Frustrated onlookers begged police officers to charge into the Texas elementary school where a gunman’s rampage killed 19 children and two teachers, witnesses said Wednesday, as investigators worked to track the massacre that lasted upwards of 40 minutes and ended when the 18-year-old shooter was killed by an elite Border Patrol team.
“Go in there! Go in there!” nearby women shouted at local officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who saw the scene from outside his house, across the street from Robb Elementary School in the close-knit town of Uvalde. Carranza said the officers did not go in.
Video shows chaos outside as multiple heavily-armed police officers stand around focused on keeping back shrieking parents instead of stopping the killer locked in a room with their dying children. In emergency medicine, the “Golden Hour” — between 15 and 60 minutes — is the crucial time medical professionals can act on traumatic bleeding injuries, like gunshot wounds, in order to save the victim’s life.
A group of officers appears to detain at least one parent in the video, and another wields a taser to keep the panicked crowd away. Parents are heard begging the officers to stop the shooter.
Warning: Graphic language.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside the building.
Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“They were unprepared,” he added.
Minutes earlier, Carranza had watched as the gunman crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his semi-automatic rifle, and shot at two people outside a nearby funeral home who ran away uninjured.
Officials say he “encountered” a school district security officer outside the school, though there were conflicting reports from authorities on whether the men exchanged gunfire. After running inside, he fired on two arriving Uvalde police officers who were outside the building, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine. The police officers were injured.
After entering the school, the killer charged into one classroom and began to slaughter the innocent children and teachers trapped inside.
He “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”
All those killed were in the same classroom, he said.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told reporters that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when the shooter opened fire on the school security officer to when the border patrol tactical team engaged him, though a department spokesman said later that they could not give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school or when he was killed.
“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door because no one in the local law enforcement had gotten a key, and they had to find a staff member to open the room. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.
Critics have called the official timeline “strangely opaque” although experts note it is common for timelines to shift rapidly after a chaotic event. Still, Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.
“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.
Uvalde is a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles from the Mexican border. Robb Elementary, which has nearly 600 students in second, third, and fourth grades, is a single-story brick structure in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
Hundreds packed into bleachers at the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil Wednesday and the crowd swelled so big some stood around the speakers on the dirt arena. Some cried. Some closed their eyes tight, mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children, as the speakers lead prayers for healing.
About a half-hour before the mass shooting, the gunman sent the first of three online messages warning about his plans.
He wrote that he was going to shoot his grandmother, then that he had shot the woman. In the last note, sent about 15 minutes before he reached Robb Elementary, he said he was going to shoot up an elementary school, according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Investigators said the gunman did not specify which school.
He sent the private, one-to-one text messages via Facebook, said company spokesman Andy Stone. It was not clear who received the messages.
Grief engulfed Uvalde as the details emerged.
The dead included Eliahna Garcia, an outgoing 10-year-old who loved to sing, dance, and play basketball; a fellow fourth-grader, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, whose husband is an officer with the school district’s police department.
“You can just tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved,” Uvalde Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell said, fighting back tears as he recalled the children and teachers killed.
The tragedy was the latest in a seemingly unending wave of mass shootings across the U.S. in recent years. Just 10 days earlier, 10 Black people were shot to death in a racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
The attack was the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
Amid calls for tighter restrictions on firearms, the Republican governor repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among Texas young people and argued that tougher gun laws in Chicago, New York, and California are ineffective.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor, interrupted Wednesday’s news conference, calling the tragedy “predictable.” Pointing his finger at Abbott, he said: “This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen.”
O’Rourke was escorted out as some in the room yelled at him. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin yelled that O’Rourke was a “sick son of a bitch.”
Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually, she found out the girl was OK.
But that night, her niece had a question.
“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article