Changing stories on Texas shooting: What Abbott, DPS said over 3 different press conferences

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The disclosure Friday that police in Texas stood by for more than 40 minutes while a gunman continued shooting in a Uvalde schoolroom came after two days of inaccurate and incomplete statements from the governor and the state's top law officer.

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, acknowledged during a news conference that commanders at Robb School chose not to storm the classroom even as the shooter continued firing, and as students were on the phone with 911 operators pleading for police protection.

The gut-wrenching revelation came three days after 19 students and two teachers were gunned down, and at least 17 were wounded.

In the days between, McCraw, Gov. Greg Abbott and other officials offered a very different narrative.

Among them: McCraw and Abbott repeatedly claimed the teenage rifleman was confronted by a school police officer before entering the classroom, and violence began with an exchange of gunfire between the two.

WEDNESDAY: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference on Wednesday after the shooting at Robb Elementary School.
WEDNESDAY: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference on Wednesday after the shooting at Robb Elementary School.

McCraw initially said that after the gunman crashed a truck next to the Robb School campus, the officer went to investigate and saw the 18-year-old with a rifle. "So he followed him right in immediately when rounds were exchanged."

That depiction was Wednesday. Within 24 hours, another top lawman announced that the account was wrong: There was no initial shootout. No school police officer even engaged the gunman, who simply walked in.

“It was first reported that a school district police officer confronted the suspect as he was making entry. Not accurate," said Victor Escalon, regional director for the Department of Public Safety. The shooter "walked in unobstructed initially.”

THURSDAY: Victor Escalon, regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety, speaks at press during a news conference outside  Robb Elementary School.
THURSDAY: Victor Escalon, regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety, speaks at press during a news conference outside Robb Elementary School.

After any deadly event, facts can be tricky. Perceptions get distorted and rumors fly in what's euphemistically referred to as the fog of war.

The complete reversal of a key narrative fact was far from the only one.

As the gunman massacred students and teachers, with at least 19 officers outside the doors and dozens more bivouacked outside, parents pleaded with police to do something. According to published accounts, at least one of those parents was handcuffed and another was pepper-sprayed and taken to the ground. Some of the interactions were captured in videos posted online.

Yet Gov. Greg Abbott and DPS Director Steve McCraw made no mention of those events during their initial news conference. Instead, they stressed the "quick response" of brave police officers who saved many children's lives. Abbott himself suggested the narrative might shift when he spoke Wednesday, flanked by a range of top Texas officials. "Let me tell you the best information we have at this time," he said. "Ongoing investigations often reveal new information as those investigations progress."

The information released over the next three days would indeed be new. In many ways, they would also directly contradict the officials' own account, compounding a tragedy.

More: An open door, missed opportunity, 'wrong decision': List of what went wrong in Texas school massacre grows

FRIDAY: Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw arrives to give a press conference in front of Robb Elementary School.
FRIDAY: Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw arrives to give a press conference in front of Robb Elementary School.

Speaking again Friday afternoon, Abbott said that he was "misled" and "livid" and that he had repeated the details he had been told Wednesday. He did not identify the officials who provided the information.

The following reflects what Texas officials had divulged before Friday's revelation that officers did not storm the classroom because an incident commander believed the gunman had finished killing students and there was, as McCraw put it Friday, "no risk to other children."

The speed of the response

Abbott, on Wednesday:

"The reality is, as horrible as what happened was, it could have been worse. The reason it wasn't worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives. And it is a fact that because of their quick response ... they were able to save lives. Unfortunately, not enough."

There is little question some law officers acted heroically and risked their lives. Several were shot. Investigators say a Border Patrol agent who finally killed the shooter was injured in an exchange of fire. Two Uvalde police officers reportedly were wounded earlier. None of those officers have been publicly identified.

It's also important to recognize that, in dealing with a barricaded suspect – especially one who already has shot at officers – police are trained to avoid reckless assaults that may only increase the number of victims. But they are also taught to immediately take on an active shooter.

Less than 24 hours after Abbott's depiction of events, others challenged official claims of a "quick response."

In interviews with The Associated Press, witnesses said women outside the school pleaded with assembled officers to take action, screaming: "Go in there! Go in there!"

Javier Cazares, who lost his daughter in the attack, told the wire service he found police gathered outside the school while angry mothers and fathers talked of going after the gunman themselves. “'Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,'” Cazares said. “More could have been done.”

A video posted on Twitter shows parents outside the school, decrying the inaction by police. "Oh, my God. ... Our kids are in there, man," cried an unidentified woman. "My son's in there."

Parents wept and screamed. As some moved forward, apparently to storm the school, a uniformed officer turned them away. "So much manpower, and you're still not doing anything," shouted a woman. "You want the parents to go in there? I'm ready."

At the news briefing Wednesday, DPS chief McCraw alluded to a delay but did not acknowledge any objections from bystanders.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference at Uvalde High School on May 25, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. On May 24, 21 people were killed, including 19 children, during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference at Uvalde High School on May 25, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. On May 24, 21 people were killed, including 19 children, during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.

McCraw, on Wednesday: 

"It is going to be within 40 minutes or so. I don't want to give you a particular timeline. Law enforcement was there and engaged immediately. They contained him in the classroom, and put the tactical stack together in a very orderly way and breached."

While police must exercise prudence during an assault to avoid more casualties, the notion that a killer was "contained" in the classroom full of children would be troubling to other parents whose objections soon emerged.

By Thursday, questions about police delays, and officers preventing parents from helping their children, had become clear. Escalon was asked whether parents had implored officers to lend them body armor so they could go after the suspect themselves.

Escalon, on Thursday:

"Is that a true statement ... or is it just a rumor out there?"

The first confrontation

Abbot first officially laid out the details about Salvador Ramos, who officials say shot his grandmother in the face, took her truck and ended up at the school.

Abbott, on Wednesday:

"The first thing that happened was the gunman shot his grandmother in the face.

"She then contacted police.

"The gunman fled. As he was fleeing, he had an accident just outside of the elementary school and ran into the school.

"Officers with the school district engaged with the gunman at that time."

Abbott disclosed a sequence without specifics. It was unclear when the grandmother was shot and when she called 911. It also remained unclear how or why the gunman crashed his truck in a culvert by the school.

But more notable was the account of the school officer "engaging" the gunman. After Abbott spoke, McCraw elaborated, starting by describing the gunman shooting his grandmother.

McCraw, on Wednesday:

"The subject ... used her vehicle, he was living at their residence since March of 2022, to drive approximately .29 miles, about a block and a half away from the school. He crashed the vehicle, exited with a backpack. He took a rifle with him ....

"He went towards the west side of the campus, which is a back door. As he was approaching, there was a school district resource officer that approached him, engaged him. Gunfire was not engaged, but the subject was able to make it into the school."

Asked again about that incident, McCraw said the officer:

"... heard the accident, was trying to check on that particular crash when he saw it. So he followed him right in immediately, when rounds were exchanged."

But by Wednesday, in the follow-up news conference, the shooter was not "engaged" in a gunfight with a school resource officer. Indeed, he said, no officer was even there.

Escalon, on Thursday: 

"One more thing I forgot to mention that I want to clear up that came out early on: It was reported that a school district police officer confronted the suspect that was making  entry. Not accurate. He walked in unobstructed initially. ... He was not confronted by anybody. To clear the record on that."

Asked again, he reiterated:

"No. No. There was not an officer readily available, armed. No."

Taking down the gunman

Abbott, on Wednesday: 

"The gunman then entered a back door and went down two short hallways and into a classroom on the left-hand side. The gunman entered into the room, and the room was connected internally to another classroom.

"Border patrol, Consolidated (school district) ISD officers, police, sheriffs, and DPS officers converged on the classroom. And a border patrol officer killed the gunman."

Abbott did not provide a time frame. The DPS chief offered more details.

McCraw, on Wednesday:

"When the shooting began, we had police officers arrive on scene, along with the independent school district officers. Because we know (for) an officer, every second is a life. They engaged the active shooter and continued to keep him pinned down in that location, until a tactical team can be put together comprised of border patrol agents, members of their support tac unit, and county deputies and two Uvalde police officers. They breached, went in, engaged Ramos, and killed him at the scene."

In one video circulated online, an unidentified man pleaded with them to act: "They're little kids. ... Six-year-olds. They don't know how to defend themselves from a shooter."

McCraw, on Wednesday:

"In professional law enforcement, and it is a profession, what it looks like and how we measure ourselves is the absence of crime and disorder. In this situation, we failed in the sense we did not prevent this massive attack, but those officers that arrived on the scene and put their lives in danger, they saved other kids, they kept him pinned down."

On Thursday, Escalon stressed that officers could not immediately take on the shooter because they were awaiting resources.

Escalon, on Thursday:

"Tactical teams. We need equipment. We need specialty equipment. We need body armor. We need precision riflemen, negotiators. So during that time that they're making those calls to bring in help."

Escalon described a scenario in which most of the shooting occurred shortly after the assailant entered the classroom. He also introduced the idea of "negotiations."

Escalon, on Thursday:

"During the negotiations, there wasn't much gunfire other than trying to keep the officers at bay. But that could change depending on as we analyze the video. But, right now, according to the information, he did not respond."

No official had indicated there were negotiations with the shooter, and it is unclear what Escalon meant in adding that the shooter "did not respond."

More: 'Most dangerous call' in law enforcement – enter, or call for backup? 

About the gunman's mental health

Nearly half of Abbott's opening statement Wednesday focused on mental health as an explanation for the massacre. Abbott said he asked top local officials a question –  "What is the problem here?" – and all of them declared that Uvalde suffers from a lack of support for mental disorders.

Yet Abbott also said the gunman had no history of mental health problems.

Abbott, on Wednesday: 

"The gunman was 18 years old and reportedly a high school dropout. Reportedly, there has been no criminal history identified get. He may have had a juvenile record, but that is yet to be determined. There was no known mental health history of the gunman."

By Thursday night, the record remained unclear.

U.S. Rep Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, sent a letter to the FBI requesting an inquiry. "State officials have provided conflicting accounts that are at odds with those provided by witnesses" he wrote, saying "a block of time between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. local time has yet to be fully accounted for."

Though questions remained Friday, McCraw had fully reframed the law enforcement response. "From the benefit of hindsight, where I'm sitting now," he said, "of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision, period."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Changing narratives: How Abbott, DPS described Uvalde school shooting

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