Nora Neus, Eric Levenson, Michelle Krupa, & Elzabeth Wolfe, CNN

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While a gunman slaughtered children inside locked adjoining classrooms in a Texas elementary school, a group of 19 law enforcement officers stood in a hallway outside and took no action as they waited for more equipment, a state law enforcement official said Friday.

“The on-scene commander at that time believed that it had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject,” Texas Department of Public Safety Col. Steven McCraw said.

“From the benefit of hindsight where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. There’s no excuse for that.”

The decision explains the lengthy wait between when officers first arrived at the school at 11:44 a.m. and when the gunman was finally shot at 12:50 p.m. The tactical team ultimately entered the locked classroom to confront the gunman using keys from a janitor, he said.

Texas law enforcement officials are facing doubts and sharp questions Friday about their response to the mass shooting at an elementary school, while the traumatized children who were stuck in the school with the gunman explained how they survived.

Nineteen students and two teachers were slaughtered Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde before a federal tactical team killed the gunman, ending the deadliest US school shooting in almost a decade.

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Officials initially praised the law enforcement response and noted that the carnage could have been worse. But in a press conference Thursday, Victor Escalon of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) said there were no officers outside the school to try to stop Salvador Ramos, 18, from entering an unlocked door in the first place, contradicting authorities’ earlier claim Ramos was “engaged” by a school resource officer as he entered.

Escalon also offered a timeline that showed police arrived at the school 16 minutes after the gunman crashed a vehicle in a ditch nearby. He said officers encountered the gunman in the school at 11:44 a.m. — but the suspect remained inside a classroom with children and teachers for about an hour before a tactical team forced their way in and fatally shot him.

The lengthy standoff raises questions as to whether police followed proper protocol, established since the Columbine school shooting of 1999, to end the threat as quickly as possible because fatalities occur in seconds to minutes.

“We deserve to know what happened. These parents deserve to know what happened,” state Sen. Ronald Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, told CNN on Thursday.

“I know there was a failure here,” Gutierrez added, noting he has seen video of law enforcement entering the building and the standoff. “And I feel in this situation, standing back was not the thing to do.”

DPS is set to hold a press conference to give updates at noon ET.

The shooting in Uvalde is the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre and at least the 30th shooting at a K-12 school in 2022. The attack came less than two weeks after a racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, and has left Americans grieving yet again and many renewing calls for gun law reform.

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