UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Frustrated bystanders urged police officers to charge the Texas elementary school where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers, witnesses said Wednesday, as investigators worked to track the massacre that it lasted more than 40 minutes and ended when the 18-year-old shooter was killed by a Border Patrol team.
“Get in there! Get in there! Nearby women yelled at officers shortly after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside his home across the street from Robb Elementary School in the united city of Uvalde. Carranza said the officers did not enter.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he ran to the school when he heard about the shooting and arrived while police were still gathered outside the building.
Annoyed that the police were not moving, he brought up the idea of entering the school with several other bystanders.
“We are going to hurry because the police are not doing anything that they are supposed to do,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“They were not prepared,” he added.
Minutes earlier, Carranza had watched as Salvador Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and shot two people outside a nearby funeral home who escaped unharmed.
Authorities say he “ran into” a school district security officer outside the school, though there were conflicting reports from authorities about whether the men exchanged fire. After running inside, he fired at two arriving Uvalde police officers outside the building, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Travis Considine said. The policemen were injured.
After entering the school, Ramos stormed into a classroom and began killing.
He “barricaded himself shutting the door and started shooting at the kids and teachers that were inside that classroom,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”
All those killed were in the same classroom, he said.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told reporters it took 40 minutes to an hour between Ramos opening fire on the school security officer and being shot by the tactical team, though a department spokesman said later that they couldn’t give a solid estimate of how much. time the gunman was at the school or when he was killed.
“The bottom line is that the police were there,” McCraw said. “They got engaged right away. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said Border Patrol agents had trouble forcing open the classroom door and had to ask a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.
Carranza said the officers should have entered the school earlier.
“There were more of them. There was only one of him,” she said.
Uvalde is a mostly Latino town of about 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border. Robb Elementary, which has nearly 600 students in second, third and fourth grades, is a single-story brick structure in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother in the house they shared, authorities said.
Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was playing in his yard when he heard the shots.
Ramos ran out the front door and across the small patio to the truck parked in front of the house. He seemed scared, Gallegos said, and had trouble getting the truck out of the parking lot.
Then he ran away: “He turned around, I mean fast”, spraying gravel into the air.
His grandmother came out covered in blood: “She says: ‘Berto, this is what he did. She shot me.’” She was hospitalized.
Gallegos, whose wife called 911, said he had heard no arguments before or after the shooting, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse from Ramos, whom he rarely saw.
Investigators also shed no light on the motive for Ramos’ attack, which also left at least 17 people injured. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Ramos, a resident of the small town about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of San Antonio, had no known criminal or mental health history.
“We don’t see a motive or a catalyst at this point,” McCraw of the Department of Public Safety said.
Ramos legally purchased the rifle and another like it last week, just after his birthday, authorities said.
About a half hour before the mass shooting, Ramos sent the first of three messages online warning of his plans, Abbott said.
Ramos wrote that he was going to shoot his grandmother, after he had shot the woman. In the last note, sent about 15 minutes before arriving at Robb Elementary, he said he was going to shoot up an elementary school, according to Abbott. Investigators said Ramos did not specify which school.
Ramos sent the private text messages one by one through Facebook, said Andy Stone, a company spokesman.
Pain engulfed Uvalde as the details emerged.
Among the dead were Eliahna Garcia, an outgoing 10-year-old girl who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; a fellow fourth grader, Xavier Javier López, who had been looking forward to a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, whose husband is an officer with the school district’s police department.
“You can tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved,” Uvalde Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell said as he fought back tears as he remembered the children and teachers killed.
The tragedy was the latest in a seemingly endless wave of mass shootings in the United States in recent years. Just 10 days earlier, 10 black people were shot to death in a racist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
The attack was the deadliest school shooting in the US since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
Amid calls for tougher restrictions on guns, the Republican governor has repeatedly spoken out about mental health issues among Texas youth, arguing that tougher gun laws in Chicago, New York and California are ineffective.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor, interrupted Wednesday’s news conference, calling the tragedy “predictable.” Pointing a finger at Abbott, he said, “This is up to you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen.” O’Rourke was escorted out as some in the room yelled at him. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin called O’Rourke a “sick son of a bitch.”
Texas has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the nation and has been the scene of some of the deadliest shootings in the US in the last five years.
“I just don’t know how people can sell that type of weapon to an 18-year-old boy,” said Syria Arizmendi, the aunt of the victim Eliahna García, angrily through tears. “What are you going to use it for but for that purpose?”
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that “the Second Amendment is not absolute” and called for new gun limitations in the wake of the massacre.
But the prospects for reform of the nation’s gun regulations seemed bleak. Repeated attempts over the years to expand background checks and enact other restrictions have run into Republican opposition in Congress.
The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association’s annual convention began in Houston, with the Texas governor and the two Republican US senators scheduled to speak.
Dillon Silva, whose nephew was in a classroom, said the students were watching the Disney movie “Moana” when they heard several loud bangs and a bullet shattered a window. Moments later, his teacher saw the attacker pass by.
“Oh my God, he has a gun!” the teacher yelled twice, according to Silva. “The teacher didn’t even have time to close the door,” she said.
The close-knit community, built around a shaded central plaza, includes many families who have lived there for generations.
Lorena Auguste was a substitute teacher at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary School. She eventually found out that the girl was fine.
But that night, her niece had a question.
“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. We are good guys. We didn’t do anything wrong.”