Grieving families pay tribute in Texas as questions grow around police response

A memorial of bouquets surrounds a series of simple white crosses that stand under a tree outside the school

Along two of the small roads leading to the Robb Elementary School parents walked their young children to the police lines. Carrying balloons and flowers, they handed them to officers of the sheriff’s department in their black uniforms and beige Stetsons.

A memorial of bouquets surrounds a series of simple white crosses that stand under a tree outside the school. Each of the crosses are engraved with the names of the 19 children and two teachers who died in the mainly single-storey school building behind.

Bringing young children to the shrine that has emerged outside the school, Brenda King set out how she has tried to make them understand the horrors of the last few days in the town of about 16,000 people which is about 80 miles from San Antonio.

She said of the 19 children and two teachers who died: “We keep them in our hearts and pray for the families that are suffering. We tell them [the children that, those that died] they are in a better place. They know God, they go to church.” Irma Garcia was one of the teachers who died trying to protect the children. On Thursday, a local news anchor said Garcia’s husband Joe had died of a heart attack, leaving behind four children.

Former Robb Elementary student Lino Rodriquez left flowers at the police barrier which officers carried across the road to the shrine that has developed under the tree. He told The Irish Times his old classroom was in the same hallway that the shooter went in during the attack on Tuesday. “It is crazy. I went to the school for third and fourth grade. I used to go to this school and we would go outside [close to where the crosses are now standing] for PE and to play games.”

The Robb Elementary School stands about a mile from the main street of Uvalde in a residential area surrounded by single-storey houses. The crossroads outside the school building is now dominated by the main groups that have descended on the town since Tuesday - police, various other law enforcement agencies and the media.

There is a virtual alphabet soup of agencies involved in the investigation: it is being headed by the Texas Rangers, however local police, the FBI, the Customs and Border Patrol and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are also involved. Large white trucks with aerials rising from their roofs run down one of the side roads.

The other part of the road is taken over by the huge US and international media contingent. The main networks have established remote studios with accompanying air-conditioned tents to house their anchors and guests.

At lunchtime on Thursday it was almost exactly two days since a teenage gunman attacked the school and police and law enforcement agencies are coming under pressure amid claims there were delays in trying to stop the teenage gunman from entering the premises. A video had emerged, posted on social media, which appeared to show families waiting outside Robb Elementary School in the immediate aftermath of the attack. They were frustrated at the police response, and some wanted to attempt to enter the building themselves to try rescue their children.

At a press conference in the middle of the crossroads outside the school Victor Escalon jnr, regional director of the Department of Public Safety in south Texas, gave new information. For the first time he said the gunman was “unobstructed” as he entered the school and not, as authorities initially said, confronted by a school police officer. He said the school also appeared to have been unlocked.

Four minutes after the gunman walked into the school, police officers responded. However, Escalon said they did not initially enter the building “because of the gunfire they were receiving”.

“They hear gunfire, they take rounds, they move back, get cover.”

He said at the same time the officers were evacuating students and teachers and requesting reinforcements. An hour later the US Border Patrol tactical teams arrived, entered the school and shot the suspect.