As the deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary School unfolded in Uvalde, Texas, last week, a would-be negotiator was frantically trying to reach the gunman via cellphone from a funeral home across the street, the city's mayor has said.
Speaking in an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said he rushed to the Hillcrest Funeral Home after receiving the “first call” that the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, had crashed his pickup truck nearby.
When he arrived, McLaughlin, a Republican, said he came across an official he identified as "the negotiator."
“His main goal was to try to get this person on the phone,” he said in the interview, which was also conducted by Telemundo San Antonio. "They tried every number they could find," he said. But the shooter never answered the phone.
The frenzied effort unfolded as parents gathered outside the school, urging officers to go inside. In the end, police waited around an hour for backup before attempting to take down the shooter.
Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the massacre, with funerals being held this week for some of the victims.
McLaughlin said he did not believe the negotiator knew there were children calling 911 and asking police to rescue them at the same time. The mayor said he also was not aware that those 911 calls were being made and had not heard shots being fired from inside the school.
Local authorities 'have not lied to anyone'
The Uvalde mayor did not appear to offer many other details on the police response to the mass shooting, which is under investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety and which has faced growing scrutiny, with inconsistencies emerging in police accounts over what happened that day.
McLaughlin appeared to blame those inconsistencies on the public safety department itself, maintaining that local authorities "have not lied to anyone."
“The briefing that the governor and the lieutenant governor and everybody else in that room [had] ... was given by the (Department of Public Safety), not local law enforcement,” he said.
“They’ve had three press conferences,” he said. “In all three press conferences, something has changed.”
'I hope we tear it to the ground'
The mayor said he had not been in touch with Pete Arredondo, the head of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police, who led the response to the shooting and has faced growing criticism over the decision to wait to confront the gunman.
Speaking at a news conference Friday, Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said waiting to take the shooter down "was the wrong decision."
Eventually, federal agents disobeyed Arredondo’s orders, entering the school and fatally shooting the gunman. McLaughlin said he had been told that at least one officer from the Uvalde Police Department and one from the school system's police force had been part of the group that took down the shooter. NBC News was not immediately able to verify whether that was the case.
In the wake of the tragedy, McLaughlin said he hoped Robb Elementary School would be razed to the ground as the local community looks to rebuild.
“I hope we tear it down to the ground,” he said. “I would never expect a teacher, a student, anyone to go walk back in that building.”