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Uvalde parents question the police's response to the deadly school shooting

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

In Uvalde, Texas, today, the community is beginning to cope with its unimaginable loss - 19 children and two teachers murdered by an armed gunman who entered Robb Elementary School on Tuesday. Outside the school, 21 white crosses have gone up. Each one is painted with the name of one of the victims. All day, mourners have arrived with flowers and stuffed animals and letters of condolence. But even as the community begins to process its grief, some families of the victims are angry. They say the police did not do enough to save their children, and that has forced the police to respond.

Here with more is NPR's Adrian Florido. He joins us from Uvalde. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: Adrian, why do parents and family members feel that the police response to the shooting failed?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, Sacha, we know that this shooter barricaded himself inside the elementary school classroom where he carried out the massacre. And one of the big questions until today was, how long was he in there before police rushed in and killed him? Officials today said that it took about an hour to enter the classroom and shoot this gunman dead. And one of the things we've been hearing from family members of the victims who rushed to the school while the gunman was still inside is that they were begging police to go in and rush the shooter sooner, and they didn't understand why that wasn't happening.

I spoke today with Lucinda Velasquez. She is the great-aunt of two of the children who were injured but not killed in this massacre. And she told me that she rushed to the school when she heard what was happening. Listen to what she said.

LUCINDA VELASQUEZ: I was in the very front. All the cops were just there, all of them just there in the front. And we're just - so we're talking [expletive] to them to hurry up and move and go inside. And then they said, y'all need to leave. Y'all need to leave because they're shooting. Y'all need to go inside and do something. Stop him. How hard it is?

FLORIDO: They didn't do it.

VELASQUEZ: No, they didn't.

FLORIDO: She said that there is this deep and growing feeling in the community here that the police failed, that they waited too long to go in after the shooter. Here's more of what she said.

VELASQUEZ: I live here 45 years, and they haven't done nothing. Look at all these innocent little babies. Did they have to die because they didn't want to go inside?

FLORIDO: So that's a question that's on everyone's mind here, Sacha - is, would more children have lived if the police had acted more quickly?

PFEIFFER: I understand the police held a press conference this afternoon. How did they respond to this criticism?

FLORIDO: Well, Victor Escalon - he's a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety, and he spoke outside the elementary school today. He gave some more details about what the police did when they arrived at the school. And he said that the first officers on the scene were local officers who took fire from the gunman and, because of that, held back. They were yelling at him, apparently, from the hallway outside the classroom but did not try to rush the classroom. It wasn't until an hour later that officers from the U.S. Border Patrol arrived and, along with those local officers already on the scene, were able to rush in and kill the shooter. Here's some of what Escalon said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICTOR ESCALON: Could anybody have gone through sooner? You got to understand it's a small town. You got people from Eagle Pass, from Del Rio, Laredo, San Antonio responding to a small community.

FLORIDO: That's part of the reason, he said, it took a while for reinforcements to show up - the necessary reinforcements to take this gunman out. He was also asked about these claims from families that they were saying that they were trying to get in but were being held back by the police. And he said that he had heard those claims, but he didn't have enough information about that yet.

PFEIFFER: At the press conference, did police provide more details about how the shooter was even able to get into the school?

FLORIDO: They said that he got in through what was apparently an unlocked side door to the school. He drove his grandmother's truck to the scene, crashed, climbed a fence into the parking lot and got into this school through an unlocked door, apparently. He also said that, contrary to what officials said yesterday, the gunman was not confronted by a campus police officer when he first arrived. There was not even an officer present. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ESCALON: From the grandmother's house to the bar ditch to the school into the school, he was not confronted by anybody, to clear the record on that.

FLORIDO: There's been a lot of talk, Sacha, about, you know, the importance of hardening security around schools. There are still many questions about why this door was apparently unlocked and a lot of questions about, you know, what went wrong at this school to allow this gunman access to carry out this massacre.

PFEIFFER: Have you been able to speak with any more members of the community today? And if so, what are you hearing?

FLORIDO: I've spoken with several people, including some high school students from the nearby high school, Uvalde High School, who said that this community is devastated, trying to figure out, you know, how do we process? How do we begin to begin to cope? What - trying to come to terms with the horrific nature of what happened.

I spoke with a student named Kaylyn Sandoval, whose sister was a student - is a student at Robb Elementary School. Here's what she said.

KAYLYN SANDOVAL: I've been thinking about my little sister because she's scared to go to sleep by herself now, and she's scared to even be by herself. We're all just in shock and might take a long time to recover from all of this.

FLORIDO: A friend of hers told me that this town, a small community, will never be the same.

PFEIFFER: I'm sure. That's NPR's Adrian Florido in Uvalde. Adrian, thank you.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Sacha.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPIE SABOTAGE SONG, "OM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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