This weekend would have been the first one of summer for 19 students and two teachers gunned down at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday. Now, instead of lakeside BBQs and park trips, residents in the small town are mourning and planning funerals ahead of a presidential visit Sunday.
Grief and anguish have had a tight grip on Uvalde since an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School, turning a day that began with student honor roll achievement celebrations into a nightmare. The gunman was shot dead by authorities inside a classroom more than an hour after he entered the school.
The massacre, America’s deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, has been followed by conflicting official accounts of how it unfolded. The delayed police confrontation with the mass shooter has compounded parents’ anger, with some saying a quicker response could have saved children’s lives.
“Everybody is frustrated about the failures of what happened,” Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez said Saturday. “No community anywhere in the United States should have to deal with this.”
Ahead of his planned visit to Uvalde Sunday, President Joe Biden said while tragedy cannot be outlawed, America can be made safer.
“As I speak those parents are literally, preparing to bury their children, in the United States of America, bury their children. There is too much violence, too much fear, too much grief,” he said Saturday during his commencement address at the University of Delaware.
Biden’s visit comes as the community is digesting harrowing details that emerged Friday, when officials released a clearer timeline of the law enforcement response to the shooting.
Uvalde police officers entered the school about two minutes after the shooter, and more than an hour had passed before he was killed, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said.
In that more than 70-minute window, other officers arrived inside the building, McCraw said. They were calling for more resources, equipment and negotiators, among other things — but not breaching the doors of the classroom where the shooter Salvador Ramos was holed up.
At one point — more than 45 minutes before the gunman was killed — up to 19 officers were standing in the hallway.
The school district police chief, Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, made the call for officers not to go into the classroom as they waited for the room’s key and tactical equipment, officials said.
McCraw said that was the wrong move and the officers should have confronted the shooter immediately.
In the meantime, funeral homes in Uvalde have committed to covering costs for families of the 21 victims and announced some services will begin Monday.
“We have fought together as a community and we will pull together as one now in our time of need,” Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home wrote on its Facebook page.
The Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary echoed that support for the Uvalde community: “Today, our resolve is stronger than ever. We are here for the people of Uvalde,” the funeral home said the day of the shooting.
‘There’s nothing but love here’
Since the shooting, graduations and other celebratory events have been canceled as the community mourns the shattering loss of some of its most vulnerable.
The grief-stricken town of about 16,000 residents has been coming together in the days since the shooting through prayers, hugs and donations.
The acts of kindness have ranged from people driving hours to support those who are mourning loved ones to those who donated food or blood.
Omar Rodriguez, the owner of a car detailing business, made 250 hamburgers to raise funds for the victims’ families. At a friend’s lot on Main Street, Rodriguez set up a large grill, tables and supplies to cook while his family and friends grabbed rags and soap to wash cars for a donation.
The 24-year-old said he couldn’t stay at home thinking there could be something he could do to help.
“This is a good little town. There’s nothing but love here,” he said.
Patrick Johnson, 58, drove for seven hours from his hometown of Harleton, Texas, to Uvalde and set up a table filled with toys for children who haven’t smiled in days.
“There’s a lot of ways to be a blessing to people,” he said. “Whenever something like this happens, I do my research and contact local law enforcement and ask ‘what I can do?’ What does your community need right now?”
Johnson, a father of four, said he broke down and wept when he heard about the shooting.
“I’m not even from this community, but I’m hurting. It makes you think about your own kids. It makes you realize it could’ve been you, mourning your children.”
Questions remain surrounding police response
Texas officials and law enforcement have been under intense scrutiny and faced backlash for the way officers responded to the shooting.
All law enforcement officers in Texas are trained that their first priority is to move in and confront the attacker, according to the active shooter guidelines in the state’s commission on law enforcement 2020 training manual that was obtained by CNN
“As first responders we must recognize that innocent life must be defended,” the manual instructs “A first responder unwilling to place the lives of the innocent above their own safety should consider another career field.”
But that does not appear to be what happened during the mass shooting at the elementary school.
More than an hour passed between the shots at the school and when the shooter was killed. The incident commander at the time believed the situation had transitioned from an active shooter to a “barricaded subject,” McCraw said.
The decisive action was taken when a unit of border patrol agents arrived at the scene, entered the classroom and killed the gunman.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday he wants a full accounting of what happened but added he has no say in whether Arredondo, the school district’s police chief, should be fired.
“As far as his employment status is concerned, that’s something that is beyond my control and I have no knowledge about,” Abbott said Friday.
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