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Saturday, September 23, 2023

‘Wrong Decision’ by Incident Commander Revealed as Texas DPS Corrects School Shooting Timeline

Just after noon there were as many as 19 police officers in the school hallway, but it wasn't until 12:50 that Border Patrol moved in to kill shooter.

Hammered with questions about why there was such a lengthy gap between the first shots fired at a Texas elementary school and officers finally making a move to kill the shooter, officials revealed a timeline that centered around a “wrong decision” made by the incident commander as children inside the classrooms under attack begged for police help on 911 calls.

At a Friday news conference, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw laid out the timeline that was markedly different from the scenario that had been given by officials after the Tuesday massacre.

Nineteen students and two adults were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a town of more than 15,000 people 70 miles east of Del Rio, on Tuesday when 18-year-old shooter Salvador Ramos — who had just shot his grandmother at her residence before crashing her truck into a ditch and entering the school — opened fire. Seventeen people were wounded in the attack, including three law enforcement officers. Ramos’ grandmother Celia, 66, is hospitalized in stable condition.

The new timeline helped account for that time gap from the point the shooter entered the school to when the threat was neutralized — critical time that passed with officer inaction even as agonized parents outside the perimeter demanded the rescue of their kids and students pleaded for help to police dispatchers, as was revealed by McCraw.

McCraw said that in September 2021 Ramos asks his sister to purchase a gun for him, but “she flatly refused.” The shooter was into group gaming online and left a social media trail in his interactions with other youths; on Feb. 28, 2022, during a four-person group chat on Instagram, Ramos discussed being a school shooter. In another group chat on March 1, he discussed buying a gun. A user said to Ramos during another chat on March 3 that “word on the street is you’re buying a gun.” Ramos replied, “Just bought something rn.”

On March 14, Ramos posted on Instagram, “10 more days.” A user replied, “Are you going to shoot up a school or something?” Ramos replied, “No. And stop asking dumb questions. You’ll see.”

“We need everyone when we have a threat to life like that to take it seriously and report it,” McCraw stressed after outlining these social media interactions.

On March 20, Ramos moved in with his grandmother. He turned 18 on May 16, and the following day purchased a semi-automatic rifle at local sporting goods store Oasis Outback. On May 18, Ramos purchased 375 rounds of ammunition for that rifle, and bought a second rifle at Oasis Outback on May 20. McCraw said he used a debit card to buy the expensive weapons. “That means he had money in the bank — why and how is being looked at right now,” he told reporters.

Ramos brought 1,657 rounds of ammunition to Tuesday’s attack, McCraw said, with 315 of those rounds inside the school — 142 of those were spent cartridges and 173 were live rounds. There were 922 additional rounds found outside of the school but on school property; 22 of those were spent cartridges. More than 400 rounds were at the site where he crashed the pickup after shooting his grandmother; 22 of those were spent cartridges.

Comparatively, there were 35 spent cartridges from law enforcement weapons in the school — 8 of those were in the hallway, and 27 were inside classroom 111 where the suspect was eventually killed.

McCraw said law enforcement recovered 15 magazines in the school, 32 magazines outside on school grounds including 31 in the backpack that Ramos deposited outside, 15 magazines at the crash site, and two magazines at the suspect’s residence.

After Ramos shot his grandmother in the head Tuesday morning, she was able to make it across the street to call police. Meanwhile, over at Robb Elementary at 11:27 a.m., in order to retrieve a cell phone a teacher had propped open the exterior door that the shooter would use to gain entry to the school. At 11:28 a.m., Ramos had driven his grandmother’s pickup about 2 miles before crashing in a ditch near the school. Two men at a funeral home across from the school heard the crash and headed to the scene to see if aid was needed. Before arriving at the scene they saw a man with a gun exit the vehicle through the passenger side; at this point, Ramos had a backpack full of ammunition and a rifle. McCraw said they began running away, and Ramos fired on them but did not hit them, though one of the men fell when he was running.

At 11:30 a.m., the teacher who had propped open the door re-emerged and called 911 to report a man with a gun. A patrol vehicle was at the scene of the funeral home a minute later. At this time, Ramos jumped fence and went through a parking lot to reach the school. McCraw pointed out on a diagram how the shooter was firing at classroom windows.

'Wrong Decision' by Incident Commander Revealed as Texas DPS Corrects School Shooting Timeline Homeland Security Today
A Texas Department of Public Safety diagram show the path that Salvador Ramos took into Robb Elementary School on May 24 2022 Video

Contrary to previous reports, Ramos did not encounter a school resource officer outside of the building. “That did not happen… that officer was not on scene, not on campus but had heard the 911 call about the man with a gun, drove immediately to the area, sped to what he thought was the man with a gun, to the back of the school, what turned out to be a teacher,” McCraw said.

“In doing so he drove right by the suspect who was hunkered down behind a vehicle where he began shooting at the school,” McCraw added.

At 11:33 a.m., Ramos entered the school through the open door. He walked into either classroom 111 or 112, which are connected, and immediately fired more than 100 rounds “based on the audio evidence.” At 11:35 a.m. three Uvalde Police Department officers entered the school via the same open door, and were followed a short time later by three other Uvalde Police officers and a county deputy sheriff. Ramos fired shots down the hallway from behind a closed door and grazed two officers.

The police sergeant and more officers arrived on scene at 11:51 a.m., and by just after noon McCraw said there were as many as 19 officers in the school hallway.

At 12:03 p.m. a 911 call was made from the site of the massacre and lasted 1 minute and 23 seconds. “She identified herself and whispered she’s in room 112,” McCraw said. She called back at 12:10 p.m. and said there were multiple dead in the classroom, then called again at 12:13 p.m.

At 12:15 p.m., some members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) arrived at the school. A minute later, the 911 caller called again to report that eight to nine students were still alive in the classrooms under attack. At 12:19 p.m. a call was made by another person in room 111, but the caller hung up when another student told her to do so, McCraw said. This caller dialed 911 again at 12:21 p.m., and three shots were heard over the phone at the point when Ramos was firing at the classroom door.

The first 911 caller called back at 12:36 p.m. and told the dispatcher that the gunman fired at the door. Five minutes later, Ramos fired again, also believed to be at the door. The 911 caller asked at 12:43 p.m. and 12:47 p.m. for police to come help.

It was at 12:50 p.m. that BORTAC officers breached the classroom door — not by force, but with a set of keys they got from a school janitor. Ramos was in a classroom closet when Border Patrol entered, burst out of the closet and began firing. One Border Patrol officer was injured by gunfire. Ramos was shot and killed.

“The on-scene commander at the time believed that it had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject… obviously, based upon the information we have, there were children in that classroom that were at risk and it was still, in fact, an active shooter situation and not a barricaded subject,” McCraw told reporters. “…If the 911 operators were aware that there were children alive in that classroom, why weren’t officers notified of that and, if that’s the case, why didn’t they take action? That’s the question.”

The incident commander believed “there was time to retrieve the keys and wait for a tactical team with the equipment to go ahead and breach the door and take on the subject at that point… that was the thought process at that particular point in time,” McCraw said.

Uvalde Police Department has a part-time SWAT team, McCraw said, while the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department has six officers.

“There was plenty of officers to do whatever needed to be done,” McCraw said, adding that “the incident commander inside believed they needed more equipment and more officers … that’s why BORTAC was requested on the scene as soon as they were there.”

“With 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.”

McCraw acknowledged that not only did the threat need to be neutralized but the decision apparently didn’t take into account kids who may have been injured and were in need of lifesaving measures. “When there’s an active shooter the rules change… you don’t have time,” he said.

McCraw said the state of Texas “embraces” active shooter training that would call for locating the shooter and “keep shooting until the subject is dead, period.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas lauded the Border Patrol members who took down the shooter, and stressed that “as we pray for the families and loved ones and recognize the bravery of frontline law enforcement personnel, we must redouble our collective efforts to make our communities safer.”

Former Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Brian Harrell, whose former agency the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is a hub of training and resources for active shooter preparedness and school security, told HSToday that “there’s no doubt that society is becoming more violent every day,” and “would-be criminals and domestic terrorists will always use the path of least resistance, and often times soft targets and schools, are picked for this violence.”

“While there will be calls for restricting guns, also at play here is the fact that schools must invest in their campus security,” Harrell said. “Becoming a ‘hard target’. Administrators, teachers, students, and the law enforcement community must come together to embrace student security — or predators will find a way into our most sacred places. With school security events increasing across the country, schools should devote attention to the full spectrum of school safety, which encompasses prevention, protection and mitigation, and response and recovery.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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