Nearly 20 officers were in a hallway outside of the classrooms at a Texas elementary school for more than 45 minutes before agents used a master key to open a door and confront a gunman, authorities said in a press conference on Friday.
The on-site commander believed the gunman was barricaded in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde during Tuesday’s attack and that the children were not at risk, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said.
“Of course it was not the right decision," Mr McCraw said.
"The decision was made that this was a barricaded subject, there was time to retrieve the keys and wait for a tactical team. That was the decision, that was the thought process.
"With the benefit of hindsight, of course it was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision. Period. There’s no excuse for that."
US Border Patrol agents eventually used a master key to open the locked door of the classroom where they confronted and killed the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, Mr McCraw said.
The confirmed delayed response raises even more questions as to why Ramos was able to enter the school and stay there for so long before he was engaged by the agents.
Ramos crashed his car close to the school at about 11.30am local time, before entering the building a short time later.
The door to the classroom in which he barricaded himself was not breached until 12.51pm.
At least four 911 calls were made from children within the school during this time period.
In the wake of the shooting, Texas Governor Greg Abbott praised the "quick" and "valiant response of vigilant local officials" who, he said, had engaged the gunman before he entered the school.
But witnesses say police were hesitant to confront the killer.
Footage online from the early minutes of the attack shows family members and members of the public urging police to storm the building.
"The police were doing nothing," Angeli Rose Gomez, who has two children in Robb Elementary school, told the
They were just standing outside the fence. They weren't going in there or running anywhere.
What happened in that 90-minute window, in a working-class neighbourhood near the edge of the town of Uvalde, has fuelled mounting public anger and scrutiny over law enforcement’s response to the rampage.
“They say they rushed in,” said Javier Cazares, whose daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, and who raced to the school as the massacre unfolded.
“We didn’t see that.”
Friday’s update on the attack’s timeline came only after authorities declined to explain why officers had not been able to stop the gunman sooner, with Victor Escalon, regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, telling reporters on Thursday that he had “taken all those questions into consideration”, but was not ready to answer them.
The Thursday briefing, called by Texas safety officials to clarify the timeline of the attack, provided pieces of previously unknown information.
But by the time it ended, it had added to the troubling questions surrounding the attack, including about the time it took police to reach the scene and confront the gunman, and the apparent failure to lock a school door he entered.
After two days of providing often conflicting information, investigators said that a school district police officer was not inside the school when Ramos arrived and, contrary to their previous reports, the officer had not confronted Ramos outside the building.
Instead, they sketched out a timeline notable for unexplained delays by law enforcement.
After crashing his truck, Ramos fired on two people coming out of a nearby funeral home, Mr Escalon said. He then entered the school ”unobstructed” through an apparently unlocked door at about 11.40am.
But the first police officers did not arrive on the scene until 12 minutes after the crash and did not enter the school to pursue the gunman until four minutes after that. Inside, they were driven back by gunfire from Ramos and took cover, Mr Escalon said.
The gunman was still inside at 12.10pm when the first US Marshals Service deputies arrived.
They had gone to the school from nearly 70 miles away in the border town of Del Rio, the agency said in a tweet on Friday.
Our deputy marshals maintained order and peace in the midst of the grief-stricken community that was gathering around the school. Our hearts are heavy with sorrow and sadness at this horrific crime. We send our condolences to all the victims and families affected by this tragedy.— U.S. Marshals (@USMarshalsHQ) May 27, 2022
The crisis came to an end after a group of Border Patrol tactical officers entered the school at 12.45pm, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Travis Considine.
They engaged in a shootout with the gunman, who was holed up in the fourth-grade classroom. Moments before 1pm, he was dead.
Mr Escalon said that during that time, the officers called for backup, negotiators and tactical teams, while evacuating students and teachers.
Many other details of the case and the response remained murky. The motive for the massacre remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.
During the siege, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.
“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.
Mr Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner: “There were more of them. There was just one of him.”
Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz did not give a timeline but said repeatedly that the tactical officers from his agency who arrived at the school did not hesitate.
He said they moved rapidly to enter the building, lining up in a “stack” behind an agent holding up a shield.
“What we wanted to make sure is to act quickly, act swiftly, and that’s exactly what those agents did,” Ortiz told.
But a law enforcement official said that once in the building, the agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key.