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Uvalde mass shooter was not confronted by police before he entered the school, Texas official says

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By Eric Levenson, Holly Yan and Joe Sutton, CNN

(CNN) -- The 18-year-old gunman who killed 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, was not confronted by police before he entered the school, a Texas law enforcement official said Thursday, contradicting earlier comments from authorities and raising further questions about the police response to the massacre.

"He walked in unobstructed initially," Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Regional Director Victor Escalon said. "So from the grandmother's house, to the (ditch), to the school, into the school, he was not confronted by anybody."

A DPS representative on Wednesday said a school resource officer had "engaged" with the suspect prior to his entry into the school.

Escalon's comments came in a press conference that added further confusion to the timeline of Tuesday's horrific shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. The massacre marked the deadliest US school shooting in nearly a decade and was at least the 30th school shooting at a K-12 school in 2022. And it has thrown the nation -- where active shooter attacks jumped more than 50% last year -- yet again into a fury of anger and grief amid renewed calls for gun reform.

LATEST UPDATES: The Texas school massacre

In his comments, Escalon said that the suspect, Salvador Ramos, shot his grandmother and then wrecked his truck in a ditch outside the school at 11:28 a.m. He exited the truck with a long rifle and shot at two people across the street, Escalon said. He then approached the school and shot at the building multiple times and walked into an apparently unlocked door at 11:40 a.m., he said.

There was no school resource officer on site or available at the time, he said. Inside, the suspect walked into a classroom and fired more than 25 rounds, Escalon said. The majority of the gunfire was in the beginning of the attack, he said.

Officers arrived to the school at 11:44 a.m., but when they went to confront the gunman, they received fire and took cover, Escalon said. They called for more resources and personnel, evacuated students and teachers in other parts of the school, and at some point entered "negotiations" with the suspect, he said. The US Border Patrol tactical team arrived, forced entry and fatally shot the suspect after about an hour, he said.

The press conference underscored the confusion and disorganization of the police response to the shooting and failed to answer questions as to how the gunman was able to remain inside the classroom for such a long time.

Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez issued a statement Thursday defending his officers' response to the shooting. Two responding officers were shot by the suspect but are expected to survive.

"It is important for our community to know that our officers responded within minutes" alongside school resource officers, he said.

DPS spokesman Chris Olivarez said Thursday morning that the suspect had barricaded himself in the classroom, which was attached to an adjoining room. All of the 21 killed and 17 injured were inside those classrooms, officials have said.

"We're still trying to establish if that classroom was locked, and if it was locked, was there some type of barricade, was there some type of locking mechanism that did not allow those officers to make entry," he said.

Since the Columbine school shooting of 1999, emergency protocol in such situations is to end the threat as quickly as possible because fatalities occur in seconds to minutes.

"It's almost incomprehensible for me to come up with a rational explanation as to why you would wait 30 minutes to an hour to get in there," said Andrew McCabe, CNN senior law enforcement analyst. "The door breaching, if it's just a locked door, that doesn't take 30 minutes to get into."

What happened outside the school

US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said about 80 to 100 agents responded to the shooting and acted immediately.

"They didn't hesitate. They came up with a plan. They entered that classroom and they took care of the situation as quickly as they possibly could," Ortiz said.

The lengthy response time, as well as a lack of communication to the public, created a chaotic situation outside the school as parents arrived, desperate to know if their kids were still alive. One father said he heard gunshots and demanded to go inside.

"There were five or six of (us) fathers, hearing the gunshots, and (police officers) were telling us to move back," Javier Cazares, the father of a student at Robb Elementary, told The Washington Post. "We didn't care about us. We wanted to storm the building. We were saying, 'Let's go,' because that is how worried we were, and we wanted to get our babies out."

Later, Cazares learned that his 9-year-old daughter, Jacklyn, was one of the victims.

Videos posted to social media show adults confronting law enforcement officers and urging them to go inside and find the gunman or let them go in themselves. The timeline of the video, and whether the gunman was still alive at that point, is not clear.

Olivarez, the DPS spokesman, said the officers on scene kept people back and set up a perimeter to prevent further loss of life. Still, he said he understood the parents' frustrations.

"I can tell you right now as a father myself, I wanted to go in too," he said. "But it's a volatile situation."

What happened inside the classrooms

Victims' family members and first responders offered first descriptions of some of the horrors inside the classrooms.

Angel Garza, a first responder and father of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, arrived at the school Tuesday and gave medical aid to a girl covered head-to-toe in blood. The girl said she'd seen her best friend killed -- and the best friend's name was Amerie.

"How you are going to look at this girl and shoot her?" Garza told CNN on Wednesday. "My baby, how do you shoot my baby?"

Amerie had just gotten a cell phone two weeks ago for her 10th birthday, he said. He learned from two other students that Amerie had tried to call 911 during the shooting.

"She just died trying to save her classmates," Garza said. "She just wanted to save everyone."

Chief Jason Owens, who heads the Del Rio sector for Border Patrol, told CNN that the uniforms of the agents who responded to the scene were "covered in blood."

"I took my agents back to the Uvalde station. I had to bring new uniforms for them to change into," he said.

School district spent over $450,000 on security

The Uvalde school district had a safety plan that included its own police force, social media monitoring and a threat reporting system to "provide a safe and secure environment" for students.

The two-page document on the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District website lists 21 different measures it says it has undertaken for the safety of the school community, ranging from an app for reporting bullying to physical security measures like fencing and a buzz-in door system. It's not clear to what degree the plan was developed with active shooters in mind.

Records show the district spent about $200,000 on security and monitoring services in 2017-18 and that figure rose to more than $450,000 in the 2019-20 school year.

The district employed four police officers, including a chief, detective, and two officers. The district also had additional security staff "who patrol door entrances, parking lots and perimeters of the campuses."

The plan included a "threat reporting system" for "students, parents, staff, and community members" to share information that is deemed "troubling," which could include information "about weapons, threats, fights, drugs, self- harm, suicide or disclosures made that are concerning." The policy states reports could be made through the district site or to a district staff member.

The security plan also refers to lockdown drills. "Students receive training on the Standard Response Protocol for lockout, lockdown, evacuate, shelter, and hold. In addition, drills are held for each of these emergency actions on a regular basis."

Two other schools, Uvalde High School and Anthon Elementary, have security vestibules, though it is not clear if Robb had one.

Families identify loved ones they lost

The two teachers who were killed, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, had co-taught together for five years.

Garcia, a wife and mother to four children, was "sweet, kind, loving," according to a GoFundMe campaign set up to raise funds for funeral expenses and family needs. "She sacrificed herself protecting the kids in her classroom. She was a hero. She was loved by many and will truly be missed," the campaign said.

Mireles had been teaching for 17 years and "was a vivacious soul" who "spread laughter and joy everywhere she went," relative Amber Ybarra told CNN.

"She made you feel like she was only teaching your child," said Erica Torres, whose son Stanley was in her third and fourth grade classes. "Like, there's no other students but him. She made you feel so good."

José Flores Jr., 10, was also killed in the shooting, his father José Flores Sr. told CNN. He was his mother's "little shadow," she said. José Jr. was bursting with energy and loved to play baseball and video games, his father said.

Lexi Rubio, 10, had made the All-A honor roll and gotten a good citizen award just hours before she was shot and killed, her parents Felix and Kimberly Rubio told CNN.

"We told her we loved her and would pick her up after school. We had no idea this was goodbye," Kimberly Rubio wrote in a post on Facebook.

Nine-year-old Eliana "Ellie" Garcia, was among those killed, family members confirmed to CNN affiliate KHOU. She loved the movie "Encanto," cheerleading and basketball and dreamed of becoming a teacher, her grandparents, Rogelio Lugo and Nelda Lugo, told the LA Times.

Third-grader Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10, and her cousin died Tuesday, her family members confirmed to CNN affiliate KHOU. The cousin's name has not been released.

Shooter was a loner who bought two rifles a week earlier

The gunman, Ramos, was a local high school dropout with no criminal history and no known mental health history, officials said. He had just turned 18 and legally bought two AR-15-style rifles and ammunition for his birthday. Those who knew him described him as a loner with few, if any, friends, who was often in fights.

Before he began his rampage, Ramos allegedly messaged a girl who lives in Germany about his intentions.

He complained his grandmother was "on the phone with AT&T abojt (sic) my phone," according to screenshots reviewed by CNN and an interview with the 15-year-old girl, whose mother gave permission for her to be interviewed.

"It's annoying," he texted her.

Minutes later, he texted: "I just shot my grandma in her head," immediately followed by the message, "Ima go shoot up a(n) elementary school rn (right now)."

The shooter shot his 66-year-old grandmother in the face before driving to Robb Elementary, where he crashed his car in a nearby ditch, authorities say. The grandmother was in serious condition as of Wednesday, officials said.

His grandfather didn't know Ramos had guns, he said Wednesday.

"If I had known, I would have reported him," Rolando Reyes said.

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