Texas Shooter Was in School for More than 40 Minutes Before Law Enforcement Got into Locked Classroom

According to a police timeline and multiple witness accounts, the gunman was able to barricade himself into a classroom despite officers engaging in gunfire with him outside the school

Two days after a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the police response is coming under scrutiny — with many people at the scene claiming that officers did not do enough to stop the shooting that left 19 children and two adults dead.

On Thursday morning, the Associated Press reported that many parents at the scene urged police to follow the shooter into the school. When the police remained outside, at least one parent tried to enter the school himself, only to be pinned to the ground by an officer. A video of the altercation was posted on YouTube on Wednesday.

For more on the shooting massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

"There was a lot of chaos," says Ernest "Chip" King, a Uvalde firefighter who estimated that the gunfire went on for about 40 minutes. "Fathers smashed windows, and physically pulled their kids out of classrooms."

Some relatives at the scene believe that the police hesitation cost lives.

"Everyone was just showing up and they weren't doing anything," says Berlinda Arreola, 49, whose granddaughter Amerie Jo Garza was killed in the attack. "The parents were being all crazy, like 'why aren't you all doing anything? Why aren't you going in?' But they were like, 'until he opens gunfire, we can't do anything. We're holding on so that he doesn't open gunfire.'"

UVALDE, TX - MAY 25: In this aerial view, law enforcement works on scene at Robb Elementary School where at least 21 people were killed yesterday, including 19 children, on May 25, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. The shooter, identified as 18 year old Salvador Ramos, was reportedly killed by law enforcement.
Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty

But Arreola tells PEOPLE that it was too late. "We didn't know that he had already opened gunfire in there. We didn't even know that he had already shot all the kids. It was already done."

For more on the shooting massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

A girl cries, comforted by two adults, outside the Willie de Leon Civic Center where grief counseling will be offered in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. - A teenage gunman killed 18 young children in a shooting at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, in the deadliest US school shooting in years. The attack in Uvalde, Texas -- a small community about an hour from the Mexican border -- is the latest in a spree of deadly shootings in America, where horror at the cycle of gun violence has failed to spur action to end it. (Photo by allison dinner / AFP) (Photo by ALLISON DINNER/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the fourth graders who survived the attack told KENS-TV that when police finally did enter the school building an officer instructed them to yell "help" if they needed it. "One of the persons in my class said 'help,'" the boy claims. "The guy overheard and shot her."

While the details of the police response are unclear, a timeline has emerged that shows that the standoff lasted more than an hour.

According to police reports, officers and the gunman exchanged gunfire outside the school at 11:32 a.m. The gunman did not appear to be injured and walked through an unlocked back door at the school. Police believe that he entered a classroom that was connected to other classrooms. He finally found a room full of students, where he then opened fire.

Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told reporters in a press conference that it took 40 minutes to an hour for a tactical team to shoot the gunman after he entered the school. Later, a spokesman say that they were "unable" to give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school.

"He was able to barricade himself inside the classroom," Lt. Christopher Olivarez, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times.

A memorial is seen surrounding the Robb Elementary School sign following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School
Robb Elementary School. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

What happened next is in dispute.

In an interview with CNN, congressman Tony Gonzalez cited a briefing he received that claimed that there was a "30-minute lull" in the shooting while the gunman was barricaded in the classroom. During that time, he says, the rest of the students were evacuated from the school."

A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press that officers were unable to breach the classroom door, and finally had to get a staff member to open the room with a key.

But police agencies insist that they worked as quickly as possible to neutralize the threat and minimize casualties.

"The bottom line is law enforcement was there," McCraw told reporters. "They did engage immediately. They did contain the gunman in the classroom."

At 1:06 p.m. — a full 94 minutes after the gunman entered the school — authorities finally declared that he was "in police custody." That statement was quickly amended to reflect that the gunman had been killed.

Spokespersons for the Uvalde Police, the FBI, and Border Patrol did not immediately return PEOPLE's calls for comment.

The school district in Uvalde has opened an official account with First State Bank of Uvalde to support Robb Elementary families affected by the tragedy. People can send checks through the mail (payable to the "Robb School Memorial Fund") or donate money through Zelle to robbschoolmemorialfund@gmail.com. People can also donate by calling 830-356-2273.

Related Articles