The gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school entered the building unobstructed, authorities said Thursday.
Contrary to information officials released earlier, the gunman wasn't confronted by a school police officer before he entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, said Victor Escalon, the South Texas regional director for the state Department of Public Safety.
The gunman walked into the west side of the school at 11:40 a.m. Tuesday and started firing. Four minutes later, local and school police followed him inside, Escalon said.
"They hear gunfire, they take rounds, they move back, get cover, and during that time, they approach where the suspect is at," Escalon said.
As soon as the gunman entered, he walked 20 to 30 feet and turned right to walk another 20 feet before he turned left and into a classroom, Escalon said.
“Officers are there, the initial officers, they receive gunfire. They don’t make entry initially because of the gunfire they’re receiving. But we have officers calling for additional resources, everyone that's in the area," Escalon said.
"During this time that they're making those calls to bring in help to solve this problem and stop it immediately, they're also evacuating personnel, when I say students, teachers. There's a lot going on."
The suspect had shot his grandmother and crashed his pickup at 11:28 a.m. before he walked to the school.
"So from the grandmother’s house" to the site of truck crash "to the school, into the school, he was not confronted by anybody," Escalon said.
Escalon added that the gunman fired at two witnesses at a funeral home, but the official couldn’t immediately explain how the gunman wasn’t stopped in the 12 minutes between the crash and campus entry.
"We got a crash and a man with a gun, and then you have responding officers. That's what it is, if that's 12 minutes," he said. “At the end of the day, our job is to report the facts and have those answers. We’re not there yet.”
It appears that the door the gunman used to enter the school was unlocked, Escalon said Thursday.
'Gunfire was in the beginning'
Without setting a firm timeline of events, Escalon appeared to say much of the shooting occurred soon after the gunman entered the school.
"The majority of the gunfire was in the beginning," he said. "During the negotiations, there wasn’t much gunfire other than trying to keep the officers at bay."
The gunman had 15 bullet wounds from shots fired by authorities from multiple agencies, two senior law enforcement officials said Thursday.
The law enforcement team was moving in a "stack" formation, meaning it approached the shooter in a tactical cluster behind a shield, sources said. The team included local and state law enforcement officers and Border Patrol Tactical Unit agents.
Questions have been raised about the time that elapsed between when the shooter crashed his vehicle and he was fatally shot by team of responding law enforcement in the classroom he had barricaded himself in.
State and federal law enforcement officials had said earlier that they didn’t have a timeline yet for the precise sequence of events.
Some, especially witnesses who were at the scene, have accused officers of not acting quickly enough.
Video from outside the school Tuesday appears to show distressed parents and residents reacting to news of the shooting.
A woman is heard yelling: “Get in! Get in! What is the f------ deal?”
“They’re all in there. The cops aren’t doing s--- except standing outside,” a man is heard saying. “You know they’re little kids, right? Little kids, they don’t know how to defend themselves.”
It’s not clear when the video was recorded or whether officers were inside the building at the time.
Questions about police response time
Escalon declined to answer when he was asked whether officers failed to act in a timely manner.
"That’s a tough question. That’s a tough question," he said. “I don’t have enough information to answer that question just yet.”
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a news conference Wednesday that the shooter was at the school for up to an hour before law enforcement officers breached the classroom.
“It’s going to be within, like, 40 minutes, within an hour,” McCraw said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the gunman entered the school through a back door, walked down two short hallways and went into two adjoining classrooms, where he locked the door and sprayed bullets indiscriminately.
Officers from multiple units and agencies — including local police and a Customs and Border Protection tactical team — arrived but couldn’t enter the classroom.
The door to the classroom finally was opened when the principal produced a master key, state and federal law enforcement officials said.
Democratic lawmaker U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, whose district is near Uvalde, cited "conflicting accounts" from witnesses and state officials and asked the FBI to investigate the matter.
In a letter Thursday to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Castro said federal investigators should probe the allegations from distressed parents and how long officers were in adjoining classrooms to the barricaded gunman.
He also said investigators should examine why state officials initially said a school resource officer confronted the shooter outside the school.
"The people of Uvalde, of Texas, and of the nation deserve an accurate account of what transpired," he said in the letter.
Uvalde Justice of the Peace Eulalio Diaz, who acts as the city's coroner and is charged with identifying the victims, said on MSNBC that the bodies of those killed would be back with their families Thursday, "back where they belong."
Diaz, who attended Robb Elementary School and was tasked with identifying one of his high school classmates, added: "This is something that we would have never imagined in a million years."
"It's just going to be pain," he said.
Robb Elementary serves second- through fourth-grade students in the small town of Uvalde, about 75 miles from the Mexico border, which is home to a large Latino community.