Police acknowledgments that they waited an hour before confronting a gunman who killed 21 inside a Texas elementary school stirred disbelief from residents and alarm from law enforcement officials over the flawed tactics.
“I understand that they’re afraid for their own lives, but these guys are in tactical gear,” said Laura Pennington, whose 8-year-old son, Adam, hid in the principal’s office as the massacre unfolded. “They could have swarmed the building from all angles. He was terrorizing these children. They needed to do more.”
Pennington, whose brother-in-law was among those who rushed to the school to help but were forcibly kept outside by officers, was eventually reunited with her son Tuesday afternoon. But she said she was in touch with a woman whose niece was wounded in the attack and was still hospitalized Friday.
“There’s several more that are critical and I don’t know if they’ll live,” Pennington said. “I want to cry because they deserve better than that.”
Police are under growing scrutiny after significantly changing the narrative of events Tuesday, when the gunman arrived at the school. Initial reports said police confronted the 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos. But officials now admit they waited.
“They say they rushed in,” said Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack and who raced to the school as the massacre unfolded.
“We didn’t see that,” he told the Associated Press.
An on-site commander kept 19 officers from storming a classroom and confronting the gunman.
“Of course it wasn’t the right decision,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a news conference, choking back tears. “It was the wrong decision. Period.”
With 19 officers, McCraw said, there were “plenty of officers to do whatever needed to be done.” But the commander inside — Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District chief of police — decided the team needed more equipment and officers to enter the classroom where the shooter was holed up. He said the team did not move to take out the gunman until a full U.S. Border Patrol tactical unit arrived.
McCraw did not say how many children might have been saved had officers entered immediately. He also did not spell out the degree to which the commander was aware of the children’s 911 pleas.
“Ultimately, this is tragic. What do you tell the parents of 19 kids or the families of two teachers?” McCraw said. “We’re not here to defend what happened. We’re here to report the facts.”
Experts said they were alarmed by the tactics.
“You’ve got to stop the bleed of those children, and you’ve got to stop others from being shot,” former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told The Times after the news conference. “You have to go in immediately. The kids were calling 911 for help.”
Critically injured patients typically need to receive care within an hour or the risk of mortality significantly increases, Acevedo said, adding: “We used to call it the golden hour.”
Pennington said she has many questions about why police didn’t enter earlier.
“It would have been a noble risk.” Pennington said. “There were parents who ran in and actually saved their kids. That’s not their job,” she said, “Imagine how many people he saved just by taking things into his own hands. These guys have weapons and they’re willing to fight for their families.”