Texas school lockdown under review; first public lockdown notice was 12 minutes after shots fired

The first public notice of a lockdown was posted on the school's Facebook page at 11:43 a.m. By that time, the gunman had already opened fire.

  • The sequence of events leading to the lockdown is key to the investigation, an official said.
  • Sequence of events have been changing since last week's attack.
  • 19 children and 2 teachers were killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

While law enforcement's delayed response to the deadly Uvalde school shooting has drawn the most scrutiny, Texas authorities also are reviewing how quickly school officials moved to impose a lockdown of the Robb Elementary School campus.

The first public notice of a lockdown was posted at 11:43 a.m., on the school's Facebook page, about 12 minutes after the Texas Department of Public Safety reported that the 18-year-old gunman was firing on the school outside.

At the time of the Facebook post, according to the DPS timeline, the gunman had already entered the school and opened fire. 

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Chris Olivarez told USA TODAY that the sequence of events leading to the lockdown is key to the overall investigation.

"We have to see when that was," Olivarez said.

A visitor places bracelets on crosses at a memorial as he and others pay their respects to the victims killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

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That effort will require officials to reconcile timelines tracking both law enforcement's actions and the response by school officials to defend the building. The review comes as a fuller picture of the shooting shows worrisome gaps in the response that raised questions over whether lives could have been saved. That includes a window of more than an hour between the initial gunfire and the moment police shot the suspect dead.  

So far, the sequence of events provided by authorities has been changing since last week's attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

On Tuesday, police amended another key detail, saying the teacher who was believed to have propped open a door minutes before the gunman entered the school, had actually closed the door, though it did not lock.

School security analysts said a review of the school's action to impose a lockdown is just as important as the examination of law enforcement's response. Acting on the request of Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, the Justice Department announced Sunday that it would be analyzing law enforcement's action.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin listens to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speak during a press conference in Uvalde, Texas, on May 27.

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It was not immediately clear whether the scope of that review would include the school's lockdown process.

"I think it is very important that we learn from this situation," said Mac Hardy, chief of operations for the National Association of School Resource Officers, which provides training to schools across the country. "I don't think that it is fair to determine what happened based on what we have so far. Let's see what happened; it's not only for those who were lost, but for the future protection of others."

Pete Blair, executive director of Texas State University's Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center who has long studied active shooter incidents, said an examination of the school's response is "absolutely important."

"The first link in the chain is the civilian response," Blair said.

Blair said it is too early to assess the school's effort to harden its defenses given the current timeline. He cautioned that the first lockdown notice posted on Facebook may have come after the school moved to act internally. 

"In a time critical situation, it's more important to notify the people inside the school than to post something publicly on Facebook," Blair said.

Uvalde Superintendent Hal Harrell acknowledged Wednesday that "many questions remain."

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"UCISD has and will continue to work with law enforcement who are investigating the event and realize that many questions remain. Because the investigation is ongoing and information is evolving, we are going to reserve comment until all state and federal agencies have completed their review," Harrell said in a written statement.

 The Uvalde Police Department referred calls to the DPS.

Security protocols are included on the school district's website, including a 21-point document that outlines a threat reporting system: 

"Students, parents, staff, and community members are encouraged to share information with us that is deemed troubling, so that we may take appropriate action," the document states. "This includes information about weapons, threats, fights, drugs, self-harm, suicide or disclosures made that are concerning. Reports may be made online at ucisd.net, by contacting any campus administrator, district administrator or UCISD Police Officers."

There are also general protocols guiding students and teachers during lockdowns, indicating that a "lockdown is called when there is a threat or hazard inside

the school building."

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In those cases, students are urged to "maintain silence" and find a hiding place, while teachers are instructed to lock classroom doors, turn off the lights, move out of sight and, like students, remain quiet.

Michael Dorn, executive director of the global nonprofit school safety center Safe Havens International, said a lockdown should have been called when the gunman was outside of the school shooting into it.

“Even though that teacher might not have been able to hear the gunfire, people in the building should’ve and they should’ve issued a lockdown well before he ever got into that building,” Dorn said.

Olivarez said the state review will attempt to determine how and when the lockdown order was circulated inside the school.

An 11-year-old who survived the Uvalde shooting told CNN that her teacher went to lock the classroom door but the shooter was already there and shot the teacher.

Dorn, who has been involved in addressing 23 mass school shootings, said that people were killed even after doors had been locked in only one of those cases. The rest happen when classroom doors are left open or unlocked.

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Steven McCraw, director and colonel of the Texas Department of Public Safety, speaks with DPS State Troopers near Robb Elementary School on May 30 in Uvalde, Texas.

That includes the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a decade ago, Dorn said. The gunman breached a locked front door but shot inside a classroom where the door was not locked. A teacher was found dead halfway between her desk and her door with the classroom key next to her body, Dorn said.

In the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida, school officials did not issue their “code red” warning of an active shooter until five minutes after the gunman arrived, according to an investigation by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The gunman had already shot multiple people, including a geography teacher holding his classroom door open so kids could get inside.   

Last week in Uvalde, DPS chief Steven McCraw offered a damning account of law enforcement's delayed response, saying that the school district's police chief decided against immediately storming the adjoining classrooms to take out the attacker. McCraw said the chief wrongly believed that the threat to life passed and chose to wait on reinforcements, even as young students made repeated 911 calls pleading for help. 

"With the benefit of hindsight, of course, it was the wrong decision," McCraw said, adding that an investigation would try to determine how many died while 19 officers waited outside the locked classroom doors where the gunman continued shooting. "There is no excuse for that."

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The Justice Department said it is reviewing the police response, as federal authorities did following the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 dead; and the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting in which 49 were killed.

“The goal of the review is to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events," a Justice spokesman said.

Blair said that he expected the federal review to examine all involved in the initial response.

Cars carrying the casket of Irma Linda Garcia and Jose Antonio Garcia arrive at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday. Irma Garcia, a teacher, was killed in last week's elementary school shooting and her husband Joe Garcia died two days later of a heart attack.

"Any good after-action report would cover everything," Blair said.

So far, however, the 11:43 a.m. Facebook posting stands out in the grim timeline.

"Please know at this time Robb Elementary is under a Lockdown Status due to gunshots in the area," the notice stated. "The students and staff are safe in the building. The building is secure in a Lockdown Status. Your cooperation is needed at this time by not visiting the campus. As soon as the Lockdown Status is lifted you will be notified. Thank you for your cooperation!"

The initial Facebook notice was followed by successive warnings, including one at 12:17 p.m., reporting "an active shooter at Robb Elementary."

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"Law enforcement is on site," the message said. "Your cooperation is needed at this time by not visiting the campus. As soon as more information is gathered it will be shared. The rest of the district is under a Secure Status."

About eight minutes before the first public lockdown notice was posted at 11:43 a.m., McCraw said, local Uvalde and school district officers were inside the school as gunfire continued to ring out from inside the classroom. By about 11:51 a.m., McCraw said 19 officers were in an outside hallway about the time when the school district police chief made the decision to not pursue the shooter.

Officers did not breach the doors until 12:50 p.m., McCraw said. 

"There were plenty of officers to do whatever needed to be done," McCraw said.

Hardy, the national school resource officers official, said there also should be no shortage of school officials to call for a lockdown when such an action is warranted.

While it is still unclear, who ordered the Uvalde lock down and when, Hardy said "school security should involve the entire staff."

"Any adult should be able to call for a lockdown," Hardy said. "I'd rather come out of a lockdown that was not needed," than not to have called for one quickly enough when it was necessary.