Police in Texas have admitted it was the “wrong decision” for officers not to enter a classroom at Robb Elementary School in the city of Uvalde sooner during a shooting on Tuesday that killed 19 children and two teachers.
Authorities in the state are rushing to piece together the complex timeline of events surrounding Tuesday’s attack amid mounting criticism from school parents and local residents over the amount of time it took to end the massacre, and contradictory statements about when officers first entered the school.
In a press conference on Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw acknowledged that officers’ hesitance to enter the classroom where the shooting was taking place was a mistake.
“Of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was a wrong decision, period. There’s no excuse for that.”
He said that the reason for the delay, which authorities believe allowed 18-year-old Salvador Ramos to gun down students in the school unchallenged for almost an hour, stemmed from the belief that all of the children in the classroom had already been killed.
The perpetrator had fired hundreds of rounds into the two classrooms in four minutes, McCraw said, which might have led officers to believe that “there may not be anybody living any more”.
He added that the school district chief of police “was convinced at the time that there was no more threat to the children and that the subject was barricaded and that they had time to organise with proper equipment”.
However, a nine-year-old survivor of the shooting told local news outlet KENS 5 that police officers told the students in the classroom to ask for help if they needed it. When a student called out for help, following the police’s orders, she was shot by the gunman.
Multiple children inside the classroom also made 911 calls to ask for help starting at 12:03pm, while 19 police officers were in the hallway, McCraw said. Tactical teams and police officers did not breach the door of the classroom until 12:50pm.
The details come as former US president Donald Trump is set to appear on Friday at a high-profile National Rifle Association event in Houston, Texas.
Trump will be appearing alongside other prominent Republicans including Texas senator Ted Cruz, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, and North Carolina lieutenant-governor Mark Robinson at a leadership forum organised by the NRA’s lobbying arm.
Texas governor Greg Abbott was scheduled to speak at the event in person, but pulled out overnight. He will instead hold a press conference in Uvalde, the city where Tuesday’s school shooting took place, and address the NRA through a pre-recorded video.
“America needs real solutions and real leadership in the moment, not politicians and partisanship,” Trump said in a social media post explaining why he would uphold his “longtime commitment” to speak at the NRA convention. He added he would “deliver an important address to America”.
The NRA’s decision to push ahead with its annual convention, which was postponed several times due to the coronavirus pandemic, has proven controversial in light of the shooting.
On Friday, hundreds of people gathered outside the convention venue in Houston with signs protesting the event. “I think it’s totally disgusting,” said Linda Bennett, who lives in the city. “It’s disrespectful to the entire country, especially the families in Uvalde.”
Tuesday’s massacre was the second mass shooting in barely a fortnight after a gunman killed 10 people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York on May 14.
Houston mayor Sylvester Turner asked the NRA to consider postponing the event because a legally binding contract prevents the city from cancelling it outright.
“What I would say to the NRA, even though the city cannot cancel a contract because we don’t agree with their position on guns, the NRA can postpone it a week or two to allow the families to bury their children,” Turner said in a television interview on Thursday.
Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic presidential candidate who will be running against Abbott later this year in the race for governor, has called for people opposed to gun violence to join him at a rally in Houston Friday afternoon.
O’Rourke interrupted Abbott and other officials at a press conference in Uvalde on Wednesday, accusing the incumbent governor of “doing nothing” to stop gun violence in Texas.
Texas congressman Dan Crenshaw and state senator John Cornyn were also due to appear at the Houston conference, but pulled out.