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Children were calling 911 from within the Uvalde classroom as police waited to enter

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It was not the right decision. Those are the words of the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety today. They came after he revealed that law enforcement waited more than an hour to enter a classroom in Uvalde, Texas, and kill a gunman who was shooting children inside. It was not the right decision because there were still children alive inside, some of them calling 911 over and over again, asking for help.

For more on this, we are joined by NPR's Adrian Florido, who is in Uvalde. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: I don't know how to describe these new details except horrifying. Tell us what the police are saying about how this unfolded inside Robb Elementary School.

FLORIDO: Well, officials are saying that just before 11:30 on Tuesday morning, this gunman crashed his truck outside the school, started shooting at the school and then got into the school through a side door that a teacher had left propped open just moments before. He encountered no resistance on his way into the school. He made his way into one of two classrooms that were connected by a shared bathroom between the two, and he started shooting at the kids inside.

Two Uvalde police officers arrived minutes later. The gunman shot at them, and because of that, they held back. And then Border Patrol agents started to arrive. Nineteen officers were in the hallway outside this classroom for about an hour. And all the while, they did not try to go in and take this gunman out.

PFEIFFER: And how do they explain that decision to hold back for so long?

FLORIDO: Well, at a press conference today, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, said that it was because they didn't know that there were children in danger. Here's some of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVEN MCCRAW: The on-scene commander considered a barricaded subject and that there was time and there were no more children at risk. Obviously, you know, based upon the information we have, there were children in that classroom that were at risk. And it was, in fact, still an active shooter situation and not a barricaded subject.

PFEIFFER: But, again, Adrian, as you said, they were inside the school, outside the classroom. How could they have been sure there were no more children at risk inside?

FLORIDO: That is a huge question, and we did not get a clear answer to that. And it's even harder to understand, Sacha, because of something else the police director told us today, which is that all that time the police were just outside the classroom, there were not only children alive inside, they were calling 911 and begging for help for close to an hour. The police director was asked at the press conference today, how is this possible that they were calling 911 for so long; that there were police officers in the hallway outside, that information about these 911 calls didn't get to these officers? The director said he did not know the answer to these questions yet.

PFEIFFER: Did police acknowledge what a comprehensive law enforcement failure this seems to have been?

FLORIDO: Yeah. The Texas police director admitted that not immediately entering that classroom was a mistake.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

FLORIDO: And the reason it was wrong is because police are trained that, in an active shooter situation in which people are in danger, they need to act immediately to neutralize the threat. And that obviously didn't happen here. Instead, officers waited for heavily armed armored tactical units to arrive before forcing their way into that classroom and killing the gunman more than 70 minutes after he first went inside.

PFEIFFER: Adrian, as you know and as you've been reporting, parents and family of victims have been for days saying that the police failed to act as quickly as they should have. Now the police are acknowledging that, which means that the parents are not only grieving but probably just enraged.

FLORIDO: They're furious. They're stunned. They're angry. We've been hearing from parents who told us about arriving at the school Tuesday morning, pleading with the officers to do more or to at least let them run in and take this gunman out themselves, only to be held back by police. Listen to Monique Rodriguez, one of those parents.

MONIQUE RODRIGUEZ: It's finally coming out. And I'm glad it's coming out. You know, they need to be exposed because we were outside hearing our kids get shot, you know, not knowing which one of our kids were getting shot.

FLORIDO: Her daughter got out of the school OK, but she was related to three of the children who were killed. And there are still a lot of unanswered questions that parents here are asking. How many children were pulled out alive? How many were killed while police were just outside the classroom? How many might have lived if they'd acted faster? And how did this all just go so wrong?

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Adrian Florido. Thank you very much for covering this.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Sacha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.