UVALDE, Texas — In the final moments of her life, Eva Mireles, a teacher at Robb Elementary School, was on the phone with her husband, Ruben Ruiz, a school district police officer, the senior county official said Wednesday.
They spoke for the last time from opposite sides of the school walls: She was with her fourth-grade students in a pair of adjoining classrooms taken over by a gunman; he was outside the school, amid the fast-growing throng of armed officers who rushed to the scene.
“She’s in the classroom and he’s outside. It’s terrifying,” the Uvalde County judge, Bill Mitchell, said Wednesday after being briefed by sheriff’s deputies who were at the shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead.
The call was among several new details that have added to — and, in some cases, significantly altered — the shifting portrait of the shooting in Uvalde that has been offered by top officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott and the head of the state police, Steven McCraw.
The gunman’s grandmother, whom he shot in the face at home minutes before bursting into the school, had been employed at the elementary school in years past, a top teachers’ union official said. The two officers who first approached the classrooms and were struck by bullets that were fired through the locked door were senior members of the Uvalde Police Department, a lieutenant and a sergeant, officials said.
And a door to the school, through which the gunman, Salvador Ramos, entered, had been closed, but not locked as it should have been — a crucial amendment to the official narrative outlined to reporters, grieving Uvalde families and viewers of broadcasts carried live around the nation from the usually quiet ranching city about 80 miles west of San Antonio.
The latest detail about the teacher’s phone call to her husband is potentially an important one — suggesting that at least one of the officers arriving at the scene had information from inside the classrooms that could have informed the decision by police to delay entry. A question remained as to whether 911 calls from children inside the classrooms, starting 30 minutes after the gunman arrived, were communicated to the commander at the scene.
Several times since last week, information presented by officials as fact in news conferences has later been changed or entirely retracted, further rattling an already stricken community and undermining the faith of many Texans in the official narrative of what happened, even among law enforcement officials and those who represent them.
The situation prompted Don McLaughlin, the mayor of Uvalde and a staunch conservative, to request a Justice Department investigation over the weekend, and led a statewide law enforcement union to issue a statement supporting that inquiry, in part, because “sources that Texans once saw as ironclad and completely reliable have now been proven false.”
The reference was to the governor and the head of the state police, according to a spokesperson for the union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
McCraw’s agency, the Texas Department of Public Safety, oversees both the state police and the Texas Rangers, and it had been leading the investigation into the shooting and the response by the police until the Justice Department stepped in with its own review.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the state police, Travis Considine, referred questions to the local district attorney’s office and said that going forward the department would not be providing updates on the investigation. The district attorney, Christina Busbee, did not respond to requests for an interview.
State police officials have been forced to amend portions of their timeline of events several times, including last week when it became clear that a school district police officer had not confronted the gunman before he entered the school. They did so again Tuesday, when the department said that the gunman did not enter through a door that was being propped open. Instead, the closed door had not been locked.
“After examining video evidence we were able to conclude that after propping the door open with a rock, the teacher ran back inside when she saw the shooter, and removed the rock and the door shut,” Considine said. “Investigators are now looking at why the door did not lock properly when it was shut.”
The Justice Department announced its investigation Sunday and has said that the inquiry would result in its own report on what took place at Robb Elementary School.
The superintendent of Uvalde schools said Wednesday that students and teachers would not be returning to the elementary school in the fall. And Abbott directed the state to begin a review of security at all Texas schools before the coming academic year.
Mireles, a teacher of 17 years and an avid hiker who took pride in teaching at a mostly Hispanic school, was shot and killed trying to protect her students, according to her aunt Lydia Martinez Delgado.
Her husband, Ruiz, who had rushed to the scene, was prevented by other police officers from going inside. “He could not go into the classroom where all the shooting victims were at,” Martinez Delgado said last week.
Ruiz declined a request for an interview.
It was not clear when the two spoke or for how long during the 78 minutes that elapsed between the first calls that came in to 911 of a gunman at the school and the moment when a tactical team from the Border Patrol stormed into the room and killed him. Mitchell said deputy sheriffs who had been at the school recounted the call.
“I don’t know what was said,” Mitchell said, although the gist of it appeared to be, he said, that the gunman was already on the attack. “He’s outside hearing his wife: ‘I’m dying,’ ” he said, before cautioning that he did not know precisely what words were exchanged.
Mitchell said he did not know if the school district officer had told the chief of his six-member department, Pete Arredondo, about the call.
“He was talking to his wife. Whether that was conveyed to Arredondo or anyone else, I don’t know,” said the judge, who is the county’s executive and top official.
State police have said it was Arredondo’s decision to wait to send officers into the classrooms until specialized equipment and more highly trained officers could arrive, a decision that McCraw called “wrong” in a news conference Friday.
A vast majority of the shooting inside the classrooms, which were joined in the middle, took place just after the gunman entered, at 11:33 a.m., McCraw said then. The gunman was killed at about 12:51 p.m.
While the motive of the gunman remained unclear, officials said that he, like so many in Uvalde, had a connection to the elementary school.
He lived with his grandmother Celia Martinez Gonzales, 66, in a modest home near the school. She used to be an “employee at the school,” said Zeph Capo, the president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers; a state law enforcement official confirmed her former employment at the school.
Martinez Gonzales was shot but not killed last week. Afterward Ramos fled her home and crashed her pickup truck, which neighbors said he could barely drive, into a ditch near the school. He emerged with a gun, an AR-15-style rifle, one of two that he had bought shortly after his 18th birthday earlier in the month.
In an instant the shooting redefined life in Uvalde, a place that used to be known, by those who knew it at all, for its trees, its honey and its surrounding hunting ranches.
“This is the single most devastating, disastrous event that ever has happened in Uvalde County,” Mitchell said. “But we will rise. We will survive.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.