Almost a week after the horrific massacre of 19 elementary school students and two fourth-grade teachers devastated the small town of Uvalde in Texas, there are still many unanswered questions about how the gunman entered the building and how law enforcement responded to the situation.
For days after the shooting, conflicting narratives and inaccurate claims from law enforcement officials led to confusion and anger across the Uvalde community, and the nation, and in particular, the families of those who died.
Then on Friday, the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is leading the investigation into the shooting, held a chaotic press conference and admitted to significant wrongdoing by police.
The press conference revealed that 19 officers were waiting in the corridor outside the classrooms where the gunman had locked himself inside with dozens of fourth-grade children and their teachers. It also revealed that at least 10 calls were placed to 911 operators from inside the classroom over a 40-minute period while the officers waited in the hallway.
But for all the new information provided by Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, during the press conference, many more questions remain to be answered about the ease with which the shooter gained access to the school and the police’s delayed efforts to confront the shooter.
Here are five questions that remain unanswered:
What informed the police chief’s decision to downgrade the situation to a “barricaded suspect” situation?
With more than a dozen officers standing just feet from where a gunman armed with a high-powered assault rifle had locked himself into a classroom with dozens of children, Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, took the decision to downgrade the threat level from an “active shooter situation” to a “barricaded subject.”
This revelation came three days after the shooting, not from Arredondo himself, but from McCraw, who couldn’t say why Arredondo wasn’t at the press conference.
“The belief was there may not be anybody living anymore,” McCraw said, admitting it was “the wrong decision.”
Arredondo appears to have made the decision based on the fact the gunman fired hundreds of rounds inside the classroom within minutes of entering it. But there was no way the police could have known how many children were killed during those moments or how many were still alive.
Who knew about the 911 calls?
One of the keys to answering the previous question is understanding whether Arrendondo knew about the flurry of 911 calls that came from inside classrooms 111 and 112 over the course of 40 minutes.
One student who called 911 multiple times told the operators at 12:16 p.m. that there were eight or nine people still alive in the classroom, according to an outline of the calls given by McCraw.
While McCraw didn’t give a specific time for when Arrendondo downgraded the threat level, it seems it was made before these 911 calls came in.
The key question is whether he was made aware of the calls as they happened, and if he was, why then didn’t he escalate the threat level once again, given he would have known there were children alive inside the classroom?
When did the children die?
Another key aspect of Arredondo’s decision-making is knowing when the 19 children died.
The gunman entered the classroom, according to McCraw’s timeline, at 11:33 a.m. Half an hour later, the first 911 call came from inside the classroom, and 48 minutes after that, the shooter was finally killed by Border Patrol agents who entered the classroom.
McCraw said that “hundreds of rounds” were fired in the first four minutes after the shooter entered the classroom. He said that after that there was some sporadic gunfire which he claimed was aimed at the door. Some of that gunfire could be heard on one of the 911 calls made at 12:21.
When asked how many of the children died between the time of the first 911 call and when the shooter was finally killed, McCraw said, “I don't have that answer. We're looking at it right now.”
Why wasn't the school district police officer at Robb Elementary last Tuesday?
Initial reports based on interviews with law enforcement officials suggested the shooter was confronted at the school by an officer from the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police department.
But that was not true. The officer in question was not at the school at the time of the shooting.
“The bottom line is that officer was not on the scene, not on campus, but had heard the 911 call with a man with a gun [and] drove immediately to the area, sped to what he thought was the man with a gun to the back of the school, what turned out to be a teacher and not the suspect,” McCraw said during Friday’s press conference.
What is not clear, however, is whether the officer should have been at the school. and if so, why he was absent.
Why did a teacher prop open the back door?
McCraw revealed on Friday that a teacher at the school had “propped open” the back door just a minute before the shooter crashed his vehicle. A teacher who called 911 after seeing the vehicle crashing and the shooter open fire on two men outside a funeral home across the street from the school walked to the same door while making the call and “propped it open again.”
“It wasn't supposed to be propped up; [it] was supposed to be locked,” McCraw said. “So that was an access point that the subject used.”
It is unclear why the door was initially opened or why another teacher didn’t close it after the shooter initially opened fire outside the school, given that five minutes elapsed between the time the shooter crashed his vehicle and entered the school building.