The gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school was inside the premises of the school for up to an hour before he was killed by police, according to a report.
Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old shooter, had “encountered” a school resource officer and dropped a black bag with ammunition inside and entered the school, Sgt Erick Estrada of the Texas Department of Public Safety told CNN.
The Associated Press said Ramos possibly exchanged fire with the officer, but could not verify if it happened.
Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw told the news channel that the gunman was killed roughly an hour after he reached the premises.
“It’s going to be within, like 40 minutes or something, (within) an hour,” he said.
This comes as witnesses told the Associated Press that they had urged police officers to charge into the Robb Elementary school as the carnage unfolded.
Criticism has been directed at law enforcement officials, accused of a lack of swift action as the shooting continued. Police have denied acting late or any “hesitation”.
Ramos had reportedly crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a nearby funeral home who ran away uninjured, said 24-year-old witness Juan Carranza.
“Go in there! Go in there!” nearby women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, he said, adding that the officers did not go in.
Ramos was in a standoff with the officers for about half an hour after firing on the students and teachers, representative Tony Gonzales, whose district includes Uvalde, told CNN.
He said there was a 30-minute lull in activity when the law enforcement officers felt the shooter had barricaded himself.
“And then (the shooting) stops, and he barricades himself in. That’s where there’s kind of a lull in the action,” Mr Gonzales said. “All of it, I understand, lasted about an hour, but this is where there’s kind of a 30-minute lull. They feel as if they’ve got him barricaded in. The rest of the students in the school are now leaving.”
Ramos “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom”, Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety stated.
“It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”
He said the barricading led to a disadvantage to officers and admitted there was not sufficient deployment.
“There was not sufficient manpower at that time, and their primary focus was to preserve any further loss of life,” he told CNN. “They started breaking windows around the school and trying to rescue, evacuate children and teachers while that was going on.”
Raul Ortiz, chief of the US Border Patrol, said the organisation’s agents reached the scene after police had already engaged the suspect at the school. He said members of the Border Patrol tactical team and other joint teams of local officers went after the gunman.
“They didn’t hesitate. They came up with a plan. They entered that classroom and they took care of the situation as quickly as they possibly could,” he said.
Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. It has been reported that it was a Border Patrol agent who eventually shot and killed Ramos.
Additional reporting by agencies