Reuters/AFP/ Uvalde, Texas/Washington
• Texas official says ‘wrong decision’ not to breach classroom
• Lawmakers ask gunmakers for marketing, other data after shootings
Panicked children and teachers placed half a dozen calls to 911 emergency services from the Texas classrooms where a massacre was unfolding, pleading for police to intervene, while roughly 20 officers waited in a hallway for nearly an hour before entering the room, authorities said yesterday.
At least two children called the 911 emergency number from the two connecting classrooms after 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, according to Colonel Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The on-site commander, the chief of the school district’s police department in Uvalde, Texas, believed that Ramos was barricaded inside the classroom and that children were no longer at risk, giving police time to prepare, McCraw said.
“I’m not defending anything, but you go back in the timeline, there was a barrage, hundreds of rounds were pumped in in four minutes, okay, into those two classrooms,” he said. “Any firing afterwards was sporadic and it was at the door. So the belief is that there may not be anybody living anymore and that the subject is now trying to keep law enforcement at bay or entice them to come in to suicide by contact.”
“From the benefit of hindsight where I’m sitting now, of course, it was not the right decision,” he added. “It was the wrong decision.”
Some of the students trapped in the classrooms with the gunman survived the massacre, including at least two who called 911, McCraw said, though he did not offer a specific tally.
Someone whom McCraw did not identify called the 911 line multiple times starting at 12.03pm, telling police in a whisper that there were multiple dead and that there were still “eight to nine” students alive, the colonel said.
One student called at 12.47pm and asked the operator to “please send the police now”.
Officers did not go into the classroom until 12.50pm, according to McCraw, when the US Border Patrol tactical team used keys from a janitor to open the locked door and kill Ramos.
Several officers had an initial exchange of gunfire with Ramos shortly after he entered the school at 11.33am, when two officers were grazed by bullets.
There were as many as 19 officers in the hallway by 12.03pm, McCraw said – the same time that the first 911 call from inside the classroom was received.
Videos that emerged on Thursday showed frantic parents urging police to storm the school during the attack, with some having to be restrained by police.
Standard security protocols advise police to confront an active school shooter without delay, a point McCraw conceded yesterday.
“When there’s an active shooter, the rules change,” he said.
“From what we know, we believe there should have been an entry as soon as you can,” McCraw said, adding: “If I thought it would help, I’d apologise.”
He said police recovered 142 spent rounds inside the school from Ramos’s rifle, as well as nearly two dozen more on school property outside the building.
In total, Ramos had 60 magazines and 1,657 rounds, including some left in his truck when he crashed it outside the school before the attack and two magazines recovered at his residence.
Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives’ oversight panel has called on five gunmakers to hand over details on the manufacturing, marketing and sales of firearms used in mass shootings, the committee’s chairwoman said yesterday following recent attacks.
House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney requested the data in letters sent on Thursday to Daniel Defence, Bushmaster, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson Brands Incorporated and Sturm, Ruger & Company Incorporated, she said in a statement.
“I am deeply concerned that gun manufacturers continue to profit from the sale of weapons of war,” congresswoman Maloney wrote, citing the AR-15 semi-automatic rifles used in this week’s shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, 10 days earlier.
Representatives for the five gunmakers could not be immediately reached for comment on the congressional request.
Ten people were gunned down by a white supremacist at the supermarket a predominantly black neighbourhood in the city in western New York on May 14.
Polling shows a majority of Americans support moderate or strong regulation of gun ownership, but some lawmakers have suggested they would not back any legislative fixes.
Gun safety advocates are pushing Democratic President Joe Biden to take stronger action on his own to curb gun violence following the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade, but the White House has said Congress must pass laws to have more impact.
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