A pair of Uvalde, Texas, police officers had a brief opportunity to shoot the gunman who targeted Robb Elementary School before he entered the school, but hesitated and ultimately did not fire out of fear they might have accidentally struck schoolchildren, according to a senior sheriff’s deputy who spoke with the New York Times. The missed opportunity, revealed more than three weeks after the attack, is yet another piece of new information to emerge regarding the delayed, chaotic, and much-criticized police response to the shooting that left 19 fourth-graders and two teachers dead.
The revelation also comes as Uvalde officials appear to be actively working to suppress access to information about the police response. On Friday, Vice News reported that an attorney for the City of Uvalde and its police department is attempting to block the release of “embarrassing” public records regarding the attack, including police body-camera footage, photos, 911 calls, and other information. On Saturday, the San Antonio Express-News reported that, according to “a law enforcement source close to the investigation,” surveillance footage showed that after taking fire, police inside the school did not try the classrooms’ doors before officers finally breached the rooms 77 minutes after the gunman entered them — raising questions of whether the door was locked as authorities initially said.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Ricardo Rios, who was one of multiple law-enforcement officers from nearby Zavala County to eventually respond to the scene on May 24, told the Times that two Uvalde officers arrived minutes after the first 911 calls came in regarding the gunman. When they got there, the gunman was still outside the school and firing an AR-15-style assault rifle. They took cover behind their patrol car, but in a split-second decision, decided not to return fire, worrying kids could get caught in the crossfire. One of the officers was himself armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle, and had line of sight on the gunman, Rios said: “I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you shoot? Why didn’t you engage?’ And that’s when he told me about the background. According to the officers, they didn’t engage back because in the background there was kids playing and they were scared of hitting the kids.” Rios also stressed that “I’m not bashing him or anything. I get it,” and that there was also no guarantee that the officer would have been able to hit the moving gunman if he fired.
It was not the only missed opportunity, however fleeting, to stop the gunman before he went on his horrifying rampage inside the school. While multiple investigations into the police response are ongoing, it has already become apparent that several police officers, both from the school district and city police departments, quickly arrived on the scene while the gunman was still firing outside. A school-district police officer, who arrived before the two Uvalde cops, reportedly did not see and then drove past the gunman.
This post has been updated.