U.S. police under fire over school terror

May 29, 2022 - 9:46

The Texas police force has acknowledged it made the “wrong decision” by not confronting a gunman quickly enough as the 18-year-old spent more than half an hour massacring children whilst armed officers waited outside.  

Police have been denounced for also changing the chain of events after it emerged a timeline of 78 minutes had passed from the moment the gunman entered the school compounds to the moment officers finally stormed a classroom where the shooter had locked himself inside for a reported half an hour. 

The head of the Texas department of public safety, Steven McCraw, admitted “of course, it was the wrong decision” for armed police to have waited outside the classroom for an extended period where the gunman in Tuesday’s school shooting massacre murdered 19 kids and two teachers. 

The updated timeline to around 78 minutes means students, were trapped inside the classroom with the gunman, had repeatedly called emergency services to rescue them, including one who pleaded, “Please send the police now”, but officers were already waiting in the hallway for more than 45 minutes.

Could the lives of more school children been saved?

At an anxiously awaited press conference in Uvalde, Texas, McCraw, broke down as he acknowledged “there’s no excuse for that” referring to the failure of trained police personnel who could have intervened much more quickly.

At least 17 others were wounded in the massacre and the victims were reportedly all inside one classroom.

Speaking at a separate press conference Texas governor, Greg Abbott, displayed absolutely no sympathy for the controversy police in Ulvade, Texas are facing, saying the local police officials had “misled” him about the speed of the officers’ response to the mass shooting.

Abbot says “I am livid, my expectation is that the law enforcement leaders… leading the investigation… get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty.”

“The families whose lives have been destroyed… need answers that are accurate,” he added. 

Uvalde town’s mayor, Don McLaughlin, has also hit out saying he was confused over the new revelations of the police’s response saying his office will make any “change” needed if deemed necessary after an investigation is concluded into the police’s action.

As different officials spoke out, questions and anger mounted in the community over the information void and the contradictory answers that have been provided to questions repeatedly asked by parents and journalists about what happened, as well as the silence on other matters such as why more deaths could not have been prevented?

The gunman, who had recently turned 18, arrived to Robb elementary school, heavily armed. He was ultimately shot dead at the school by a federal agent.

After the attacker entered the vicinity, frantic calls were made from teachers trapped inside the school to emergency services (with the gunman barricaded in a classroom), while supposedly highly trained armed police officers were standing just  outside the door for about an hour as the gunman continued shooting.

A specialist Swat team, for which the officers had apparently been waiting for, eventually stormed the classroom and shot the killer dead.

After several days of contradictory responses by other officials, McCraw cited the person in charge of the special police department assigned to the school, who was leading the response but at the same time holding the officers back. The “commander” has not been named. 

“The on-scene commander at the time believed it had transitioned from an active shooter [situation] to a barricaded subject,” he said, adding the commander thought that at that point there remained “no children at risk”.

“based upon the information we [now] have, there were children in that classroom at risk,” he said.

The official held back tears about the disastrous chain of events when he was asked about the people inside who were continuously calling emergency services throughout the massacre and informing them there were children still stuck inside and the frantic parents outside the school pleading with other officers to move in and end the massacre.

Asked about a “40-minute gap” in which emergency operators were aware children were alive, but officers still did not go in, he added, “the decision as made that this was a barricaded subject, there was time to retrieve the keys [to the classroom] and wait for a tactical team… that was the decision, that was the thought process.”

“It was the wrong decision. Period. There’s no excuse for that,” he added.

One female has been cited by American media as whispering to emergency services on the phone “multiple dead”. The person is reported to have made the call from inside the classroom and said there were eight to nine students still alive at that stage.

Earlier, demands for answers multiplied as it emerged that the state had spent extra funds that went toward school security and police training for mass shootings. But critics say the funding had gone in vain as it did nothing to prevent the massacre. 

On Thursday, the South Texas regional director, Victor Escalon, gave incomplete answers to questions from reporters at a press conference about what had happened, including how an armed officer tried to stop the shooter as he approached the school. 

She then went on to say the opposite; that in fact there had not been anyone to intercept the shooter beforehand.

McCraw also addressed the subject of earlier statements about social media posts noting “I want to correct something that was said earlier on the investigation, that [the killer] posted on Facebook publicly that he was going to kill his grandmother and secondly he was going to shoot up a school.”

“That didn’t happen,” McCraw said, adding that it was on a message to someone else.

Amid the anger, powerful pro-gun lobby group, The National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual convention in Houston, as protesters massed outside the venue. 

The event took place under a cloud of controversy and put on full public display, the country’s wide divisions on gun control. 

As demonstrations expanded in Houston, one protester asked a journalist “how many more [shootings] need to happen? All I want is reasonable gun control.”

Prominent Republicans who attended the NRA event included former President Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Trump gave a keynote speech before he praised the “wonderful NRA” and criticized those who have been calling for stricter gun laws.

The ex-President denounced the "now familiar parade of cynical politicians seeking to exploit the tears of sobbing families to increase their own power and take away our constitutional rights" and the "grotesque effort by some in our society to use the suffering of others to advance their own extreme political agenda".

He described their "rush to shift blame away from the villains who commit acts of mass violence" and "to place that blame onto the shoulders of millions of peaceful law-abiding citizens who belong to organizations such as our wonderful NRA.”

Senator Ted Cruz, a popular recipient of donations from gun lobby groups, has maintained a high profile since the shooting, at one point even angrily clashing with a journalist who asked him about gun reforms. 

The Uvalde shooting has certainly re-focused national debate on the never-ending and costly failure to pass meaningful gun reform legislation in Congress.

President Joe Biden, who has condemned the lack of action, is visiting Texas.

Despite all the protests, grief and desperation of loved ones lost to gun violence, gun reform advocates are expecting very little to happen on this polarizing issue in a nation that has more firearms in people’s possession than the American population itself. 

1,657 rounds and 60 magazines had been found at the school after the atrocity.

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