A school police officer assigned to protect Robb Elementary School was not on campus and accidentally drove by the gunman when Tuesday’s mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, began, according to officials.
“That officer was not on scene, not on campus, but had heard the 911 call with a man with a gun, drove immediately to the area, sped to what he thought was the man with a gun, to the back of the school, to what turned out to be a teacher, but not the suspect,” Steven C McCraw, Director and Colonel of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference on Friday.
“In doing so, he drove right by the suspect, who was hunkered down behind the vehicle, where he began shooting at the school.”
The near-miss occurred before gunman Salvador Ramos was able to enter a classroom, where he barricaded himself inside and killed 19 students and two teachers.
The lack of a police presence on campus at the time of the shooting was all the more shocking because the Uvalde school district had trained extensively on active schooter scenarios and invested in security.
Two months before the shooting, officers practiced their response to just such an incident, and officials said at the time it was the latest in several active shooter trainings.
“Our overall goal is to train every Uvalde area law enforcement officer so that we can prepare as best as possible for any situation that may arise,” the school police unit wrote on Facebook at the time. “We have hosted several of these courses and plan to continue to do so.”
The school district also received $69,000 dollars from a $100m state grant programme for physical security enhancements including metal detectors, barriers, security systems, and an active-shooter alarm.
That’s in addition to doubling its security budget since 2017, investing in social media monitoring, and enhancing teacher security training in 2018 following another mass shooting in Texas that killed eight students and two teachers.
It’s the latest in a string of mistakes and oversights in the police response that have come to light since the horrific school shooting, the second worst in US history.
On Friday, Texas officials also described how a large group of officers waited in a hallway outside the classroom for backup for nearly an hour rather than breaching it, believing the active shooter situation had subsided.
“Of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision, period,” Mr McCraw said. “There’s no excuse for that.”
As many as 19 officers were waiting in a hallway outside the classroom early on, he said, but an incident commander, the head of the school district’s police force, had determined “there was no more threat to the children” at the time.
Mr McCraw admitted that under police training standards in Texas, officers aren’t supposed to wait for tactical backup before neutralising an active shooter, and that there were enough officers on the scene to have been able to stop the gunman.
“There were plenty of officers to do what needed to be done,” he said.
At least two students called 911 themselves from inside the classroom, with one girl pleading, “Send the police now.” Both students survived.
Despite these apparent security lapses, Texas Republicans have pushed for further “school hardening” improvements like fences and security doors, rather than gun control.
“You want to talk about how we could have prevented the horror that played out across the street?” Texas senator Ted Cruz said Wednesday, standing outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. “Having one door that goes in and out of the school, having armed police officers at that one door.”