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Texas official: Waiting to engage school shooter was 'wrong decision'

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Texas official: Waiting to engage school shooter was 'wrong decision'
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw provides an update into the investigation of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Friday. Photo by Tannen Maury/EPA-EFE

May 27 (UPI) -- Texas' top law enforcement officer said Friday that police made the "wrong decision" not to immediately breach the classroom where a gunman had barricaded himself and killed 21 people.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw made the bleak admission during a news conference seeking to clear up the timeline of Tuesday's mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The new details shed some light -- and raised new questions -- about the police response to the massacre.

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McCraw said the on-scene commander with the Uvalde Police Department, the first agency to respond to the school, treated the shooting as a "barricaded subject situation," not an active shooting. The official didn't believe there were "more children at risk" inside the conjoined classrooms where gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, had holed up.

Because of this, Ramos was barricaded inside the classroom from 11:33 a.m. until 12:51 p.m., when officers entered and fatally shot him. During that time, he killed 19 students and two teachers, and injured several others.

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"From the benefit of hindsight, where I'm sitting now, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. There's no excuse for that," McCraw said.

"There were children in that classroom that were still at risk."

The DPS chief also revealed new details about how the shooter was able to access the school. At 11:27 a.m., McCraw said a teacher propped open an exterior door to the school to go retrieve a cell phone. They left the door open after returning.

RELATED Oxford, Mich., students hold walkout after Texas school shooting

A minute later, Ramos crashed his grandmothers truck into a ditch near the school. Minutes before, he had shot and injured his 66-year-old grandmother, with whom he lived.

After crashing, the gunman shot toward two witnesses at a nearby funeral home, but didn't injure them. A teacher inside the school witnessed the shooting and called 911 at 11:30 a.m.

At 11:31 a.m., Ramos walked to the elementary school's parking lot, crouching behind a vehicle while a Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police officer drove to the funeral home in response to the shooting there. The officer didn't see Ramos, McCraw said, though police officials initially said the gunman was confronted by a school resource officer as he made entry into the school.

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The gunman entered the school through the propped-open door at 11:33 a.m. and entered one of the two conjoined classrooms, opening fire. McCraw said Ramos fired more than 100 rounds with an AR-15-style rifle from 11:37 a.m. to 11:44 a.m., based on audio evidence.

Three officers with the UPD, three volunteer police officers and one deputy with the Uvalde County Sheriff's Office entered the same opened exterior door at 11:35 a.m. The three UPD officers approached a door to the classrooms and were injured by gunfire.

School officials ordered a lockdown at 11:43 a.m., and by 12:03 p.m., there were 19 officers, including FBI agents, in the hallway outside the classrooms.

McCraw said that beginning at 12:03 p.m., 911 dispatch received at least eight phone calls from students inside the classrooms, including one girl who said there were "eight to nine students alive" at 12:16 p.m. The last 911 call came at 12:47 p.m., less than 5 minutes before police shot Ramos.

Officers with the Border Patrol Tactical Unit arrived at the scene at 12:15 p.m. Officers finally breached the classrooms using keys from a janitor at 12:50 p.m.

"A decision was made that this was a barricaded subject situation, there was time to retrieve the keys and wait for a tactical team with the equipment to go ahead and breach the door and take on the subject at that point," McCraw told reporters Friday. "That was the decision, that was the thought process at that particular point in time."

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During the 77 minutes police said Ramos was inside the school, parents of the students gathered outside, urging officers to enter the building or allow them to.

Public safety officials have a barrage of questions related to police tactics and what some criticized as a delay in dealing with the active shooter.

Sean Burke, president of the School Safety Advocacy Council and former law enforcement officer, said the waiting for backup tactic is a long-outdated model in school shootings that changed after Colorado's 1999 Columbine school shooting.

Burke said initial officers should have used tactics to distract the shooter to buy time for the backup to arrive instead of inaction that allows the shooting to continue his rampage.

The discrepancies in the timeline Tuesday has led U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to call for an investigation into police response to the shooting. He wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray, asking him to probe the timeline the DPS provided.

"The people of Uvalde, of Texas, and of the nation deserve an accurate account of what transpired," Castro wrote to Wray. "However, state officials have provided conflicting accounts that are at odds with those provided by witnesses.

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"I urge the FBI to use its maximum authority to thoroughly examine the timeline of events and the law enforcement response and to produce a full, timely and transparent report on your findings."

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he will return to Uvalde and skip the National Rifle Association convention that begins Friday in Houston. Abbott recorded a message for the NRA that will be played at the gathering.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, also dropped out of the convention. Former President Donald Trump, along with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem have kept their speaking engagements at the convention.

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