(CNN) Chilling details of the chaotic and bloody aftermath of the Uvalde school massacre show how emergency medics desperately treated multiple victims wherever they could and with whatever equipment they had, according to never-before-heard interviews.
Some came off-duty or far away to back up 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 emergency medical certification who always carried five chest seals with him, never imagining that he would ever need them all at once; the local EMT who crouched behind a wall as shots rang out and soon treated three children at the same time; and her unemployed colleague who found herself looking after her son’s classmates without knowing if her own boy was alive.
Amanda Shoemake was on the first Uvalde EMS ambulance to arrive 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 direct traffic to maintain a lane where ambulances could get through as the victims began to get out, she said, according to investigation records obtained by CNN.
“We just waited for what felt like a while. And then someone came … and they said, ‘OK, we need EMS now,'” she said in the interview, part of the DPS investigation of the failed response to the school shooting in which 19 children and two teachers were killed. At least one teacher and two children were alive when officers eventually stormed the classrooms, but they later died.
When Shoemake and colleagues arrived at the school building, they were told the shooter had not yet been found and could be in the attic, she said, saying how they took cover behind a brick wall when the shooter was confronted.
“We just squatted down there and waited there until the shooting stopped,” she said. “And then after some time they brought out the first child who was clearly DOA.”
DPS Trooper Zach Springer was one of hundreds of law enforcement officers from across Southwest Texas who responded to Robb when alerts went out for reinforcements. 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 bring my rifle,” he said, he thought as he drove up. “I knew there were so many people up there that they’re not going to need rifles, they’re going to need media 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, the sheriff’s office, state police and federal agencies were lined up. While commanders such as then-schools police chief Pete Arredondo, then-acting city police chief Mariano Pargas and Sheriff Ruben Nolasco have given differing statements about whether they knew children were injured and needed rescuing, medics from many agencies prepared for the victims.
“I pitched as well as I could,” he said. “I put tourniquets, gauze, Israeli bandages, compression bandages, hemostatic gauze. I thought, ‘I’ve got everything, I think.’ … I had five breast seals, which I think is ridiculous, like I’ve been making fun of myself myself—when will I ever need five breast seals?”
He heard the explosion and then began to see children brought out from among the smoke from the brief but intense firefight, he said.
He went to help a Border Patrol medic treating a girl who was shot through the chest. He said he started checking her leg for injuries when he heard colleagues asking for a breast seal. In the chaos of the response, everything was taken.
Springer said they covered the girl’s wounds with gauze, got her onto a backboard, and he repeatedly asked the others to secure her head as they moved her, even though he later believed the young victim was too small for the carrier .
“I don’t think they secured her head because she wasn’t tall enough for her head to be secured,” he said. And while the girl was believed to be alive when they pulled her out of the classroom, she did not survive, he said.
When he ran back in, the hallway lined with posters celebrating the end of the school year had been transformed. “You could smell the iron – there was so much blood,” he said.
Back outside, Uvalde EMS Shoemake had put the first victim in his ambulance to hide him from the crowd of anxious parents frantic for information as another child was brought out. She saw an unattended ambulance from a private company with the door open and no stretcher, she said.
“I had them put her on the floor of that ambulance and I started treating her there. So while I was treating her, two more 10-year-old boys were brought to me and so I put one on the bench and one in . the captain’s seat.”
Shoemake’s colleagues, including Kathlene Torres, came to help and got the little girl onto a stretcher and into another ambulance that was working to save her life when they first thought a helicopter would take her and then get her themselves to the hospital, they said.
Torres told a DPS officer the girl was critically injured, but still managed to share her name and date of birth. She was Mayah Zamora, who would spend 66 days in the hospital before she could go back to her family. “I can still hear her voice,” Torres said.
At least two of the EMTs had been with Robb earlier in the day to see awards presented to their children. One of them, Virginia Vela, had seen her son in the 4th grade at a ceremony at 10 and then two hours later was captured in the funeral home parking lot across the street from the school with her husband and other parents who were detained by officers.
She told the DPS investigator that she was recognized as a local EMT and was allowed into the funeral home to treat some children who had been injured climbing through windows to get away from the school.
Pictures show a chaotic scene as Uvalde pupils flee
As she walked closer to the school to help the other EMTs, she saw the first victim brought out, a boy who had died, she said.
“I thought it was my son,” she said. “When I saw his clothes, I knew it wasn’t my son, but fear … ran through my body.”
Several children came for emergency medical treatment.
“One of the kids that I had in the unit, he was shot in the shoulder. The student that I helped up from the side of the unit, he had gunshot fragments on his thigh,” she said. “And then we had another student with blown off fingers. And she was just in and out. We were trying to get her oxygen and trying to keep her alive. And I realized it was my son’s classmates and my son wasn’t coming out. ”
Vela opened the ambulance to see if more children were brought to them. And finally she saw her boy running from school.
“I didn’t even run to him. I didn’t go get him. What I was thinking was ‘run mate … get the hell out of that school, just run to the bus’,” she said. “I grabbed my phone and I called my husband and my husband and I said, ‘I see him, I see him, he’s getting on the bus, he’s OK.’ And I said, ‘OK, but I have to to stay here with these students.’ And I hung up and I continued to do my job.”
Vela told DPS she remembered a little more of 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 getting them on the way – load and go, load and go.
And when the emergency work was done, she had an important question.
“I asked my partner, ‘Did I freeze? Did I even help you?’ She says, “Yes, girl. You were like jumping from unit to unit and helping everybody that came out,” Vela said. “And I was like, I need to know this. I need to know that I got on with my work.”