This weekend would have been the first of the summer for 19 students and two teachers shot dead Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Now, instead of lakeside barbecues and trips to parks, residents of the small town are mourning and planning funerals ahead of a presidential visit on Sunday.
Grief and anguish have had a grip on Uvalde since an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School, turning a day that began with celebrations of student honor roll achievements in nightmare. The shooter was shot dead by authorities in a classroom more than an hour after entering the school.
The massacre, the deadliest school shooting in the United States since the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, was followed by conflicting official accounts of how it unfolded. Police’s late confrontation with the mass shooter has deepened anger among parents, with some saying a quicker response could have saved children’s lives.
“Everyone is frustrated with the failures of what happened,” Texas State Sen. Roland Gutierrez said Saturday. “No community in the United States should have to deal with this.”
Ahead of his scheduled visit to Uvalde on Sunday, President Joe Biden said that while tragedy cannot be stopped, America can be made safer.
“As I speak, these parents are literally preparing to bury their children, in the United States of America, they are burying their children. There is too much violence, too much fear, too much grief,” he said. said Saturday during his commencement address at the University of Delaware.
Biden’s visit comes as the community digests heartbreaking details that emerged on Friday, when officials released a clearer timeline for law enforcement’s response to the shooting.
Uvalde police officers entered the school about two minutes after the shooter, and more than an hour passed before he was killed, said Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw.
Within that 70-plus-minute window, other officers arrived inside the building, McCraw said. They demanded more resources, equipment and negotiators, among other things – but without breaking the doors of the classroom where the shooter Salvador Ramos was locked up.
At one point – more than 45 minutes before the shooter was killed – up to 19 officers were standing in the hallway.
School District Police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo called on officers not to enter the classroom while waiting for the room key and tactical gear, officials said.
McCraw said it was the wrong decision and officers should have confronted the shooter immediately.
Meanwhile, Uvalde Funeral Homes have pledged to cover costs for the families of the 21 victims and announced that some services will begin on Monday.
“We fought together as a community and will stand together now in times of need,” Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home wrote on its Facebook page.
The Rushing-Estes-Knowles morgue echoed this support for the Uvalde community: “Today our resolve is stronger than ever. We are here for the people of Uvalde,” the funeral home said on the day of the shooting.
Since the shooting, graduations and other celebratory events have been canceled as the community mourns the heartbreaking loss of some of its most vulnerable.
The grieving town of around 16,000 rallied in the days after the shooting with prayers, hugs and donations.
Acts of kindness range from people driving hours to support those who mourn loved ones to those who donated food or blood.
Omar Rodriguez, owner of a car detailing business, made 250 burgers to raise money for the families of the victims. At a friend’s house on Main Street, Rodriguez set up a large grill, tables and cooking supplies while family and friends grabbed car wash rags and soap for a donation.
The 24-year-old said he couldn’t sit at home thinking there might be something he could do to help.
“It’s a good little town. There is nothing but love here,” he said.
Patrick Johnson, 58, drove seven hours from his hometown of Harleton, Texas to Uvalde and set up a table full of toys for the kids who haven’t smiled in days.
“There are lots of ways to be a blessing to people,” he said. “Whenever something like this happens, I do my research and contact local law enforcement and say ‘what can I do?’ What does your community need right now?”
Johnson, a father of four, said he broke down and cried when he heard about the shooting.
“I’m not even from this community, but I’m in pain. It makes you think of your own children. It makes you realize that it could have been you, mourning your children.
Texas officials and law enforcement came under intense scrutiny and faced backlash for how officers responded to the shooting.
All Texas law enforcement officers are trained so that their first priority is to enter and confront the attacker, per the active shooter guidelines in the state’s commission on law enforcement training manual. 2020 law enforcement obtained by CNN.
“As first responders, we must recognize that innocent lives must be defended,” the manual says. “A first responder who does not want to put the lives of innocent people above their own safety should consider another career field.”
But that doesn’t appear to be what happened in the elementary school mass shooting.
More than an hour passed between the shootings at the school and the moment the shooter was killed. The incident commander at the time thought the situation had gone from active shooter to “barricaded subject,” McCraw said.
The decisive action was taken when a unit of Border Patrol agents arrived on the scene, entered the classroom and killed the shooter.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Friday he wanted a full account of what happened, but added he had no say in whether Arredondo, the school district police chief, was to be fired.
“As far as his employment status is concerned, it is something beyond my control and of which I have no knowledge,” Abbott said on Friday.