Police knew for 77 minutes that more than a dozen students remained alive inside a locked Texas classroom but still stood by as they waited to act before tactical gear would arrive, a new analysis of the shooting revealed on Thursday.
In the days since 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24, investigators have examined law enforcement's immediate response closely as to if police should have attacked the killer sooner.
The confrontation ended when a Border Patrol unit, in tactical gear, finally got into the two connected classrooms and killed the gunman.
A total of 33 children and three teachers originally in those classrooms remained alive during the hour and 17 minutes as police waited for tactical gear to be delivered to the scene, the New York Times reported, citing law enforcement sources, documents, body camera footage and transcripts.
Schools police chief Pete Arredondo is believed to have been the incident commander and has taken the brunt of the criticism for officers not confronting the gunman immediately.
The initial hesitation to go into the classrooms appeared to be based on the desire to get protective shields for officers and to find a key for classroom doors, the Times reported.
Arredondo appeared to know at the time that he'd be blamed for a delayed response.
“People are going to ask why we’re taking so long,” a voice believed to be Arredondo's could be heard saying, according to a transcript of body camera footage. “We’re trying to preserve the rest of the life.”
NBC News was not able to verify material cited by the Times.
A rep for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declined to discuss the specifics of the report, citing federal and state probes that are now underway.
“The investigations being conducted by the Texas Rangers and the FBI are ongoing, and we look forward to the full results being shared with the victims’ families and the public, who deserve the full truth of what happened that tragic day,” Abbott's press secretary Renae Eze said in a statement.
Among the most important questions investigators want to answer is if any of the 21 victims could have been saved with a faster police response, the Times reported, citing an official with knowledge of the probe.
There is no doubt some of the fatally wounded were alive as officers gathered outside the classroom, the Times reported, with one of the teachers dying in an ambulance and three children being pronounced dead at hospitals.
“We think there are some injuries in there,” a voice believed to be Arredondo’s could be heard saying, not long before the Border Patrol unit broke in the classroom, according to a transcript cited by the Times.
“And so you know what we did, we cleared off the rest of the building so we wouldn’t have any more, besides what’s already in there, obviously.”
Transcripts cited by the newspaper showed that Arredondo —at 12:30 p.m. that day, 20 minutes before federal forces breached the locked room — said that he couldn't order a confrontation without a key to the classroom.
“We’re ready to breach, but that door is locked,” he reportedly said.
And at the time, officers at the scene were growing impatient with the ongoing delay.
“If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there,” one officer said, according to documents reviewed by the newspaper.
“Whoever is in charge will determine that," another officer replied.
Arredondo made his first substantive, public comments about the incident to the Texas Tribune in an article published Thursday, casting himself more as a responding police officer than incident commander.
“I didn’t issue any orders,” he told The Tribune. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”
That locked door prevented a fast confrontation, the chief's attorney said.
“It’s not that someone said stand down,” Arredondo’s lawyer, George Hyde, told The Tribune. “It was, ‘Right now, we can’t get in until we get the tools. So we’re going to do what we can do to save lives.’ And what was that? It was to evacuate the students and the parents and the teachers out of the rooms.”