Javier Cázares bolted for his daughter’s school when he heard there was a shooting, leaving his truck running with the door open before running into the schoolyard. In his haste, he forgot to take his gun.
Cazares, an Army veteran, spent the next agonizing 35 to 45 minutes sifting through children fleeing Robb Elementary School looking for his 9-year-old daughter, Jacklyn. At the same time, he longed to go in and look for her himself, and he was increasingly irritated, along with other parents, that the police were not doing more to stop the teenager who had holed up in a classroom and was murdering the children.
“Many of us argued with the police: ‘You all have to go in there. Everyone has to do their job,’” Cazares recalled. “We were prepared to get down to business and rush in.”
In the end, 19 children and two teachers were shot dead in the approximately 80 minutes that the attacker spent inside the school in Uvalde, Texas, a small, predominantly Latino community nestled among vegetable fields halfway between San Antonio and the US-Mexico border.
This account of the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook School is based on a law enforcement timeline, recordings, and numerous interviews with Uvalde residents in the hours and days after the massacre.
The man authorities have identified as the attacker, Salvador Ramos, was up early on May 24, sending disturbing messages. Ramos had turned 18 just the week before and promptly purchased two AR-15-style rifles along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
In the pre-dawn hours in his grandparents’ shady neighborhood, just half a mile (800 meters) from the site that would become the site of a massacre, Ramos wrote to a woman via Instagram: “I’m about to ”. He also sent someone a private message on Facebook saying he was going to shoot his grandmother.
And in a matter of a few hours, it did.
Sometime after 11 am, a neighbor in his yard heard a gunshot and looked in that direction. He saw Ramos run out the front door of his grandparents’ house toward a pickup truck parked on the narrow street. The 18-year-old seemed scared and had trouble getting the Ford vehicle out of the parking lot, 82-year-old Gilbert Gallegos recalled.
In the end Ramos was able to pull away, his tires throwing a stream of gravel into the air. Moments later, his badly injured grandmother emerged from the single-story house, covered in blood.
“This is what he did,” she yelled, Gallegos recalled. “He shot me.”
Gallegos’ wife called 911 as he carried the injured woman to their backyard. As they hid and waited for the police, they heard more gunshots.
By 11:28 am, Ramos had sped to Robb Elementary School and crashed the truck into a drainage ditch, authorities said. At that moment, a video shows a teacher entering the school through a door that the same teacher had come out of and left open a minute before.
That door used to be closed, and locked, per security protocol, but it was left ajar.
Witnesses said Ramos got out of the passenger side of the truck, carrying a rifle and a backpack full of ammunition. After opening fire on two men who came out of a nearby funeral home, Ramos jumped over a chain-link fence and headed toward the school, still firing. while people nearby called the police, panicked.
Authorities initially said Ramos exchanged gunfire with a school trooper before entering the building, but later said the officer wasn’t actually on school grounds and “rushed in” upon learning someone was shooting.
However, the officer initially headed for the wrong man and confronted someone who turned out to be a teacher, after passing within a few feet of Ramos, who was crouched behind a vehicle parked outside the school.
From your hiding place Ramos went to the open door, walked through it, and at 11:33 am entered the adjoining fourth-grade classroom, authorities said. Quickly, he fired over 100 projectiles.
In one of those classrooms, Miah Cerrillo, 11-year-old used the blood of a friend who was shot to appear dead, she told CNN. After the assailant moved into the next room, she could hear screaming, more gunshots and loud music from the assailant.
Just two minutes after Ramos entered the school, three police officers followed him through the same door and were quickly joined by four more. Authorities said that Ramos exchanged shots from the classroom with the agents who were in the hallway and that two of them suffered “grazing wounds.”
The first cops on the scene were outmatched by Ramos’ powerful high-end rifle, according to a man watching from a nearby house.
“After he started shooting at the police, the police stopped shooting,” said Juan Carranza, 24. “You could see that the firepower that he had was more powerful than the police weapons.”
After the gunshots began, a cafeteria worker who had just finished serving chicken tacos to 75 third graders said a woman in the lunchroom yelled, “Code black. This is not an exercise!”
Employees didn’t know what “code black” meant, but they closed shutters, locked doors and escorted students backstage, added the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid being recognized in public. Then some of the staff took refuge in the kitchen.
In the nearly half hour after the first police officers followed Ramos into the building, as many as 19 officers crowded the hallway, authorities said.
In the meantime, students and teachers in other parts of the building were trying to escape, some climbing through windows with the help of police.
Cazares isn’t sure exactly when he got to the school, but when he did, he saw about five police officers helping people escape. He kept a close eye out to see if Jacklyn—whom he later said loved gymnastics, singing, and dancing—was among them.
Between 15 and 20 minutes after arriving at the school, he said he first saw the officers arriving with heavy shields.
In the chaos, he felt that time “passed so fast and so slow”. But he added: “From what I saw, things could have been very different.”
Other parents felt the same. One onlooker recalled a woman yelling at the police: “Get in there! Get in there!”
Javier Cazares. His daughter was one of the victims. AP/R. Bumsted
At 12:03, a student called 911 and whispered that she was inside a classroom that the gunman was also in.
Minutes later, the Uvalde School District posted on Facebook that all of its facilities would be closed but “students and staff are safe in the buildings. The buildings are safe.”
The student called 911 again, minutes after her first call, to say there were multiple dead, and then called back shortly after that, saying eight or nine students were still alive.
It was 34 minutes from the time of the last call to the time a US Border Patrol tactical team used a school employee’s key to unlock the classroom door and kill the assailant.
An open door had let him in. A locked door kept him inside and the police outside.
The police allege that they did not break into the classroom sooner because the police officer in charge of the operation inside the building, School Police Chief Pete Arredondobelieved the situation had morphed from an ongoing shootout to a hostage situation, said Steven McCraw, chief of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Officers from other agencies urged the school police chief to allow them to intervene because the children were in danger, according to two law enforcement officers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation. McCraw argued that the shots were “sporadic” during much of the time that the agents waited in the hallway and that investigators do not know if the children died during that period.
“It was the wrong call,” McCraw admitted.
Arredondo could not be reached for his position. No one answered the door to his home on Friday and he did not respond to a phone message left at the district police headquarters.
The loss of so many young lives and the admission of wrongdoing by police have cast doubt on the Texas community, including among some supporters of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution – which guarantees the right of American citizens to own and carrying weapons, including firearms – over a refrain that the state’s Republican leaders have used after this and other bloody shootings: “It’s the good ones that stop the bad guys with guns.”
Cazares, a gun owner and Second Amendment supporter, said he doesn’t like getting involved in politics, but added that there should be stronger laws on gun ownership, including better background checks. He said it was “somewhat ridiculous” that it was possible to sell the type of weapon he used to the assailant, an 18-year-old.
At 12:50 p.m., Cazares left the area before the agents killed Ramos. He ran to a hospital because a niece told him that she had seen Jacklyn in an ambulance.
The entire family soon gathered there, pressing hospital staff for nearly three hours for information. Finally, a pastor, a policeman, and a doctor joined them.
“My wife asked the question: ‘Is she alive or is she dead?’” Cazares recalled. “They told him ‘No, she’s gone.'”
When he was finally able to see his daughter’s body, Cazares swore that her death would not be in vain.
Later, she fought back tears as she reflected on her daughter’s last moments.
“She was a fighter,” he said. “It gives us some comfort that she was one of the ones that she was brave and tried to help as much as she could.”
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