As the nation grapples with the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade, concerns about police delays have stirred outrage and questions about whether faster action could have saved lives in Uvalde, Texas.
Officials on Friday acknowledged a catastrophic failure by law enforcement to not immediately enter the classroom amid a gunman’s massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school this week.
Critical minutes ticked by as a school district police chief instructed over a dozen officers to wait in the hallway, believing there was no longer an active attack, even as terrified students pleaded for help in 911 calls and desperate parents begged to be allowed to save their children, according to officials and interviews with parents.
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“Clearly there was kids in the room,” Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Friday. “Clearly, they were at risk. … There may be kids that are injured, that may have been shot but injured, and it’s important for life-saving purposes to immediately get there and render aid.”
McCraw said he does not yet know if the delayed response might have led to additional casualties.
Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told the LA Times that critically injured people should typically receive care within an hour before the risk of mortality increases. Officers are estimated to have waited in the hallway for more than 45 minutes.
“You’ve got to stop the bleed of those children, and you’ve got to stop others from being shot,” he said.
Dr. Demetrios Demetriades, a professor of surgery and director of trauma at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, told the Times a patient’s mortality rate increases by about 10% for every 10 minutes of delayed bleeding control.
Meanwhile, in a Saturday commencement speech to University of Delaware’s graduating class, President Joe Biden condemned hate and violence in America, calling on the next generation to help make change. He also referenced the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.
“Too much violence, too much fear, too much grief,” he said. “Let’s be clear: Evil came to that elementary school classroom in Texas. That grocery store in New York … We have to stand stronger.”
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The National Rifle Association’s annual convention was set to continue Saturday after kicking off in Austin, Texas, just days after the Uvalde massacre. Friday’s events drew large protests from people arguing for tighter gun control laws.
Speakers at the convention on Friday condemned the gunman and argued that “gun bans do not work.” Every Texas politician scheduled to speak at the convention Friday canceled their in-person appearances except for Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who told attendees that the school shooting in Uvalde is “an evil that has happened too many damn times.”
– Madlin Mekelburg and John C. Moritzm, Austin American-Statesman
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An intense news conference Friday included acknowledgments from authorities that police were too slow to confront the gunman and addressed many of the contradictory remarks made by police over the days since the shooting at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday.
It also spurred new questions about law enforcement’s response to the attack and why officers waited in a hallway outside a classroom where the shooter was holed up.
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“From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. Period. There’s no excuse for that,” said Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was among the first people to deliver information to the public about the shooting on Tuesday, said he was “livid” about the misinformation provided by police and urged investigators to get to the bottom of what happened.
– Christal Hayes and Grace Hauck
Several calls to 911 were made by students inside the school, some whom were locked in with the shooter while police were waiting. McCraw said at a press conference that the calls from inside the school began shortly after noon on Tuesday.
McCraw said two students who made 911 calls survived the shooting.
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A young survivor of the massacre at a Texas elementary school said she covered herself with a friend’s blood and pretended to be dead while she waited for help to arrive.
Miah Cerrillo, 11, told CNN that she and a friend called 911 from her dead teacher’s phone Tuesday and waited for what felt like, to her, three hours for officers to arrive at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Miah said that after the shooter moved from one room into the adjacent one she could hear screams and a lot more gunfire, and that the gunman then started blaring music.
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The children who survived the attack, which killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers, described a festive, end-of-the-school-year day that quickly turned to terror.
Samuel Salinas, 10, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he and other classmates pretended to be dead after Ramos opened fire on the class. Samuel was struck by shrapnel in his thigh.
“He shot the teacher and then he shot the kids,” said Samuel, who was in Irma Garcia’s class. Garcia was one of the two teachers killed.
Gemma Lopez, 10, was in a classroom down the hall when the shooter entered the building. She told “Good Morning America” that a bullet came through her classroom wall before any lockdown was called.
As gunfire echoed down the hallway from Nicole Ogburn’s Robb Elementary School classroom, she and her 15 students hid behind a shelf and held hands. They whispered prayers. Four doors away, an 18-year-old gunman entered a classroom and killed 19 students and two teachers.
“I lost my babies and my friends,” she said.
Soon, two officers arrived to guard the door, and Ogburn and her students escaped through a window.
“I was waiting for him (the gunman) to come in,” Ogburn said Friday. “For some reason, God was there and watching over my classroom.”
Ogburn, who spoke exclusively to the Austin American-Statesman and USA TODAY, said she has been crying since Tuesday’s attack but on Friday her sadness hardened into anger.
Like other mass-casualty incidents at American schools, the Uvalde massacre followed the now-familiar pattern of outrage, thoughts and prayers and calls for reforming the country’s gun laws.
In the more than two decades since the Columbine High School tragedy made school shootings a part of American life, federal gun control legislation has not seen many changes, according to Lisa Geller, a state affairs advisor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
“I continue to be extremely frustrated with the lack of action at the federal level,” Geller told USA TODAY. “We do have champions in Congress that really care about this issue, like (Connecticut Sen.) Chris Murphy and others, but it’s not enough if you don’t vote.”
Here’s a breakdown of the legislative efforts in the aftermath of some of the highest-profile and deadliest school shootings in the country.
— Sarah Elbeshbishi, USA TODAY
Assault rifle bans, significantly expanded background checks and raising the minimum age from 18 to purchase guns are not expected to pass Congress when Republicans hold 50 Senate seats and can block gun control bills.
But GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has signaled he might back more modest proposals, including one that appears to be attracting some bipartisan support: extreme risk protection orders.
Known as “red flag” laws, the measures allow police or family members to get a court order that temporarily confiscates firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves. The House is expected to vote on – and pass – a red flag bill in the next two weeks, leaving enactment up to the Senate.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have adopted such laws, and the federal legislation being discussed would provide money and incentives for other states to follow suit.
But the record of the laws’ success is mixed and often dependent on implementation, experts say.
David Pucino, deputy chief counsel at Giffords Law Center, a gun control organization, said the laws in most states have not been in place long enough to draw a sweeping conclusion.
— Ledyard King and Merdie Nzanga, USA TODAY
Contributing: Ella Lee, USA TODAY; Ryan Autullo, Austin American-Statesman; The Associated Press
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