Texas law enforcement agencies are coming under scrutiny over their response to the mass shooting at Robb elementary school in Uvalde, after it emerged that the gunman remained barricaded inside a classroom for up to an hour before his bloody rampage was brought to an end.
Accounts given by local officials and media reports have confirmed that not only did the gunman evade armed guards outside the school, but he also locked himself into a classroom for 40 to 60 minutes while he carried out his killings.
By the time a tactical team from Customs and Border Protection broke into the classroom and killed the gunman, he had murdered 19 children aged eight to 10 and their two teachers.
The Associated Press reported that as the massacre was unfolding, several parents and other local people expressed distress at the apparent hesitation of law enforcement to storm the school. Juan Carranza, who lives beside the school, told the news agency he witnessed women shouting at officers: “Go in there! Go in there!”
The officers did not go into the building, Carranza said.
Javier Cazares, whose 10-year-old daughter Jacklyn was killed, told AP police appeared unprepared.
“More could have been done,” he said.
He said he and other residents gathered outside the school started to plan their own rescue mission as the gunman remained locked inside.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said.
The criticism of what parents and residents saw as an inadequate law enforcement response was unwittingly compounded by comments from local security leaders.
Steve McCraw, director of public safety for the district, told reporters: “The bottom line is law enforcement was there. They did engage immediately. They did contain [the shooter] in the classroom.”
While “contained” in that classroom, the gunman carried out all his 21 killings.
The failure of police and armed school guards to stop the shooter breaking into the building has given the lie to one of the main talking points of the gun lobby and Republican politicians in the wake of the tragedy: that the answer to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.
McCraw made clear that the gunman was “engaged” by a school resource officer. Nonetheless, the gunman was able to enter the school through a back door, carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
He went down two short hallways and into the classroom where he locked himself in with the children and their teachers, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia.
Uvalde was the 213th mass shooting in the US this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent database. It defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are injured or killed.
Robb elementary was the 27th US school to have experienced a shooting this year, Education Week reported.
The horror of so many children dying in a classroom has prompted renewed soul-searching at all levels of American public life. Joe Biden attempted on Wednesday to counter resistance from Republicans in Congress to basic gun regulations by saying that “the second amendment is not absolute”.
The debate has been most intense in Texas as the state deals with yet another mass shooting. Some of the deadliest events in recent times have taken place in Texas, including the 2017 attack on a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs that killed 25 and the 2019 rampage in a Walmart in El Paso that left 23 dead.
The Republican-controlled state legislature continues to loosen already minimal gun regulations, in the name of what political leaders call second amendment “freedoms”. A year ago the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, signed a new provision that allows Texans to carry handguns in public without a license or training.
Abbott was confronted on Wednesday as he held a press conference over the Uvalde shooting by Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat running against him in November.
“This is on you until you choose to do something different,” O’Rourke interjected from the audience. “This will continue to happen, somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed.”
O’Rourke was escorted out of the room as the Republican mayor of Uvalde, Don McLaughlin, called him a “sick son of a bitch”.
Further heated confrontations are expected on Friday when the National Rifle Association, the lobby group that has been the most vociferous opponent of gun safety laws, holds its annual meeting in Houston. Abbott will be among the speakers. So will Donald Trump.