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Eyewitness recalls Uvalde shooting, says sleepless nights have become the norm

“I just heard a lot of shooting, a lot of rounds, a lot of screaming,” one witness said, speaking publicly for the first time since the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School.
Mass Shooting At Elementary School In Uvalde, Texas Leaves At Least 21 Dead
A makeshift memorial of flowers and signs outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Friday.Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

UVALDE, Texas — Her nights are now long and filled with anguish, the sounds of gunshots and the thought of innocent children screaming echoing inside the single-story home where she’s lived for decades. 

Not even nighttime medicine can help the Uvalde resident sleep.

“I don’t know what day it is,” she said, a reference to how the past week has taken such an emotional toll on her. 

The woman, who lives across the street from Robb Elementary School, spoke to NBC News under the condition of anonymity after being instructed by federal investigators not to publicly disclose details of the shooting.

This is the first time she is publicly sharing what she witnessed on May 24 when Salvador Ramos, 18, crashed his grandmother’s car outside the school and stormed inside, unloading more than 100 rounds of ammunition and killing 19 children and two teachers. At least 17 others were wounded.

Since then, witnesses have replayed the events they watched unfold over and over again, unable to shake the painful memories and questioning why the law enforcement response appeared to be unorganized.

"I saw those officers with long rifles running around outside," the witness said. "To me, it took forever."

Law enforcement officials are scrutinizing the police response to last week’s shooting after it became known police waited for backup to enter the building.

The Department of Justice announced Sunday it will conduct a critical incident review requested by Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin after local police admitted a string of failures.

On Friday, Steve McCraw, director of the state’s Department of Public Safety, said Uvalde police made the “wrong decision” by waiting to confront Ramos, and several parents have slammed the officers’ hesitancy to engage the shooter. 

The witness and her husband said they welcome a review.

“This never should have happened,” the husband said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “The police should have been in there a lot quicker. That’s their job.”

Another neighbor, who was also an eyewitness to the shooting, feels the same.

“Some of those officers should have barged in,” said Zinna Aguilera, who lives across the street from the school. "The whole bottom line, why these certain individuals got hired, was for them to protect our darn school,” she said. “Where the hell were they?"

Many officers had high-powered weapons and protection, and they could have gone in, Aguilera said, adding some of the officers should be fired.

Law enforcement personnel stand outside Robb Elementary School
Law enforcement personnel outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, after a mass shooting on May 24.Dario Lopez-Mills / AP

Just minutes before the shooter entered Robb Elementary, the witness who asked for her name not to be printed said that she was in the midst of one of her favorite morning rituals — feeding her chickens.

She heard a loud noise and saw a truck crash into a nearby drainage ditch. She also saw someone she believed to be a teacher across the street look up at the sound of the crash. Believing it was some kind of car chase, she ran inside her home to grab her phone to call her husband.

Car chases are not uncommon in the area, both the witness and her husband said. They usually involve border patrol and people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Those incidents often draw a robust response from law enforcement officials, including helicopters, but this was different, they said. 

The witness did not hear sirens. She did not see the police for several minutes. Instead, she looked through her window and saw two people from the neighboring funeral home run from gunfire that appeared to come from the direction of the truck.

Afraid she could be the shooter’s next target, the witness locked her front door and hid inside her home. She was safe but the area remained strangely quiet. 

“I didn’t hear any sirens,” she said. “And then I hear more shots.” About five minutes passed before school police arrived, she added.

According to officials, the gunman shot his grandmother in the face earlier that day, stole her car and drove it a few blocks to the elementary school. He crashed the truck, shot at two people who had come outside the funeral home and then walked into the school through a door that reportedly had been propped open by a school employee. 

“I just heard a lot of shooting, a lot of rounds, a lot of screaming,” she said, at times pausing to take deep breaths and clutch her hands over her heart.

A week later, heartbreak and grief lingers. Strangers continue to stop by her home to offer prayers and support. She is considering therapy, an idea her husband supports.

Every morning when they wake up and see the school across the street, surrounded by police tape and memorials, they are haunted by the grim memory of what happened there.

The couple now wants the school torn down.

“We’re trying to get back to where we were, but we’ll always have in our minds, every morning when we get up, we go look at the school,” said the witness’s husband, who added that he wants to see the school torn down. “That’s the hardest part — living with that.”