On the day of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Tex., George Rodriguez waited six and a half hours for word on whether his grandson, a student at the school, was alive or dead. The family went to the town’s Civic Center, where police were bussing surviving children. But 10-year-old Jose Flores never arrived.
“We didn’t have any information,” Mr. Rodriguez, 72, said in an interview on Thursday. “They wouldn’t tell you.”
Around 6 p.m. that day, he got a call from Jose’s father, who said he had found the boy at the hospital. Mr. Rodriguez rushed over. But when he arrived, he learned his grandson had died.
Mr. Rodriguez recalled hospital staff stopping him at the door to tell him the boy had lost his life, his voice breaking while he recounted the moment two days later, standing in the sunshine down the street from Robb.
The excruciating time families spent that day unsure whether their children were alive has led to scrutiny of the police response to the carnage, which left 19 students and two teachers dead.
At a news conference on Thursday, law enforcement officials released the first concrete timeline of the day. But they raised as many questions as they answered.
An hour passed between when police first arrived at the school and when they shot the suspect to death, according to Victor Escalon, regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Asked what occurred during that hour, and whether officers could or should have gone in earlier, Mr. Escalon said this was still being investigated.
“You’ve got to understand, this is a small town. We have people from Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Laredo, San Antonio, all responding to a small community,” he told reporters at the intersection outside the school.
Mr. Escalon said the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, crashed a pickup truck down the road from the school at 11:28 a.m. Tuesday. Mr. Ramos had stolen the vehicle from his grandmother after shooting her in the face. Carrying a rifle and a bag full of ammunition, he fired on two people outside of a funeral home on his way to the school.
After climbing a fence into the school’s parking lot, he fired at the outside of the building before entering through an unlocked door at 11:40 a.m. Mr. Escalon said there was no armed guard at the school, contrary to previous reports, and Mr. Ramos encountered no opposition on his way in.
The first calls to police – about a car crash, and a man with a gun – came in around 11:30 a.m., Mr. Escalon said. It was about 14 minutes later, and within four minutes of Mr. Ramos’s entry to the school, that, according to Mr. Escalon’s account, local police arrived on the scene.
When they entered, Mr. Ramos fired on them and they fell back. An hour later, Mr. Escalon said, a U.S. Border Patrol tactical team arrived and killed Mr. Ramos.
He did not say whether Mr. Ramos shot any students or staff during the hour that police were outside the school, waiting for backup. He said “the majority of the gunfire was in the beginning,” and that, after police arrived, Mr. Ramos was primarily shooting to hold them back.
“They were taking gunfire, negotiations, and developing a team to make entry and stop him,” Mr. Escalon said of the officers at the school during that time. He did not address questions about the 12 minutes Mr. Ramos spent firing outside before walking into Robb unimpeded.
A video circulating on social media Thursday showed a chaotic scene outside the school during the attack. Frantic parents confronted police officers, begging them to go in and rescue their children. Officers were also seen in the video keeping parents from going into the school themselves. One man appeared to be on the ground surrounded by police, as others shouted at them to let him go.
Monique Hernandez was among the crowd outside. Her eight-year-old son, Joaquim Guzman, is in Grade 2 at the school and was close friends with Xavier Lopez, one of the children killed.
Ms. Hernandez confirmed Thursday that other parents were pressing police to storm the school. But she defended the officers’ actions, saying they were setting up perimeters, and that not every officer could go into the building.
“They were here the whole time. I don’t care what the people say,” she said. “You can’t tell me they didn’t do their job.”
From where she was standing, Ms. Hernandez could see into her son’s classroom. He was on the other side of the school from the shooter. She said she personally knew many of the dead.
“Everybody’s related, everybody’s cousins, everybody’s family. You didn’t not know these kids. These teachers. Amazing women,” she said. “Amazing, beautiful, selfless women.”
Jennifer Gaitan, whose daughter Jazlynn Noriega also survived the shooting, questioned why the school was not better secured.
“Junior high and high schools have cops that are on duty. This was the only school really that had no type of security,” she said at a memorial service at the Uvalde County fairgrounds.
Jazlynn was sharpening a pencil in her Grade 4 classroom when a bullet flew through the wall and hit the ceiling. Her teacher shut off the lights and ushered the kids behind the classroom tables until they could be evacuated.
“I think it would be common sense, since the first school shooting happened, that they would make sure, when all the kids are there, that all the doors are locked,” Ms. Gaitan said. “That door was open and he went straight in.”
The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden would visit Uvalde on Sunday. Mr. Biden has called for tougher gun control in the days since the shooting.
In the meantime, Uvalde residents continue to mourn their losses. A memorial of white crosses bearing the names of the dead now sits outside the school. Mr. Rodriguez remembered his grandson as a “happy-go-lucky kid” who loved playing baseball. “Just going about his business. A regular day at school.”
He took a photo of Jose out of his wallet and held up the image of a small boy flashing a toothy grin. “I’d like to show him to the world,” he said.
He said he didn’t want to speak about police decisions on the day of the shooting, and he suggested that even the police themselves may not yet have explanations for their actions.
“They don’t have time to reflect on that,” he said. “Just the loss.”
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