Police officers were slow to enter Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, to confront a gunman because “they could’ve been shot,” a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said Thursday.
Lt. Chris Olivarez spoke with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to describe the law enforcement response after an 18-year-old gunman entered the school on Tuesday, killing 19 young children and two teachers. Olivarez said officers responded quickly that day amid reports there was a gunman at the school, but waited for a tactical team to fully confront the man, identified as Salvador Ramos, and kill him.
Police have offered changing explanations of the timeline after they arrived at the school, and varying accounts say the gunman was left inside a classroom with children and teachers for 40 minutes to an hour before he was killed.
Blitzer pressed Olivarez if that was the correct response, as “current best practices … call for officers to disable a shooter as quickly as possible, regardless of how many officers are actually on site.”
“Correct,” Olivarez replied. He went on to say that officers had trouble engaging with the shooter:
The active shooter situation, you want to stop the killing, you want to preserve life, but also one thing that – of course, the American people need to understand — that officers are making entry into this building. They do not know where the gunman is. They are hearing gunshots. They are receiving gunshots.
At that point, if they proceeded any further not knowing where the suspect was at, they could’ve been shot, they could’ve been killed, and that gunman would have had an opportunity to kill other people inside that school.
Olivarez added that police were able to attend to injured children inside the classroom after they killed the gunman.
Questions about the police response, and if it could have happened faster, have grown in the days since the shooting. Accounts from those on scene show parents pleading with officers to enter the building and confront the gunman, while others say they were handcuffed and prevented from going to grab their children themselves.
“The police were doing nothing,” Angeli Rose Gomez, a mother with two children inside the elementary school, told The Wall Street Journal. “They were just standing outside the fence. They weren’t going in there or running anywhere.”
Gomez said she persuaded officers to free her before jumping a fence and rushing to grab her children from the school.
Some local lawmakers, including Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) have called for a federal inquiry into the police response to the attack.