'It was the wrong decision.' Officers didn't enter Uvalde classroom as kids kept calling 911

·7 min read

Nineteen police officers were massed outside the Uvalde classroom where a gunman was, but they were stopped from trying to break through the locked door by an incident commander who believed no more lives were at risk. Frantic 911 calls from children inside, however, proved that decision was a mistake, the state's top law officer said Friday.

"With the benefit of hindsight, from where I'm sitting now, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision, period," said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

"Clearly, there were kids in the room. Clearly, they were at risk," he said.

The incident commander, the police chief of the Uvalde school district, determined that the situation inside Robb Elementary School had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject, McCraw said.

Live updates Friday: 10-year-old Uvalde school shooting survivor released from hospital

The district police chief, Pete Arredondo, did not attend Friday's news conference, and McCraw did not refer to him by name, discussing only his title.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, speaking at a news conference on Friday, points to map showing where a gunman entered Robb Elementary School on Tuesday before shooting and killing 19 students and two teachers.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, speaking at a news conference on Friday, points to map showing where a gunman entered Robb Elementary School on Tuesday before shooting and killing 19 students and two teachers.

The decision to end the active-shooter response, McCraw said, meant the incident commander believed there was time to retrieve keys to the classroom door from a janitor and for a Border Patrol tactical team to arrive.

But for 77 minutes, according to a new timeline provided by McCraw, the shooter traveled between two classrooms connected by a shared bathroom while students and teachers were calling 911 for help, including a girl who begged, "Please send police now."

Another caller reported that eight or nine students were still alive about a half-hour before the Border Patrol team entered the classroom behind shields and shot the 18-year-old gunman dead at 12:50 p.m.

Arredondo could not immediately be reached for comment at his district office or on phone numbers listed for him in public records.

Abbott 'livid' over revelations

Gov. Greg Abbott, speaking in Uvalde several hours later, said he was "absolutely livid" over inaccurate information about the shooting response that he had earlier passed on to the public based on accounts from law officers and others.

"I was misled," Abbott told reporters. "I am livid about what happened. I was on this very stage two days ago, and I was telling the public information that had been told to me."

That information led Abbott to commend officers for their bravery in running toward the gunfire, saying their actions saved lives.

"As everyone has learned, the information that I was given turned out in part to be inaccurate, and I am absolutely livid about that," he said.

The governor added that he expected investigations by the Texas Rangers and FBI "to get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty."

"The people whose lives have been destroyed, they need answers that are accurate, and it is inexcusable that they may have suffered from any inaccurate information whatsoever," Abbott said.

'Plenty of officers to do what needed to be done'

Asked why 911 operators did not inform officers that people were still alive inside, making the situation an active-shooter response that demanded immediate action, McCraw said he did not yet have that answer.

"When there is an active shooter, the rules change. ... You don't have time," he said. "You keep shooting until the subject is dead."

Within 20 minutes of the first shots fired into a classroom, 19 police officers had assembled in the hall outside the classroom, McCraw said.

"There were plenty of officers to do what needed to be done, with one exception, is that the incident commander inside believed he needed more equipment and more officers to do a tactical breach at that time," he added.

McCraw also did not explain why the incident commander believed no more lives were at risk.

McCraw also updated the timeline of the shooting, correcting once again several errors made in previous reports.

The gunman crashed a pickup into a ditch near Robb Elementary at 11:28 a.m. and began firing into school windows from a campus parking lot three minutes later. At 11:33, he entered the school through a propped-open outer door, traveled down two halls and began shooting into Room 111 or 112 — the angle on the video was not conclusive, McCraw said.

That means five minutes elapsed from the crash until the gunman entered the school — not 12 minutes as the DPS had reported a day earlier.

School door had been propped open

The gunman, McCraw said, entered the school through a door that a teacher had propped open one minute before the pickup he was driving crashed, and the teacher ran back inside to retrieve a phone to call 911, McCraw said.

Two minutes after the gunman ran into the school, three Uvalde police officers followed through the same doorway and approached the classroom, where they were shot at through the locked door with two officers received "grazing" wounds, McCraw said.

Unimaginable loss: A look at the 19 children and two teachers who were killed in the Uvalde, Texas, shooting

By 11:53, 19 officers were in the school hallway, where they were told to wait. The Border Patrol tactical team began arriving at 12:21 p.m. and entered the classroom at 12:50, he said.

An officer for the Uvalde school district wipes a tear at the end of a news conference Friday on the law enforcement response to the Tuesday mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school.
An officer for the Uvalde school district wipes a tear at the end of a news conference Friday on the law enforcement response to the Tuesday mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school.

According to spent cartridges recovered in the investigation, the gunman fired 142 times from inside the classrooms and 22 times from the school parking lot. He also fired 22 times from the pickup crash site, where he targeted, but didn't hit, two men who had approached to help, McCraw said.

Thirty-five spent law enforcement cartridges were recovered, eight from the school hallway and 28 from inside Room 111, where the gunman was shot dead, McCraw said.

First details of 911 calls

McCraw also provided the first public details of 911 calls made from inside the classrooms.

A caller from Room 112 called at 12:10 p.m. to report "multiple dead," then called back at 12:13 and 12:16 to say eight or nine students were still alive, he said.

A student in adjoining Room 111 called at 12:19 but hung up at the insistence of another student, and three shots could be heard in the background of a different call at 12:21.

During a call from a student at 12:43 and 12:47, "she asked 911 to please send the police now," McCraw said.

The initial police response to the shooting has drawn increased scrutiny after officials acknowledged that the gunman was not faced by police for an hour, though Friday's update put the time at 77 minutes.

Outside the school, parents and neighbors pleaded with police to storm the school, and several discussed going inside themselves but were restrained by officers, video posted on social media shows.

It hasn't helped that reports of Tuesday's events, provided by politicians and police, have shifted.

More: Texas officials investigate whether police acted fast enough to stop shooter at Uvalde school

Speaking Thursday to reporters, DPS official Victor Escalon said early reports that the gunman was confronted by a school district police officer were wrong. The gunman, he said, entered the school through an apparently unlocked door "without being confronted by anybody."

On Friday, McCraw clarified that the police officer assigned to Robb Elementary was away from campus but sped back after receiving reports that shots had been fired.

The officer rushed toward the back of the school — unknowingly passing the shooter, who had been crouched between cars while firing upon the school — and confronted a man who he believed was the gunman but turned out to be a teacher.

Amid a frenzied investigation, that confrontation led to the mistaken report, McCraw said.

Texas Department of Public Safety official Victor Escalon speaks at a press briefing Thursday in Uvalde.
Texas Department of Public Safety official Victor Escalon speaks at a press briefing Thursday in Uvalde.

Student released from hospital

In a welcome piece of news Friday, University Hospital said it released an unidentified 10-year-old girl, the first of three children who were sent to the San Antonio hospital for treatment after the attack.

Still being treated were a 10-year-old girl in serious condition and a 9-year-old girl in good condition, a hospital official said.

The shooter's 66-year-old grandmother, who had been shot in the face before the gunman took her pickup to the school, also remains in the hospital in serious condition.

American-Statesman staff writer Megan Menchaca and USA Today staff writer Dennis Wagner contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Police didn't enter Uvalde classroom during Texas school shooting