asked his sister to buy him a gun last September, but “she flatly refused”.
In private chat messages with four people on Instagram earlier this year, he discussed buying a gun and asked about it.
One user replied, “Are you going to shoot a school or something?”
“No, and stop asking stupid questions and you’ll see,” came the answer.
US President Joe Biden and the first lady are due to visit Uvalde on Sunday, his second trip to a community rocked by gun violence in less than two weeks.