UVALDE, Texas – A city police officer armed with an AR-15-style rifle hesitated when given a brief chance to shoot the gunman approaching a school in Uvalde, Texas, for not wanting to hit children, according to a senior sheriff’s deputy who spoke to the officer.
The fateful decision, not previously reported, was the second missed opportunity for officers arriving at Robb Elementary School to prevent a massacre by intervening while the gunman was still outside the school. Officials have said an officer from another department, the Uvalde School District Police Department, arrived early but drove past the gunman without seeing him in the school’s parking lot.
The rapid arrival of several officers on May 24 reflected the speed at which the initial response took place, in stark contrast to what would become a lengthy delay in finally confronting the gunman after he began firing into a pair of connected classrooms of the fourth. class.
It also made it clear what painful decisions law enforcement had to make when they confronted the gunman, who fired shots outside the school; the officer who arrived with a rifle had only seconds to make a decision and was concerned that firing his weapon could mean hitting children, the senior sheriff’s deputy said.
Two teachers and 19 children were shot dead after the gunman entered the school, and 11 were injured, including a teacher.
The police response is now the subject of at least three investigations by the Texas Rangers, the United States Department of Justice and a special committee of the Texas legislature. A local prosecutor has also been involved in the state’s investigation, handling media inquiries; she did not respond to a request for comment on the new details about the earliest stages of the police response.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which also includes the Rangers, referred questions to the District Attorney. Uvalde police, whose officer reportedly had sight of the gunman, did not respond to a request for comment.
A focal point of the investigations was the hour and 17 minutes that had elapsed from the time the gunman entered the classrooms and began firing at 11:33 a.m. until a team of Border Patrol officers and a Zavala County sheriff’s deputy entered the rooms and killed the gunman to 12:50 pm
The investigation now shows that several officers arrived at the school before the gunman ever entered, and rushed to the crime scene after initial 911 calls reported around 11:29 a.m. that a truck had crashed near the school and said that the driver was shooting outside.
According to investigative papers reviewed by DailyExpertNews, at least two police cars arrived in close proximity to the school. One was controlled by an officer of the small police force that patrols the schools of Uvalde. Another arrived less than a minute later, at 11:32 a.m., with officers from the Uvalde Police Department.
At the time, the gunman was still firing outside the school.
Officials have said he fired at the building and toward a nearby funeral home, but arriving officers believed the gunfire was aimed at them, said Zavala County Deputy Sheriff Ricardo Rios, who also responded to the report. shooting in the neighboring district.
“I understand that, after talking to several officers, the gunman attacked two officers from the city of Uvalde when they got there, outside the building,” said deputy chief Rios.
He said the two officers, including one with the long rifle, took cover behind a patrol car. They wanted to fire back, he said, but held out.
Chief Deputy Rios, who related his conversation with one of the officers, said he was surprised and replied with a blunt question.
“I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you shoot? Why didn’t you come with me?’ And then he told me about the background,” he said. “According to the officers, they did not go back because there were children playing in the background and they were afraid of hitting the children.”
In one of the first 911 calls, at 11:29 a.m., a caller told the emergency room about the gunfire outside and also that children were running, according to the documents. It was not clear where those children were or if there were others in the line of fire in those first minutes.
The deputy sheriff said any attempt to shoot the moving gunman would have been difficult, and the officer would undoubtedly have faced harsh criticism and possibly even a criminal investigation if he missed and hit a distant bystander, especially a child. .
The opportunity passed “very quickly,” he said, perhaps in a matter of seconds.
“I’m not knocking him down or anything. I get it,” he said. “The Ranger who took my statement even said, ‘It’s gotten to the point where we’re starting to doubt shooting someone because we’re scared. Every bullet has our names.'”
On the day of the shooting, Chief Constable Rios rushed to the school in Uvalde along with his boss, Zavala County Sheriff Eusevio E. Salinas. On the way, they heard that one of their representatives, Jose Luis Vasquez, was already on the way.
Deputy Vasquez eventually ended up on the team of officers who later stormed the classrooms and killed 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos.
At the time the shooting began, Deputy Sheriff Vasquez was on his way to the gym in his department car, wearing a T-shirt and shorts. He rushed to the school anyway, Sheriff Salinas said. His daughter was a student at Robb Elementary, the sheriff’s deputy said.
Sheriff Salinas said he and Chief Deputy Rios arrived at the school sometime after noon to find a chaotic scene, with both uniformed law enforcement officers and plainclothes officers responding.
“I saw a man in plain clothes with a shotgun,” Sheriff Salinas said. “I immediately pointed my gun at him, but a female cop showed up right next to him, so I said, ‘Wait a minute, this could be an off-duty cop.'” (Later heard the man was an off-duty officer.” Border Patrol on duty who had been to a nearby barbershop and had borrowed the barber’s gun.)
He said officers had set up a perimeter around the school and that behind it he saw Deputy Vasquez’s truck with flashing lights. He said he and Chief Deputy Rios remained outside the building until the gunman, who used an AR-15-style rifle in his attack, was killed.
“We were there for help. The radio was pretty quiet. It was really strange,” the sheriff said. “There were neighbors across the street, a lady watering her plants, another man working in his yard. If nothing. If nothing.”
Sheriff Salinas said he didn’t realize until later that his other deputy was part of the team responsible for the shooter’s murder. He still doesn’t know how it turned out, he said. Deputy Vasquez turned down a request for an interview.
Chief Deputy Rios said his fellow deputy and others had urged to go in earlier and confront the gunman. “He told me they wanted in,” he said. “He said, ‘Let’s go in, let’s go in.'”
The detectives are still investigating the reason for the long delay.
State officials have said the incident commander was Chief Pete Arredondo, who heads the small school district police force and has jurisdiction over the schools. He said in an interview with The Texas Tribune that he does not consider himself responsible for the response. Through his attorney, Chief Arredondo turned down a request for an interview.
Documents reviewed by The Times show that several ballistic shields had arrived at the school by midday, but Chief Arredondo had set out to get a key to the classrooms where the gunman had holed up.
The documents or videos reviewed by The Times did not show that anyone had checked the doors to see if they were locked.
At 12:46 p.m., Chief Arredondo told officers in the hallway outside the classrooms, including Deputy Vasquez, who was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and protected by a bulletproof vest, that they could enter. are ready to do it, then do it,” Chief Arredondo said, according to a transcript of body camera footage reviewed by The Times.
The team of officers took a found key, turned it in the door and entered, chief deputy Rios said, citing information from his fellow deputy.
“Joe puts it like this, he says, ‘Rick, it was quiet. I just scanned really fast and I just heard the door beeping open, keeeeeeeek,” said Mr. Rios, referring to a closet door in one of the classrooms, room 111. “And then he just started firing at us, bop bop bop bop.’”
When gunfire began in the classroom, a Border Patrol officer wearing a ballistic shield lowered it to the ground to protect the team’s legs, Deputy Rios said. Sheriff Deputy Vasquez sat right behind the Border Patrol agent, pointing his pistol at one side of the shield.
Deputy Vasquez reported that after he fired several shots, his gun jammed. But the other officers continued firing, only a few feet away from the gunman.
Immediately after the gunman’s death, other officers and medical personnel rushed to help the wounded.
“I remember they had a little kid and they were working on her, CPR, chest compressions and strapping her down,” Sheriff Salinas said, adding that he’d kept his distance. He didn’t know if the girl survived.