UVALDE, Texas — A city police officer armed with an AR-15 rifle hesitated when he had a brief chance to shoot the shooter who approached a school in Uvalde, Texas, because he did not want to hit the children, according to a senior sheriff. deputy who spoke to the officer.
The fateful decision, which has not previously been reported, represented the second missed opportunity for officers arriving at Robb Elementary School to prevent a massacre by intervening while the shooter was still outside the school. Officials said an officer from another department, Uvalde School District Police, arrived early but drove past the shooter, not seeing him in the school parking lot.
The rapid arrival of several officers on May 24 reflects the speed with which the initial response took place and contrasts sharply with what would become a protracted delay to finally confront the shooter after he began firing inside. two connected fourth grade classrooms.
He also detailed the agonizing decisions law enforcement officers had to make when faced with the shooter, who was firing shots outside the school; the officer who arrived with a gun had only seconds to make a decision and feared firing his gun would mean hitting children, the senior sheriff’s deputy said.
Two teachers and 19 children were shot and killed 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 US Department of Justice and a select committee of the Texas Legislature. A local district attorney was also involved in the state’s investigation and handled media inquiries; she did not respond to a request for comment on new details regarding the first steps of the police response.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which includes the Rangers, referred the questions to the district attorney. The Uvalde Police Department, whose officer reportedly had line of sight to the shooter, did not respond to a request for comment.
The investigation focused on the hour and 17 minutes that elapsed from when the shooter entered the classrooms and began shooting at 11:33 a.m. until a team of Border Patrol agents and a Zavala County Sheriff’s Deputy enter the rooms and kill the shooter at 12:50 p.m.
Investigations now show multiple officers arrived at the school before the shooter entered, rushing to the scene after initial calls to 911 around 11.29am reported a truck had crashed near the school. school and its driver was shooting.
At least two law enforcement cars arrived at the school in quick succession, according to investigative documents reviewed by The New York Times. One was driven by an officer from the small police force that patrols schools in Uvalde. Another arrived less than a minute later, at 11:32 a.m., with officers from the Uvalde Police Department.
At this time, the shooter was still shooting outside the school.
Officials said he was shooting at the building and toward a nearby funeral home, but arriving officers believed the shots were aimed at them, Zavala County Deputy Chief Sheriff Ricardo Rios said. , who also responded to the shooting in the nearby neighborhood. county.
“It is my understanding, after talking to several officers who were there, that the shooter engaged two officers from the town of Uvalde when they arrived, outside the building,” the deputy said in Chief Rios.
He said the two officers, one with the long gun, hid behind a patrol car. They wanted to retaliate, he said, but resisted.
Chief Deputy Rios, recounting his conversation with one of the officers, said he was surprised and responded with a direct question.
“I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you shoot? Why didn’t you get involved? And that’s when he told me about the background,” he said. “According to officers, they did not return fire because there were children playing in the background and they were afraid to hit the children.”
During one of the first calls to 911, at 11:29 a.m., a caller informed dispatchers of gunfire outside and also that there were children running, according to the documents. It was unclear where these children were or if there were others in the line of fire in those first few minutes.
The Chief Deputy Sheriff said any attempt to shoot the moving shooter would have been difficult and the officer would no doubt have faced harsh criticism and possibly even a criminal investigation if he had missed and hit a passerby in the distance, especially a child.
The luck passed “very quickly,” he said, perhaps within seconds.
“I’m not bashing him or anything. I understand,” he said. “The Ranger who took my statement even said, ‘We’ve gotten to the point where we’re questioning ourselves shooting somebody because we’re scared. Every ball bears our names.'”
On the day of the shooting, Deputy Chief Rios ran to the Uvalde school with his boss, Zavala County Sheriff Eusevio E. Salinas. As they were leaving, they learned that one of their deputies on leave, José Luis Vasquez, was already on his way.
Deputy Vasquez eventually ended up on the team of officers who then stormed the classrooms and killed 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos.
As the shooting began, Deputy Vasquez was heading to the gym in his service truck, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts. He rushed to school anyway, Sheriff Salinas said. His daughter was a student at Robb Elementary, the chief deputy sheriff said.
Sheriff Salinas said he and Chief Deputy Rios arrived at the school sometime after 12 p.m. to find a chaotic scene, with both uniformed law enforcement and plainclothes officers responding.
“I saw a guy in street clothes carrying a shotgun,” Sheriff Salinas said. “I immediately pointed my gun at him, but a female officer appeared right next to him, so I said, ‘Wait a minute, that could be an off duty officer. “” (He later learned that the man was a Border Patrol off-duty officer who had gone to a nearby barber shop and borrowed the gun from the barber.)
He said officers had established a perimeter around the school, and he saw, beyond that, a truck belonging to Deputy Vasquez, its lights flashing. He said he and Deputy Chief Rios stayed outside the building until the shooter, who used an AR-15-style rifle in his attack, was killed.
“We were there to help. The radio was pretty quiet. It was really weird,” the sheriff said. “There were neighbors across the street, a lady watering her plants, another man working in his garden. Like nothing. Like nothing.”
Sheriff Salinas said he didn’t realize until later that his other deputy had been part of the team responsible for the shooter’s murder. He still didn’t know how it ended like this, he said. Deputy Vasquez declined an interview request.
Chief Deputy Rios said his fellow deputy and others lobbied to come in early and confront the shooter. “He told me they wanted to come in,” he said. “He was like, ‘Let’s go in, let’s go in.'”
Investigators are still looking for the reason for this long delay.
State officials said the incident commander was Chief Pete Arredondo, who leads the small school district police and has jurisdiction over schools. He said in an interview with the Texas Tribune that he did not consider himself responsible for the response. Through his lawyer, Chief Arredondo refused 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 focused on obtaining a key to the classrooms where the shooter was locked up.
It did not appear from the documents or video reviewed by The Times 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 type rifle and protected by body armor. , that they could enter. you’re ready to do it, you do it,” Chief Arredondo said, according to a transcript of body camera footage reviewed by The Times.
The team of officers took a key that had been located, put it back in the door and entered, Chief Deputy Rios said, citing information from his fellow deputy.
“Joe puts it like this, he goes, ‘Rick, it was quiet. I just scanned really quickly, and I just heard the door creak open, creeeeeek,'” Mr Rios said, referring at a closet door inside one of the classrooms, room 111. “And then he started shooting at us, bop bop bop bop bop.’”
As the gunfire inside the classroom began, a Border Patrol agent with a ballistic shield lowered him to the ground to protect the team’s legs, Deputy Chief Rios said. Deputy Vasquez was right behind the Border Patrol agent, pointing his gun at one side of the shield.
Deputy Vasquez reported that after firing several shots, his gun jammed. But the other officers continued to fire, separated by only a few yards from the shooter.
Immediately after the shooter’s death, other officers and medical workers rushed to help the injured.
“I remember they had a little kid and they were working on her, CPR, chest compressions and taping her,” Sheriff Salinas said, adding that he kept his distance. He didn’t know if the girl had survived.