Police 'wrong' not to breach door during Texas shooting
Uvalde (United States) (AFP) -
A top Texas security official said Friday that police were wrong to delay storming the classroom where a teen gunman was holed up with dead and wounded children -- fueling fears that police inaction cost lives in Uvalde.
Police in the small town have come under intense criticism since Tuesday's tragedy over why it took well over an hour to neutralize the gunman -- who ultimately killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
'From the benefit of hindsight... it was the wrong decision, period,' Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw told an emotional news conference, at which his voice broke repeatedly as he was assailed by questions over the delay.
'From what we know, we believe there should have been an entry as soon as you can,' McCraw said, adding: 'If I thought it would help, I'd apologize.'
McCraw revealed in harrowing detail that a series of emergency calls were made from inside the two adjourning classrooms where the gunman was barricaded, begging for police help -- as desperate parents outside pleaded with officers to go in.
But in seeking to explain the delay, he also said the on-scene commander believed at the time that the 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos was in there alone, with no survivors, after his initial assault.
'I'm not defending anything, but you go back in the timeline, there was a barrage, hundreds of rounds were pumped in in four minutes, okay, into those two classrooms,' McCraw said.
'Any firing afterwards was sporadic and it was at the door. So the belief is that there may not be anybody living anymore.'
McCraw separately told reporters, however, that a 911 call received at 12:16 pm -- one of several made from inside the classrooms -- reported eight or nine children still alive.
He did not identify the caller, who he said called at least four times.
As many as 19 officers were outside the classroom door at that time, plus an unknown number of tactical team members who had just arrived, according to McCraw's timeline.
The door was eventually breached at 12:50 pm.
McCraw said a second caller -- a child -- called 911 multiple times begging for police to come. During one of her calls, at 12.21, three shots could be heard, he said.
Her final call was cut off as she made it outside, he said.
- NRA kicks off gun convention -
McCraw's press conference came as the powerful National Rifle Association kicked off a major convention in Houston Friday, but a string of high-profile no-shows underscored deep unease at the timing of the gun lobby event.
Former president Donald Trump was among the scheduled speakers at the three-day annual convention, held around four hours drive from Uvalde.
Thousands of gun enthusiasts descended on the event, filling a vast convention hall packed with booths of gun, walls of semi-automatic rifles and hunting products.
'This is it, this is the mega,' said a man in his 60s, as he handled a new Hellion rifle he was considering purchasing.
But with millions of Americans grieving and angry following the Uvalde shooting, 'American Pie' singer Don McLean led a wave of country music dropouts from the event, while the Republican state governor, Greg Abbott, said he would no longer appear in person.
McLean said it would be 'disrespectful and hurtful' to perform at the 'Grand Ole Night of Freedom' concert scheduled during the convention on Saturday. At least five other country music stars, including Lee Greenwood and Larry Gatlin, have also reportedly pulled out.
Facing mounting scrutiny, the gun manufacturer Daniel Defense -- which made the assault rifle purchased by Ramos -- also decided to stay away.
- 'Don't forget them, please' -
The Uvalde shooting was the deadliest since 20 children and six staff were killed at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
Its victims included 10-year-old Amerie Garza -- a little girl who loved her classes, drawing, and playing with clay.
'She was an innocent little girl, loving school and looking forward to summer,' her 63-year-old grandmother, Dora Mendoza, told reporters after paying respects at a makeshift memorial outside the school.
Mendoza pleaded for urgent action to prevent future shootings -- as the country plunges again into the deeply divisive debate over guns.
'They need to do something about it. They need to not forget us, the babies... Don't forget them, please,' she said through tears.
President Joe Biden will visit Uvalde on Sunday to once again make the case for gun control, as activists set about galvanizing voters on the issue in the run-up to November's midterm election.
Despite the scourge of mass shootings, efforts at nationwide gun control -- from banning assault rifles to mandating mental health and criminal background checks on buyers -- have repeatedly failed, although polls show support from a majority of Americans.