Chilling details of the chaotic and bloody aftermath of the Uvalde school massacre show how paramedics desperately treated multiple victims wherever they could and with whatever equipment they had, according to never-before-heard interviews.
Some came out of their spare time or far away to support their colleagues who were sent to Robb Elementary School, where classrooms had become kill zones but there were still lives to be saved.
There was the state trooper with an emergency medical certificate who carried five breast seals at all times, never thinking he would ever need them all at once; the local EMT who crouched behind a wall as gunshots rang out and soon treated three kids at once; and her off-duty colleague who found herself tending to her son’s classmates, not knowing if her own son was still alive.
Amanda Shoemake was on the first Uvalde EMS ambulance that arrived at the school last May 24, she told a Texas Department of Public Safety investigator. But with law enforcement waiting 77 minutes to challenge the shooter, she spent time trying to divert traffic to keep a lane clear for ambulances to come through once the victims came out, she said, according to research data obtained by CNN.
“We were just waiting for what felt like a while. And then someone came… and they said, ‘Okay, we need EMS now,’” she said in the interview, part of the DPS investigation into the botched response to the school shooting, which killed 19 children and two teachers died. At least one teacher and two children were alive when officers finally stormed the classrooms, but they later died.
When Shoemake and colleagues reached the school building, they were told the shooter had not yet been found and could be in the ceiling, she said, recounting how they hid behind a brick wall when the shooter was confronted.
“We crouched down there and waited there for the shooting to stop,” she said. “And after a while they brought out the first kid who was an obvious DOA.”
DPS trooper Zach Springer was one of hundreds of southwest Texas law enforcement officers who responded to Robb when reinforcement warnings went out. He had been certified as an EMT a few months earlier, he told the Texas Ranger who interviewed him.
“I made a conscious decision not to take my gun with me,” he thought as he drove up. “I knew there were so many people up there. They don’t need guns, they need medical equipment.”
Springer entered the school and began preparing a triage area at the end of the hallway where armed officers from the school force, local police, sheriff’s office, state police, and federal agencies lined up. While commanders such as then-School Police Chief Pete Arredondo, then-Acting City Police Chief Mariano Pargas, and Sheriff Ruben Nolasco have made differing statements about whether they knew children were injured and needed rescuing, medics from many agencies prepared for casualties.
“I prepared myself as best I could,” he said. “I do tourniquets, gauze, Israeli bandages, compression bandages, hemostatic gauze. I was like, ‘I’ve got everything, I guess.’ … I had five breast seals, which is ridiculous in my opinion, as if I fooled myself – when will I ever need five breast seals?”
He heard the breach and then began to see children coming out amidst the smoke from the brief but intense firefight, he said.
He went to help a border patrol doctor treat a girl who had been shot through the chest. He said he started checking her legs for injuries when he overheard colleagues asking for a breast seal. In the chaos of the reaction, everything was occupied.
Springer said they covered the girl’s wounds with gauze, placed her on a plate and repeatedly told the others to secure her head while they moved her, though he later thought the young victim was too small for the carriage.
“I don’t think they secured her head because she wasn’t tall enough to secure her head,” he said. And while the girl was thought to be alive when they took her out of class, she didn’t survive, he said.
When he ran back in, the hallway lined with posters celebrating the end of the school year had changed. “You could smell the iron – there was so much blood,” he said.
Back outside, Uvalde EMS Shoemake had loaded the first victim into her ambulance to hide him from the throng of frightened parents desperate for information when another child was brought out. She saw an unattended private company ambulance with the door open and no stretcher, she said.
“I had her laid on the floor of that ambulance and treated her there. While I was treating her two more 10 year old boys were brought to me and so I put one on the couch and one on the captain’s chair.
Shoemake’s colleagues, including Kathlene Torres, came to help and got the little girl on a stretcher and into another ambulance, trying to save her life, as they first thought a helicopter would take her and then took her to hospital themselves, said she.
Torres told a DPS officer that the girl was seriously injured, but managed to share her name and date of birth. She was Mayah Zamora, who would spend 66 days in the hospital before being able to return to her family. “I can still hear her voice,” Torres said.
At least two of the EMTs had visited Robb earlier in the day to see prizes being presented to their children. One of them, Virginia Vela, had watched her 4th grade son at a ceremony at 10 a.m. and two hours later he was gathered in the funeral home parking lot across the street from the school with her husband and other parents who were stopped by officers .
She told the DPS investigator she was recognized as a local EMT and was allowed into the funeral home to treat some children who were injured when they climbed through windows to get away from the school.
Photos show a chaotic scene as Uvalde students escape
As she got closer to the school to help the other EMTs, she saw the first victim brought out, a boy who was dead, she said.
“I thought it was my son,” she said. “When I saw his clothes I knew it wasn’t my son, but the fear… went through my body.”
More children came for urgent medical treatment.
“One of the kids I had in the unit was shot in the shoulder. The student I helped from the side of the unit had bullet fragments on his thigh,” she said. “And then we had another student with blown off fingers. And she was just in and out. We tried to give her oxygen and keep her alive. And I realized that these were my son’s classmates and my son was not coming out.”
Vela opened the ambulance to see if any more children were being brought to them. And finally she saw her boy run out of school.
“I didn’t even run to him. I didn’t go get him. What I thought was ‘run buddy… get the hell out of that school, just run to the bus,'” she said. “I picked up my phone and called my husband and my husband said, ‘I see him, I see him, he’s getting on the bus, he’s fine.’ And I said, ‘Okay, but I have to stay here with these students.’ And I hung up and went on with my work.”
Vela told DPS she remembered a little more about the day after she knew her son was safe, but it was still a blur as she worked with Shoemake and the others, writing a child’s vitals on their arms and writing them down. away helped – load and go, load and go.
And when the emergency work was done, she had an important question.
“I asked my partner, ‘Am I frozen? Did I help you?’ She says, “Yeah, girl. You were like jumping from unit to unit and helping everyone that came out,” Vela said. “And I was like, I need to know this. I need to know that I’ve continued my job doing.”