The Texas gunman who shot and killed 19 children and two teachers was inside the school for about 40 minutes before being killed by Border Control agents, officials have said, as onlookers spoke of their frustration at what they viewed as delays by law enforcement.
The first reports of an armed man approaching the school began to surface at about 11:30am on Tuesday. Just after 1pm, the 18-year-old was confirmed dead after he was shot inside the Robb Elementary School classroom in the small city of Uvalde.
There have been conflicting reports about what happened before the shooter entered the building and how law enforcement outside tried to “engage” and stop him.
About “40 minutes or so” elapsed from when the gunman opened fire on the school security officer, entered the school through a back door and when the Border Patrol team shot him, Texas department of public safety director Steve McCraw told a news briefing.
Officials said that officers at the scene were able to successfully “contain” the gunman until more specially trained officers could arrive.
Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN the gunman charged into a classroom where he “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom.”
A separate law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press that Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key.
Onlookers have also since said they urged police officers to charge into the school, claiming more could have been done.
Juan Carranza, 24, who saw the scene from outside his house, across the street from the school, told the Associated Press he felt the officers should have entered the school sooner. “Go in there! Go in there!” nearby women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, he said. Carranza said the officers did not go in.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still massed outside the building.
Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders. “Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done… They were unprepared.”
US Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz told CNN that dozens of on-duty and off-duty agents responded to the shooting, adding that as soon as officers arrived, “they didn’t hesitate.”
“We responded from various locations. I had both on-duty, off-duty, folks that were in a training environment all responded to this location,” Ortiz said, adding that between 80 and 100 officers responded.
“They didn’t hesitate. They came up with a plan. They entered that classroom and they took care of the situation as quickly as they possibly could.”
The gunman also discussed his plans on Facebook prior to the attack, the governor of Texas said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Greg Abbott said the shooter “posted” on Facebook three times before the deadly massacre at Robb elementary school.
Although Abbott described them as posts, which are typically distributed to a wide audience, Facebook later stepped in to note that the gunman had sent one-to-one direct messages, not public posts, and that they weren’t discovered until “after the terrible tragedy”.
“We are closely cooperating with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation,” tweeted the Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone on Wednesday.
In the first message, sent 30 minutes before the gunman went to school, he said he would shoot his grandmother. The second said, “I shot my grandmother.” And the third, sent about 15 minutes before the attack, said: “I’m going to shoot an elementary school.” He did not specify which school officials said, and it was not clear who the messages were sent to.
The Texas governor described the messages at a news conference where he said the shooter, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, used an AR-15 to attack the school in Uvalde, a predominantly Latino city of about 16,000 people in a farming area about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border and 85 miles (135 kilometers) from San Antonio. Abbott also said the shooter’s grandmother had called the police before he shot her.
The shooting was the deadliest gun rampage in an American school in almost a decade. Authorities have said the victims were all killed in the same fourth grade classroom, where the shooter barricaded himself inside.
A high school dropout, Ramos lived in Uvalde and had no known criminal record or history of mental health problems, Abbott said.
Investigators have also been scrutinizing an Instagram account that apparently belonged to the gunman. In the days before the shooting, posts featured a photo of a hand holding an ammunition magazine and another photo of two AR-15-style rifles. The account asked another Instagram user to share the latter photo with her 10,000 followers of her; she declined, saying it was “scary” and she barely knew him.
On the morning of the massacre, the account linked to the attacker sent her an ominous message: “I’m about to.”
Instagram declined to answer questions from the Associated Press about the postings.
The latest mass shooting is likely to further intensify pressure on social media companies to heighten their scrutiny of online communications. The attack in Texas follows the shooting at a Buffalo grocery store less than two weeks ago, where the gunman used social media to plan, promote and livestream the massacre that killed 10 people. The New York attorney general has since opened an investigation into Twitch, 4chan, 8chan and Discord along with other platforms the Buffalo shooter used to amplify the attack.
Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has said it monitors people’s private messages for some kinds of harmful content, such as links to malware or images of child sexual abuse. But images can be detected using unique identifiers – a kind of digital signature – which makes them relatively easy for computer systems to flag. Trying to interpret a string of threatening words – which can resemble a joke, satire or song lyrics – is a far more difficult task for artificial intelligence systems.
Facebook and other platforms therefore rely on user reports to catch threats, harassment and other violations of the law or their own policies. As evidenced by the latest shootings, the information often comes too late, if at all.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism