UVALDE, Tex. — As police officers stood outside a locked fourth-grade classroom, a student trapped inside with the man shooting at her classmates dialed 911.
“Please send police now,” she said in one of the final 911 recordings investigators disclosed Friday — over 40 minutes after her initial call.
The harrowing calls from Uvalde, Tex., came to light as Texas Department of Public Safety officials acknowledged grave missteps in the police response to the worst mass shooting at an American school in nearly a decade. While two students were inside, calling 911, an on-scene commander made the decision not to rush in after determining that the scene had shifted from an active shooting to a barricaded gunman ordeal, DPS Director Steven C. McCraw said at a news conference.
At one point, he said, there were as many as 19 officers in a hallway outside the classroom. They waited for a key from the janitor to get inside, he said. Protocols developed after the 1999 Columbine massacre call for officers responding to a shooter at a school to immediately target the subject, even if it means putting themselves in harm’s way.
“With the benefit of hindsight, of course, it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision, period.”
The decision in part explains the lengthy gap in time between when gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, first entered Robb Elementary School at 11:33 a.m. and when he was shot, at about 12:50 p.m. — a period of time that has sparked outrage across the nation, and especially in the small, rural Texas town where parents clamored outside for police to go in and save their children.
“The time they took to take action is unacceptable,” said Agustina Cazares, whose grandson and great-granddaughter, both 8 years old, attend the school and survived. “It was only thanks to God that my family was saved.”
The 911 calls disclosed Friday shed light on the agonizing wait for help inside two adjoining classrooms during that time: Rooms 111 and 112. McCraw said two students made calls from those rooms during the shooting.
“I’ll warn you,” he said, shuffling through his papers at a podium fixed with a bevy of microphones, “it’s better that I read it than you listen to it.”
The first call came in at 12:03 p.m. Tuesday, roughly a half-hour after the shooting began, McCraw said. A female student identified herself and told the dispatcher what room she was in. She called back several times again over the next 13 minutes, offering officials information clearly indicating that there were multiple people dead.
“At 12:16, she called back and said there was eight to nine students alive,” he said.
A second call placed by a student in an adjoining classroom came in at 12:19 p.m. By that time, according to the timeline authorities offered Friday, a specialized Border Patrol tactical unit had already arrived at the school.
“She hung up when another student told her to hang up,” McCraw told reporters.
Another call came in three minutes later. On this one, he said, the sound of three gunshots can be heard.
By 12:36 p.m., the initial caller dialed 911 again. The student was told to “stay on the line and to be very quiet,” the DPS director said. The student reportedly told the dispatcher that “he shot the door,” and hung up after 21 seconds.
Minutes later, the child called to plead: “Please send the police now.”
The next calls coincide with when authorities say officers entered the classroom — more than an hour after Ramos’s arrival on campus — and shot him.
“At 12:51, it’s very loud and it sounds like officers are moving children out of the room,” he said. “By that time, the first child was out before the call cuts off.”
Both the students who called for help survived, McCraw said.
At least one of the 911 calls made by the children is believed to have been from 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, who survived the shooting after witnessing her teacher, Eva Mireles, being shot to death. Her father, Miguel Cerrillo, told The Washington Post that after Mireles was shot and her phone slipped from her hand, Miah grabbed it and called 911.
Once outside the school, Miah’s parents said they panicked after seeing their daughter covered in blood. Miah told them: “I’m okay. It’s not my blood.”
One of her classmates was shot and bleeding, Miah told her father; she decided to lie on top of her so the gunman would think they were both dead.
McCraw faced a barrage of questions from reporters trying to piece together a timeline and a response that’s been muddled in recent days. When one journalist reminded the DPS director that there were children and adults making 911 calls to “please send the police,” McCraw replied, “We’re well aware of that,” before reiterating the mistake made by authorities.
“The on-scene commander considered it a barricaded subject and that no more children were at risk,” he said. “Obviously, based upon the information we have, there were more children at risk and not a barricaded subject.”
McCraw identified the on-scene commander as Pete Arredondo, the chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District. Arredondo did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. McCraw said it was unclear whether he will face any discipline, and appeared to deflect blame.
“It’s his school, he’s the chief of police,” McCraw said.
As further details on the wait for help have emerged, anger over the shooting has grown.
Cazares, the grandmother, said she is livid that police did not move faster. She has been watching Univision nonstop since Tuesday to stay abreast of the response from local police and the Texas public safety agency. DPS officials have been “trying to defend themselves by saying they were here at a certain time,” she said. But their response — and their lack of willingness to listen — has only further incensed the community.
“They’re only hearing what police are telling him,” she said of the officials at the podium. “Not what parents or regular people are saying.”
At the news conference Friday, McCraw, who at one point cried, was asked whether the parents of the victims are owed an apology. He said that he knew an apology wouldn’t help after a tragedy of this magnitude.
“If I thought it would help,” he said, “I’d apologize.”
Armus reported from Uvalde. Bella and Bellware reported from Washington.