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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Questions arise about police response to Texas gunman

A teareful boy is comforted by his sister as they visit the makeshift memorial at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday night, May 25, 2022.

By J. David Goodman, Frances Robles and Natalie Kitroeff

As families in Uvalde, Texas, began making funeral arrangements on what should have been a joyous last day of school before summer vacation, more details surrounding the hour of terror inside Robb Elementary School emerged on Thursday, with deepening criticism of the police response.

Parents of students who were trapped inside furiously urged police to storm the school sooner, according to witness accounts. “They were just angry,” said Derek Sotelo, 26, who heard gunfire from his tire shop nearby and followed it to the school. “We were wondering, ‘What the heck is going on? Are they going in?’ The dads were saying, ‘Give me the vest, I’ll go in there!’”

The first report of a gunman approaching the school came around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. By the time the 18-year-old had been killed just after 1 p.m., he had shot dead 19 students and two teachers.

Questions remained about how the police and at least one armed school police officer had handled the gunman.

Previous reports had said that the gunman had exchanged fire with an officer outside the school, but that did not happen, according to a preliminary timeline compiled by Texas law enforcement officials and described by a person familiar with the investigation.

That police officer was not stationed at the school, but was instead in a car nearby and rushed to the scene after the first 911 calls came in.

As the officer arrived at the school, the gunman was already approaching, began firing at the school and entered, according to the timeline. Within minutes, other law enforcement officers had arrived at the school, according to the timeline. Two members of the Uvalde Police Department entered the school.

The gunman, at that point, had gone inside a pair of adjoining classrooms and was shooting, according to the timeline. The two officers attempted to enter the classroom and were shot. At that point, they fell back as the shooting continued inside the classroom, according to the timeline.

Most if not all of the victims were believed to have been shot within the first minutes that the gunman arrived at the school, according to the timeline.

Javier Cazares, whose 9-year-old daughter was killed in the massacre, said that officials have been misrepresenting the response of law enforcement officials. “They said they rushed in and all that, we didn’t see that,” said Cazares, 43, who was outside the school during the attack and heard gunshots.

The gunman continued shooting through the wall and door at law enforcement who were arriving outside the classroom. It was during those minutes, law enforcement officials believe, that the gunman, identified as Salvador Ramos, shot most if not all of the children inside adjoining classrooms. There was sporadic gunfire from the suspect until a tactical team arrived and killed him around 1 p.m., according the timeline.

State Police said they have so far found no apparent motive or any warning signs — a history of mental illness or a criminal record — that would have predicted that the gunman would commit such atrocities. In the week before the shooting, just days after turning 18, he purchased two AR-style rifles and up to 375 rounds of ammunition, according to officials.

In other developments:

— By Wednesday, all of the victims had been identified by officials, who had yet to release their names. In Uvalde, a city of about 16,000, the tragedy seemed to spare almost no one. Some families were doubly grieving. “I lost two,” George Rodriguez, 72, told a friend between sobs Wednesday afternoon. “My grandson and a niece. I lost two.”

— President Joe Biden said he would visit the city, a ranching town 60 miles from the border with Mexico, in the coming days to console the distraught residents.

— Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked action on a bill aimed at strengthening the federal government’s efforts to combat domestic terrorism, rejecting a measure put forward by Democrats in the wake of a racist massacre in which a gunman motivated by white supremacist ideology killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket.

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