Law enforcement authorities in the southwest U.S. state of Texas are facing tough questions about their response and the length of time it took them this week to storm a school to confront a teenage gunman who had shot to death 19 children and two teachers.
Officials say the gunman, Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old high school dropout, was in the school for 40 minutes to an hour before police barged into the fourth-grade classroom where he had killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School in the small town of Uvalde, Texas.
Witnesses say parents of the children trapped in the school located in a residential neighborhood, and onlookers who gathered at midday on Tuesday, shouted at police to attack the school to put an end to the mayhem.
One witness outside the school, Juan Caranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside his house across the street, said women shouted at police, "Go in there! Go in there!"
Police say they are not certain how long Ramos was in the school or whether he exchanged gunfire with a school security official as he barged into the building.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raised the idea with other bystanders of storming the building themselves because he did not think police were moving fast enough.
'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.'
Law enforcement personnel near the scene of a suspected shooting near Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 24, 2022.
One bystander recorded a video posted to his Facebook account that gave his running account of parents trying desperately to get police to move quicker to rescue their children.
"These cops are right here. Bro, there's a (expletive) shooting at the school, and these (expletive) cops are telling everybody to leave, dude, while everybody's here trying to pick up their (expletive) kids,' the man said in an account published by The Washington Post.
Later, the man says the children 'are all in there, and the cops ain't doing (expletive) but standing outside."
One woman, who said her son was in the school, urged police to take a shot at the gunman if they could.
"They're kids," she shouted. 'I'm going to go, I'm going to (expletive) go."
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw on Wednesday defended the police response, saying, "The bottom line is law enforcement was there. They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom' before killing him.
Authorities continued to search for a motive behind the horrific rampage, the deadliest U.S. school shooting spree in nearly a decade. They said Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history, although some acquaintances recounted his troubling anti-social behavior, such as him firing a BB gun at random people walking in Uvalde.
A 15-year-old German girl who Ramos chatted with online said he told her he "threw dead cats at people's houses."
Just as Ramos unleashed his attack, he texted the girl, warning her in a private message that he was about to shoot up an elementary school.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at a news conference Wednesday that about 30 minutes before Ramos stormed into the school, he posted a message on Facebook saying, "I'm going to shoot my grandmother," with whom he lived, and went on to fire a shot at her face. The woman, Celia Martinez, 66, survived the attack, was hospitalized, and is reported in serious condition.
Moments later, he said in another message, "I shot my grandmother."
In a third message, Ramos warned, "I'm going to shoot an elementary school," Abbott recounted.
After Ramos crashed his car in a ditch near the school, police officers employed by the school district "engaged with the gunman." There are conflicting reports about whether gunfire was exchanged. Ramos then carried an assault weapon into the school and killed all his victims in the same fourth-grade classroom, law enforcement officials say.
Abbott said 17 others were wounded or injured in the attack, but none had life-threatening injuries. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said the injured include "multiple children" who survived gunfire in their classroom.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he and first lady Jill Biden would visit Texas "in coming days," adding that "the idea that an 18-year-old can walk into a store and buy weapons of war designed and marketed to kill is, I think, just wrong, just violates common sense."
"The Second Amendment is not absolute," Biden said as he called for new limits on guns. When the constitutional amendment was written, he said, "you couldn't own a cannon. You couldn't own certain kinds of weapons. There's always been limitations. But guess what - these actions we've taken before, they save lives. They can do it again."
It was not immediately clear that the latest mass killing changed the minds of any opposition Republican lawmakers in the Senate, who in the past have blocked more restrictive gun measures favored by Biden and Democratic senators.
At least 10 Republican lawmakers would need to join all 50 Democrats in the chamber to pass gun control legislation.
Some lawmakers talked of trying to reach legislative compromises that would require further background checks of gun buyers, extend the time frame for such checks, or ban the sale of guns over the internet.
From 1994 to 2004, the U.S. banned the sale of assault weapons, often used in mass killings, and according to police, in Tuesday's attack. Congress did not renew the law.
Legislative attempts to tighten gun laws have been adamantly opposed by lobbyists for gun manufacturers and pro-gun lawmakers who cite Americans' rights to gun ownership enshrined by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Law enforcement officials say Ramos legally purchased two assault weapons days after his 18th birthday a couple of weeks ago, along with 375 rounds of ammunition. He posted pictures of the weapons on a social media account attributed to him.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.