Community members mourn together at a vigil for the 21 victims in the mass shooting at Rob Elementary School on May 25, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. Image Credit: AFP

UVALDE, Texas: The gray Ford pickup truck veered into a ditch with such force that people who live on the block assumed it was an accident and rushed over to help the driver.

Instead, according to witness and police accounts, Salvador Rolando Ramos emerged wearing tactical gear and carrying an AR-15-style rifle he bought this month just after his 18th birthday. Bystanders scattered as Ramos hopped a fence, exchanged gunfire with a school police officer and entered through a side door to Robb Elementary. Inside, he embarked on a deadly rampage that brought the national scourge of school shootings to a fourth-grade classroom in this southern Texas town.

“That’s where the carnage began,” Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Authorities say the attack was part of a grisly checklist Ramos had shared in private social media messages early on Tuesday. The first item was to kill his grandmother, who lives near the school. He shot her in the face, authorities said, then left her for dead as he drove off in her truck. “I shot my grandmother,” Ramos wrote in an update. The next threat, according to the messages, was to “shoot an elementary school.”

Within minutes of pressing send, shortly after 11:30am, Ramos was barricaded inside a classroom with the 19 students and two teachers he would kill.

Those are the central elements of the timeline, pieced together from law enforcement statements, witness accounts and social media posts by families of victims. In the hours after the shooting, associates of Ramos shared disturbing exchanges or observations about him that suggested he was in a downward spiral, with a miserable home life, no chance of graduating with his senior class and a history of being bullied for his speech and attire.

Still, much of how events unfolded remains unclear, including whether authorities missed warning signs or could have intervened earlier to prevent Ramos from reaching the classroom. Likewise, talk of motives remains speculative, with Texas officials invoking “mental illness” and biblical notions of good and evil to make sense of the violence.

On May 12, Ramos began messaging a California girl via Instagram, asking if she would repost photos of his gun. The teen, who has since shared the exchanges publicly, described the messages as scary and strange because she didn’t know Ramos.

Early Tuesday, hours before his attack, Ramos again messaged the girl, writing, “I’m about to” without finishing the thought. He told her he had “a lil secret” he wanted to share. She blew him off, saying she was sick and might be asleep. “Ima air out,” he wrote, a slang term that means to shoot a group of people, or “air out” a space. By the time the girl responded to his final message to her, Ramos probably was dead, according to the authorities’ timeline that says he was killed around 1pm.

On Tuesday morning, Miguel Cerrillo’s 11-year old daughter Miah arrived late to school after a doctor’s appointment. Less than an hour later, the shooting began. When the parents heard the news, Cerrillo said, his wife got to the school first to check on their two daughters. He said his wife watched parents trying to break windows to help students escape.

When he arrived just after noon, Cerrillo said, he joined a crowd of law enforcement officers, journalists and a growing group of terrified parents. Some time later, he saw an officer exit the school carrying two children. One of them was Miah, alive but covered in blood. She was loaded onto a yellow school bus.

Pretending to be dead

“I panicked,” Cerrillo said, describing how he ran toward the bus but was prevented from retrieving his daughter. They could only speak through the window, with Miah describing some of the violence she witnessed. Cerrillo said his daughter saw her teacher, Eva Mireles, shot and the phone slip from her teacher’s hand. Miah grabbed it and called 911.

One of her classmates also was shot, Cerrillo’s daughter said, and bleeding. She decided to lie on top of the girl so the gunman would think they were both dead. At first her friend was still breathing, but she died before help arrived, Miah said, according to Cerrillo’s account.

His daughter’s left side, from her neck all the way down to her back, was lacerated by small bullet fragments, and her hair was singed by gunfire.

The latest revelations show the horror of a massacre so big in a town so small. The daughter of a sheriff’s deputy was among the dead. A cumbia DJ, an aviation mechanic and a pastor were all grieving slain children. Two members of a girls’ basketball team were killed and another injured. One Uvalde man lost three relatives in the shooting.

In addition to the dead, at least 17 people were wounded, according to state authorities.

First alert came from grandmother

According to the timeline authorities offered publicly, a first alert came from Ramos’s 66-year-old grandmother, who survived and was able to call police. She remains in critical condition after surgery. A woman who identified herself as Salvador Ramos’s mother said in a brief phone conversation that the grandmother was expected to recover.

Within minutes of shooting his grandmother, Ramos had driven the couple of blocks to Robb Elementary, where students and people in the neighborhood were on lunch break.

One lingering question is when exactly the shooting began. Authorities agree that the gunman was dead by 1pm but have offered conflicting accounts as to whether the attack began around 11:30am or closer to noon. By 11:43am, the school announced on Facebook that it was under lockdown, citing gunshots in the area. “The students and staff are safe in the building,” it said.

In public transmissions on a radio channel used by local EMS workers, someone said at 11:53am that a lieutenant had requested a response to the area of the school. As the response was discussed, one official was heard telling first responders: “Please, just stay back.”

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The Post reviewed recordings of the channel that were published on the website Broadcastify. The public channel for EMS did not capture the transmissions for all law enforcement at the scene but indicated when information was relayed to local EMS crews.

When the attacker crashed the truck, it prompted a 911 call from a resident who added that the driver apparently had a rifle, said Travis Considine, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. The gunman encountered a school police officer and “they exchange gunfire,” Considine said, with the shooter wounding the officer and heading inside.

Encounter with police

The side entrance to the school should have been locked, but it was unclear whether it was or if Ramos forced it open.

Two Uvalde police officers then showed up, Considine said, and tried to get inside, exchanging more gunfire with Ramos. Both officers were wounded, he said. The attacker then went to a fourth-grade classroom, where he barricaded himself in and “does most, if not all, of his damage.” A Border Patrol team responded to the scene, as did other law enforcement officials, who “were breaking windows and getting kids out,” Considine said.

By 12:10pm, a Facebook live stream recorded outside the front of the school showed police cars had established a perimeter, helicopters were flying overhead and onlookers had gathered. Seven minutes later, school authorities announced on social media there was “an active shooter at Robb Elementary.”

Shots were still being heard at 12:52pm, according to radio recordings. “Do not attempt to get closer,” a voice warned on the EMS channel.

After hearing shooting, authorities said, a tactical team formed a “stack” formation and eventually breached the classroom door and killed Ramos in a shootout. Ramos was in the room for some minutes before police officers entered, and it was unclear whether he killed the students when he first barricaded himself inside or just before the police breached the room.

At 1:06pm, Uvalde Police announced on social media that the attack was over.