Nearly 48 hours after one of the worst school shootings in American history, journalists sought answers Thursday from police about a basic question: What happened when an 18-year-old carrying a gun showed up at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday?
“Should a tactical team have gone in before an hour elapsed?” one reporter asked Escalon.
“There’s a lot of possibilities,” he replied. “Once we interview all those officers, what they were thinking, what they did, why they did it, the video, the residual interviews, we’ll have a better idea. Could anybody have got there sooner? You gotta understand, small town.”
Another reporter asked if it was true that parents stood outside the school urging police to go in, as has been widely reported — even asking to borrow police body armor so they could do it themselves.
Escalon hesitated a beat before responding: “I have heard that information, but we have not verified that yet.”
Escalon also walked back or contradicted information that law enforcement officials had released hours earlier: No officer had actually confronted the gunman before he entered the school, he said. He wasn’t sure whether the gunman entered the school through an improperly unlocked door. And he didn’t know how long it took police to respond to the initial 911 call — basic information at a typical police news conference.
As Escalon walked away, after taking 10 questions over 20 minutes, several reporters pleaded with him to take a question “en español, por favor.” It appeared he did not respond, despite South Texas’s large Spanish-speaking population.
Major breaking news events — particularly a chaotic incident such as a mass shooting — are often subject to conflicting reports and mistaken information. Yet journalists on the scene Thursday openly expressed frustration about the lack of answers provided a full two days after the tragedy.
“There are gaps and confusion surrounding contradictions in the information we’ve been given so far,” Texas Tribune reporter Reese Oxner wrote on Twitter.
“It raises more questions than answers,” correspondent Janet Shamlian said in a report for CBS News on Thursday. “Parents are going to be very frustrated by this.”
The event was yet another fumble for Texas officials, who have struggled to answer questions about Tuesday’s attack amid a national outpouring of grief and rage. A news conference Wednesday with Gov. Greg Abbott (R) descended into shouting and cursing after Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke interrupted it to confront him. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) stormed away from an interview at a vigil the same day after a reporter asked him why gun massacres were so common in the United States.
Escalon’s account left huge gaps in the timeline of events, especially what occurred for a full hour after the first police response to reports of a car crash “and a man with a gun,” and what happened during an assault by Border Patrol agents that led to the suspect’s death.
Some observers were baffled by the abrupt way Escalon delivered Thursday’s most important new information — the fact that no officer confronted the gunman before he entered the school, contrary to what law enforcement officials had said previously.
“The officials knew that was the key question of the day and should have been better prepared to answer it,” said Dave Statter, a former TV reporter who now advises public safety agencies on communications issues. Police could have easily shared that news via social media or news release before the conference.
Escalon “seemed to be winging it and was definitely not ready for prime time,” said Mark Feldstein, a veteran TV journalist who is now a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland. “He asked more questions than he answered and was long on emotion but short on solid information.”
The “confused and rambling” performance, as Feldstein described it, underscored the growing concerns and questions about the still-blurry timeline. “This is not what that town needs after so much trauma.”
“Ducking and running, dodging and dissembling, neither answers questions nor inspires confidence,” said Frank Sesno, the former CNN anchor and former director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.