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Parents in Uvalde left with agonizing what ifs about police response

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The latest news out of Uvalde leaves parents with an agonizing question - would their children still be alive if police hadn't waited so long before confronting the gunman? One parent says they need the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED PARENT: It needs to come out because all those babies didn't have to die.

SIMON: Yesterday, the director of Texas's Department of Public Safety revealed that officers waited roughly an hour before they entered the classroom. Children inside repeatedly called 911 to ask for help. NPR's Pien Huang is in Uvalde. Pien, thanks for being with us.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What is the clearer picture we're getting of the timeline of events and what happened during the shooting?

HUANG: Yeah, there's a new official timeline. The Department of Public Safety, or DPS, shared it yesterday at a street corner packed with reporters outside the Robb Elementary School. And it paints a very different picture from what authorities first said. Initially, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called it a quick response that saved children's lives. Now, DPS says 19 officers waited in the hallway for roughly an hour before entering the classroom. Steven McCraw from DPS says that decision was made by the incident manager, who's also the school police chief. This is how McCraw describes that decision now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVEN MCCRAW: From the benefit of hindsight where I'm sitting now, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision, period. There's no excuse for that.

HUANG: All told, it took around an hour and 20 minutes from when the gunman entered the school to when officers killed him. And during that time, children in the classroom repeatedly called 911, begging the police to come in, giving updates on how many of their classmates had died. Ultimately, officers opened the classroom door with the key from the janitor and killed the shooter.

SIMON: Governor Abbott of Texas was in Uvalde yesterday, and what did he have to say about this?

HUANG: Yeah, the governor canceled his trip to Houston for the National Rifle Association convention. He spoke with them by video instead. And he came in person to Uvalde. While he had first praised the officers for their quick response, he now says he was, quote, unquote, "misled."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: I am livid about what happened. As everybody has learned, the information that I was given turned out, in part, to be inaccurate.

HUANG: Now, the governor offered resources. He talked about money for funeral costs, a fund for victims, and he pushed back against background checks for gun owners and focused again on mental health, which health experts say is not the only problem when it comes to gun violence. Abbott was interrupted by state Senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat representing Uvalde. Outside the venue, Gutierrez said that the governor should consider gun restrictions like raising the age limit for buying the type of gun the shooter used.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROLAND GUTIERREZ: If you wanted to show any fortitude whatsoever, change the age to 21, 24. You pick it. Do something, man.

SIMON: What do you hear, Pien, from people in the community?

HUANG: This is a community that's still in shock. People are heartbroken. They're grieving. Some are angry. Monique Rodriguez (ph) was one of the parents that was outside the school during the shooting, pleading with cops to enter the classroom.

MONIQUE RODRIGUEZ: They were already there on the scene, and they could have prevented that. They could have prevented that, and they didn't because they were too cowardly to do their job.

HUANG: Her child survived. I also talked with Eduardo de la Rosa (ph), who was at the local strip's gas station. He also thought law enforcement should have gone in sooner.

EDUARDO DE LA ROSA: It was a bad decision in Uvalde County, and it's a dark day in Uvalde County.

HUANG: De La Rosa says the whole community is hurting right now, and many here are looking to politicians to make changes so that it's harder for some people to buy guns.

SIMON: NPR's Pien Huang in Uvalde, Texas. Thank you.

HUANG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.