The central story of what happened at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, hasn’t really shifted: A single 18-year-old gunman entered the building on the morning of Tuesday, May 24. He then proceeded to kill 19 students and two teachers. But any detail beyond that most simple description of events runs headlong into “facts” that seem to have shifted multiple times since this mass shooting took place.
Just before the shooting began, the gunman crashed a pickup truck belonging to his grandmother into a ditch near the school. At first, reports had the gunman climbing out of the trick, exchanging gunfire with a school police officer, and entering the school through a side door. Then it was that the gunman approached a back door, and was engaged by a school safety officer, but no shots were exchanged. Then there was no safety officer and the gunman entered through a door propped open by a teacher. Then the door was not propped open at all. The time between the crash and the gunman entering the classroom was 12 minutes. Or it was less than 5 minutes. Police came in response to reports of the crash. Or police came because of calls from the shooter’s grandmother. Or police came because of reports of shots fired.
All of that comes before the point that over a dozen police officers stood in the hallway outside a fourth-grade classroom and listened to gunshots and frantic 911 calls from the children dying behind that door.
At this point, it seems possible to work out a somewhat more accurate timeline of what happened. The gunman crashed his truck, emerged, and waved his rifle at some onlookers who had approached the truck. He started walking toward the school, directing some bursts of gunfire toward observers around a nearby funeral home. Hearing that gunfire, a teacher knocked out a rock that had been propping open the school’s back door. But the door didn’t lock, and after climbing the fence, the shooter opened it and stepped inside. Five minutes is probably pretty close to right.
By now, we also know more about what came next. About how three police arrived just moments later, how two of them were reportedly “grazed” by shots from inside the classroom, and how an astounding number of police quickly gathered in the hallway, separated from the shooter by a single wooden door.
But there’s another set of facts that don’t change.
It was sunny and warm on Tuesday morning in Uvalde—so warm that someone did prop open that hallway door to give the people inside the overheated school a little bit of air. The calendar might not yet say summer, but for the kids in the classrooms taught by Ms. Mireles and Ms. Garcia, it was painfully close. There were only two full days of school remaining before Thursday brought a short day of ceremonies, certificates, and farewells. The tests were over. The grades were recorded. The teachers put on a video of the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch while they packed away materials in their classrooms. Like the kids, they were just counting the hours until this school year was in the rearview.
Already that morning, honor-roll students had been recognized, including Maite Rodriguez, who had dreams of being a marine biologist—dreams that her family encouraged. Her father drove her to school that morning, telling her how proud he was about Maite’s grades. She was that girl in the birthday picture with the shirt announcing she was finally “out of single digits.” She had big dreams.
It was going to be a good summer for Maite Rodriguez.
Jacklyn Cazares was one of the younger students in the class, still nine and still small. But she had a lot of friends in the room, including her cousin Annabelle Rodriguez. They were a chatty bunch, Jacklyn, Annabelle, and their friends. They were probably talking during this movie they had all seen a dozen times before, in that warm classroom, at the tail end of fourth grade. Talking about all the things they were going to do and see over the coming months. Talking about what would happen next year when they would go to a whole new school.
It was going to be a good summer for Jacklyn and Annabelle. A good summer for them all.
Because they were ten, and summers were endless, and school was over, and there was an infinity of baseball fields, and swimming pools, and summer movies, and summer songs, and summer friends. Summer was there, right outside the window, waiting for them.
Nineteen of them never left that room.
Neither did teacher Irma Garcia, 48, or teacher Eva Mireles, 44. According to other teachers, those two stepped in front of teachers and students to protect them when the gunman came in. Some of those kids are getting their summer because of Ms. Garcia and Ms. Mireles’ sacrifices. Though even for the kids who survived, this is a summer unlike any they ever imagined.
The story of what happened in the hour-and-a-half between that truck crashing outside the school and the declaration that the shooter was down is still being revised. Some of that is just confusion. Some of it is shame that the people who were paid to protect those kids stood outside a wooden door and listened as they died. Some of it is fear. Because right now, it certainly looks like there should be consequences for police inaction.
There has been some speculation that the 911 calls from kids inside the classroom never reached the officers outside that door. Maybe that’s true, though if so, it would represent an extraordinary failure.
But one of those 911 calls certainly reached police, because it came from one of the teachers, Eva Mireles, who was dying on one side of that door, to her husband Ruben Ruiz, who was on the other. Ruiz is a police officer. In fact, he’s the school safety officer who early reports falsely claimed had “engaged” the shooter before he entered the school.
What Mireles and her husband said from opposite sides of that door between life and death hasn’t been revealed. But the simple fact that she made this call, and that it came after the door was closed and Ruiz was present, destroys any idea that the police were unaware that there were survivors inside the classroom. One child in the classroom called 911 at least three times during the ordeal, and every time was told to wait … while officers were right on the other side of the door.
We don’t know why the police didn’t open that door. Though the contents of that phone call to Ruiz might certainly cast some light on what was being said and thought.
Beyond the evident police inaction, for many of us it’s impossible to comprehend the perversity that makes easy access to firearms more important than the lives of those kids. How anyone could love murder machines more than children. How hard they are fighting, not to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, but to make sure that it does.
Maite Rodriguez might have figured out how to get microplastics out of the ocean. Jacklyn Cazares might have run for governor. Any one of the kids in that classroom could have cured cancer, or been the first Latina president, or put the first bootprint on Mars. They didn’t get that.
They didn’t even get summer.