…as husband of killed teacher ‘dies of grief’
The gunman who attacked a school in Texas on Tuesday was able to enter the building unobstructed, police say.
Texas Ranger Victor Escalon said no armed guard challenged the teenage attacker and it is unclear if the school door was even locked, reports the BBC.
Escalon defended the police response amid mounting criticism of an apparent delay in confronting the gunman.
Witnesses were quoted as saying police were hesitant to confront the killer inside Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School.
The attacker shot dead 19 students and two teachers, and injured at least 17 more people.
The latest details from police sharply contradict what was said at a new briefing on Tuesday.
Escalon said at Thursday’s press conference that initial reports the gunman had shot a guard were incorrect, and there was no school district police officer inside the school when the shooter arrived.
Escalon said officers entered the school four minutes after the gunman went in at about 11:40.
But it was an hour before the gunman was killed in a shootout, at 12:45, after US Border Patrol tactical teams arrived.
“They [didn’t] make entry immediately because of the gunfire they were receiving,” Escalon told reporters.
Videos have emerged of police being urged by desperate family members to storm the building immediately.
A father whose daughter died in the attack told the Associated Press news agency he had considered running into the school with bystanders out of frustration at the police response.
One mother told the Wall Street Journal that she was briefly handcuffed, accused of impeding a police investigation, after demanding along with other parents that officers storm the building. Angeli Rose Gomez said she saw one frantic father thrown to the ground by an officer, another father pepper-sprayed and a third who was later tased.
“The police were doing nothing,” said Ms Gomez, who was eventually released before she said she jumped over the school fence and ran inside to rescue her two children. “They [the police] were just standing outside the fence. They weren’t going in there or running anywhere.”
Escalon – a Texas Ranger and spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety – said that during the time officers were outside the school they were calling in reinforcements and “also evacuating students, teachers”.
“An hour later US Border Patrol tactical teams arrive, they make entry and shoot and kill the suspect,” he added.
After crashing his truck into a ditch near the school, the gunman emerged and began firing an AR-style rifle at two people who were exiting a funeral home.
The suspect then jumped a fence and began firing “multiple, numerous rounds” at the school building, Escalon said.
As he approached the entrance he “was not confronted by anybody”, the ranger said.
According to Uvalde County Independent School District Officers protocol, campuses are required to have staff “who patrol door entrances, parking lots and perimeters”. Teachers are told to keep doors locked at all times.
“We will find out as much as we can why it was unlocked,” Escalon said. “Or maybe it was locked. But right now, it appears it was unlocked.”
Texas congressman Joaquin Castro has written to the director of the FBI to ask that agents investigate the law enforcement response to the attack as it was unfolding.
Officials say they do not yet know how many bullets the teen fired during the rampage, but one law enforcement source told CBS News the gunman was carrying over 600 rounds of ammunition.
That’s more than double what the average US combat soldier carries, the source said, adding that it appears the gunman was preparing for a massive gun battle with police.
Investigators have found no indication the gunman had a history of mental illness or a criminal record.
He legally purchased two AR-style rifles in the week before the attack, after turning 18.
President Joe Biden and the US first lady will visit Uvalde on Sunday, the White House announced.
Across the country, students staged class walk-outs on Thursday to protest against gun violence in schools.
A father has told the BBC how his two terrified children hid as the massacre unfolded inside Robb Elementary.
“My son ran up to me and said he didn’t think he was going to make it out – that he didn’t think he was going to see me or his mother again,” Jesse Jimenez said. “My daughter was lost, she didn’t know what was going on, she didn’t know if it was a drill or if it was real.”
On Thursday, the husband of one of the two teachers killed in the attack died from a heart attack.
Joe Garcia “passed away due to grief” two days after his wife of 24 years, Irma Garcia, family members said.
Joe Garcia was the husband of Irma Garcia, who taught for 23 years at Robb Elementary School.
The couple – who were married for 24 years – are survived by four children.
By Thursday night, an online fundraiser for the Garcia family had raised nearly $1.6m (£1.3m) out of an initial modest goal of $10,000.
The GoFundMe page said it was being organised by Mrs Garcia’s cousin, Debra Austin, who wrote: “I truly believe Joe died of a broken heart.”
On Twitter, a nephew of Mrs Garcia, John Martinez, said that Garcia had “passed away due to grief” in the wake of his wife’s murder.
A local Fox affiliate has reported that Mr Garcia died of a fatal heart attack.
The Garcias leave behind four children – two boys and two girls – ranging from 12 to 23 years old.
In the aftermath of the deadly shooting in Uvalde, Mr Martinez told the New York Times that Mrs Garcia was found by officers “embracing children in her arms pretty much until her last breath”.
“She sacrificed herself protecting the kids in her classroom,” he wrote on a fundraising page. “She was a hero”.
Mrs Garcia and the other teacher killed in the shooting, Eva Mireles, had been teaching together for five years and had more than 40 years of experience between them.