State Watch

Police under spotlight over speed of response to school massacre

Law enforcement officials are coming under heavy scrutiny on Thursday over their response to Tuesday’s massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two educators were killed by a lone gunman in the country’s deadliest school shooting in almost a decade. 

At a press conference where reporters hurled questions about whether police had waited too long to enter Robb Elementary School amid the violence, an official on camera said law enforcement had not yet verified if witnesses were urging the police to move in and discussing entering the school themselves.

“We have not verified if that’s a true statement or not or whether it’s just rumor out there,” said Victor Escalon, a regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. “You’ve got to understand we’re getting a lot of information we’re trying to track down and see what is true. We want to vet it.”

Authorities had previously said that a law enforcement officer confronted the gunman before he entered the school, but Escalon said the shooter entered the building unobstructed.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday had praised the law enforcers who arrived on the scene, saying the death toll would have been much higher but for the “amazing courage” of the first responders. 

Yet videos have since surfaced showing distraught family members outside the school screaming at heavily armed police officers to engage the shooter — and even attempting to rush into the school themselves — while the officers block their approach. And local news reports have since emerged featuring some of those family members accusing the police of doing too little, too late, to stop the carnage. 

The Associated Press reported that the father of a fourth-grader who was killed in the shooting said police officers were still outside the school when he arrived on the scene. He proposed that he and other bystanders try to enter the school because the officers were not. The police, he said, were “unprepared.” 

“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” said Javier Cazares, according to the AP.

Cazares’s daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was among the students killed in the attack, the news wire reported. “More could have been done,” Cazares charged. “They were unprepared.”

The Uvalde Police Department published a press release Thursday signed by Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez, saying officers responded to the attack “within minutes.” He said the Texas Ranger Division is leading the “ongoing investigation” into the events.

“I know answers will not come fast enough during this trying time, but rest assured that with the completion of the full investigation, I will be able to answer all the questions that we can,” Rodriguez said in the release.

The controversy arrives less than 48 hours after a lone gunman, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a small city west of San Antonio, and killed 21 people. It marked the deadliest school shooting since a 2012 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 26 people dead, including 20 children. 

The outburst of violence has devastated the small community of Uvalde, stunned the country — even one that’s grown accustomed to mass shootings — and launched yet another national debate over gun reform, mental health and the reasons why the United States is unique in the world when it comes to the epidemic of gun violence.

Abbott and other Texas officials on Wednesday had offered a preliminary outline of Tuesday’s tragic events. Ramos had first shot his grandmother, they said, before jumping into her pickup truck, crashing it at high speed near Robb Elementary, and then heading on foot toward the school. They initially said Ramos encountered an armed school enforcement officer outside the school, but Escalon debunked that account on Thursday.

Once inside the school, Ramos was approached by two officers with the Uvalde Police Department, both of whom were shot, according to the officials. The gunman then barricaded himself in one of the classrooms until a special unit from the Border Patrol was able to work its way inside, killing the gunman. The entire episode unfolded over roughly 90 minutes, the officials said. 

A law enforcement official told the AP that U.S. Border Patrol agents had difficulty breaching the door of the classroom where the 18-year-old shooter barricaded himself and needed a staff member at the school to open it with a key.

The victims that the gunman shot were in the classroom where he barricaded. Law enforcement officials initially said officers shot and killed the gunman about 40 minutes to an hour after he entered the school, but a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman said Thursday that officials were still working to clarify the timeline of the shooting, a CBS affiliate in San Antonio reported.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), whose district includes Uvalde, told CNN Wednesday the entire incident took about an hour, but there was a 30-minute “lull” where the shooting stopped, when the shooter barricaded himself in the classroom, citing a briefing he received. He said the students who remained in the building were evacuating during this time. 

“All of it, I understand, lasted about an hour, but this is where there’s kind of a 30-minute lull,” Gonzales told CNN. “They feel as if they’ve got him barricaded in. The rest of the students in the school are now leaving.”

It’s not the first time law enforcers have been scrutinized for their response to a school shooting. Scot Peterson, the law enforcement official on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., during a mass shooting in 2018, came under heavy criticism for his failure to confront the gunman during that episode. Thirty-four people were shot, 17 of them fatally, in Parkland.

Peterson was later charged on 11 counts, including child neglect. He has pleaded not guilty.

Updated at 3:42 p.m.

Tags Greg Abbott Gun control Law enforcement Texas Texas school shooting

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