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Police face questions over delays storming Texas school

Senator Ted Cruz, right, and Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco pray during a vigil in Uvalde following the shooting at Robb Elementary School (Jae C Hong/AP)
Senator Ted Cruz, right, and Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco pray during a vigil in Uvalde following the shooting at Robb Elementary School (Jae C Hong/AP)

Law enforcement agencies were facing questions and criticism over how much time elapsed before they stormed a Texas primary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.

Investigators were also unable to say with any certainty whether an armed school district security officer outside Robb Elementary in Uvalde had exchanged fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, when he first arrived on Tuesday.

The motive for the attack — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

A family pays their respects next to crosses bearing the names of Tuesday’s shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde
A family pays their respects next to crosses bearing the names of Tuesday’s shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde (Jae C Hong/AP)

During the siege, which ended when a Border Patrol team burst in and fatally shot Ramos, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.

Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside his house, across the street from the school, said women shouted “Go in there! Go in there!” at the officers soon after the attack began.

Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw said on Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour had elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him.

Two family members of one of the victims killed in the school shooting comfort each other during a prayer vigil in Uvalde
Two family members of one of the victims killed in the school shooting comfort each other during a prayer vigil in Uvalde (Jae C Hong/AP)

But a department spokesman said later that authorities could not give a solid estimate of how long the gunman had been in the school.

“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” Mr McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”

Meanwhile, one law enforcement official said the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key.

Javier Cazares, whose daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside.

Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.

“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”

Madeleine Rigney, nine, places a stuffed bear to be donated to the shooting victims at Robb Elementary school
Madeleine Rigney, nine, places a stuffed bear to be donated to the shooting victims at Robb Elementary School (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP)

“They were unprepared,” he added.

Mr Carranza said he had watched as Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a funeral home, who ran away uninjured.

Lieutenant Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN that the school security officer outside was armed and that initial reports said he and Ramos exchanged gunfire. “But right now we’re trying to corroborate that information,” Lt Olivarez said.

vThe US and Washington state flags fly at half-mast in memory of the victims of the mass shooting in Uvalde
The US and Washington state flags fly at half-mast in memory of the victims of the mass shooting in Uvalde (Ted S Warren/AP)

After entering the school, Ramos barricaded himself in a classroom and began to kill.

Mr Carranza said officers should have entered the school sooner.

“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.

Meanwhile, hundreds packed the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil on Wednesday night where speakers led prayers for healing.