Investigators said Friday that the scene commander at the Uvalde school shooting chose to wait for additional help instead of continuing to attempt entry to a classroom where students had been shot and the gunman barricaded himself behind a locked door.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called it “the wrong decision,” added there was “no excuse,” and said that officers should have continued trying to engage the gunman long before units with more equipment and manpower arrived.
After three days of inconsistent timeline accounts from Texas DPS officials, McCraw acknowledged it was more than one hour and 15 minutes from the time the first officers entered the school building until they entered the classroom and killed the gunman, after finally obtaining keys to the room from a school janitor.
UVALDE SCHOOL SHOOTING
At a news conference Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said information police had provided him earlier in the week was partly inaccurate. Abbott had previously praised the officers for a fast response and said they saved lives.
Friday afternoon the governor said he had been misled and was livid.
“I am absolutely livid about that and here is my expectation, that the law enforcement leaders that are leading the investigations, which are the Texas Rangers and the FBI, that they get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty,” Abbott said.
McCraw said Friday that the gunman entered the school building at 11:33 a.m. Tuesday through a back door a teacher had left propped open.
Within two minutes, three officers entered the same door and four others entered moments later as the first three attempted to reach the classroom.
UVALDE SCHOOL SHOOTING
“The three initial police officers that arrived went directly to the door and to receive grazing wounds at that time from the suspect while the door was closed,” McCraw said.
Over the next 30 minutes, he said more officers enter the building, 19 in all, but they still do not enter the classroom.
“In fact, there was plenty of officers to do whatever needed to be done. With one exception is that the incident commander inside believed they needed more equipment and more officers to do a tactical breach at that point,” said McCraw.
Late Friday, two senior federal law enforcement officials told NBC News that members of the US Border Patrol’s elite tactical team arrived at the school between noon and 12:15 p.m. but that they were first instructed by local law enforcement to wait and not go after the gunman. After approximately 30 minutes the officials said the Border Patrol agents went against the guidance they were given and lead a “stack” of officers in entering the classroom.
A stack maneuver typically involves officers lined up behind a ballistic shield to provide cover and direct additional firepower toward the shooter.
As officers waited to enter the room, McCraw said police began receiving 911 calls from two people trapped in the classroom.
“At 12:16 (one person) called back and said there was eight to nine students alive,” McCraw said.
Videos taken outside the building show parents pleading with police during that time, even offering to storm the building themselves.
“Other parents are going in the front to shoot him already,” one parent shouted.
Finally at 12:50 p.m., more than an hour and 15 minutes after the shooting began, McCraw said police and members of the Border Patrol tactical team entered the room and killed the suspect.
“They breached the door using keys that they're able to get from the janitor,” said McCraw.
McCraw said the scene commander, who he identified as the local school district police chief, should not have waited.
“Of course, it was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision. There was no excuse for that. But again, I wasn't there. But I'm just telling you from what we know. We believe there should have been an entry at that as soon as you can,” said McCraw.
McCraw said the commander believed the shooter did not pose a risk to any more children barricaded behind the door.
He said it was not clear if 9-1-1 operators told officers the victims that were calling were still alive.
NBC5 made several attempts to reach the Uvalde CISD police chief Friday, but messages were not immediately returned. Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Licensing (TCOLE) records obtained by NBC5 Investigates said the chief is a 26 year law enforcement veteran, and that he last took the state's required police officer active shooter training course just five months ago, in December.
The TCLOE active shooter training curriculum reminds officers, "Time is the number one enemy during active shooter response."
It sayas officers should continue trying to reach the gunman "...even if that means one officer acting alone."
“You don't have to have a leader on the scene. Every officer lines up, stacks up ... and keeps shooting until the subject is dead. Period,” said McCraw.
For families of the victims, the delays are hard to comprehend.
“My brother was ready to give his life for his daughter and they keep pushing him and pushing back. And he told them, 'Because, why is there just 22 guys standing there doing nothing? We all go in there,'” said Jose Cazares, uncle to one of the victims that died.