Austin, Texas ( Associated Press) — The head of the Texas State Police called law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school shooting a “terrible failure,” telling lawmakers there were enough officers and firepower at the scene to stop the gunman three minutes after he entered the building.
Colonel Steve McCraw also said that the officers would have found the door to the classroom where the attacker was hiding unlocked if they bothered to check it.
Instead, cops with rifles stood in the hallway for more than an hour, partly waiting for more weapons and equipment, before they finally burst into the classroom and killed the shooter, ending the May 24 attack that killed 19 children and two teachers. .
“I don’t care if you’re wearing flip-flops and Bermuda shorts, go ahead,” McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday in a scathing testimony at a State Senate hearing.
The door to the classroom, it turned out, could not be locked from the inside, according to McCraw, who also said that before the shooting, the teacher said the lock was broken. However, there is no indication that officers attempted to open it during the standoff, McCraw said. He said the police were waiting for the keys instead.
“I have good reason to believe that it was never locked,” McCraw said of the door. “How about we try the door and see if it’s locked?”
Delays in law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School have been the subject of federal, state, and local investigations. Testimony was due to resume on Wednesday.
McCraw confronted Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde School District police chief who McCraw said was in charge, saying, “The only thing that kept the loyal officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to put the officers’ lives before the lives of the officers.” children.”
Arredondo made “terrible decisions,” said McCraw, who lamented that the police response “set our profession back a decade.”
Arredondo said he did not consider himself the responsible person and assumed that someone else took control of the law enforcement response. He turned down repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press.
According to the chairman of the commission, on Tuesday at about five o’clock the police chief testified at a closed hearing of the committee of the Texas House of Representatives, which also investigated the tragedy.
Members of the Senate, hearing the latest details, reacted with fury, with some denouncing Arredondo as incompetent and stating that the delay had cost lives. Others insisted that McCraw explain why the police officers who arrived at the scene did not take responsibility. McCraw said the soldiers had no legal authority to do so.
The chief of public security presented a timeline in which three officers with two rifles entered the building less than three minutes from the shooter, an 18-year-old teenager with an AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle. A few minutes later, more officers entered. Two of the officers who entered the corridor early were wounded by gunshots.
The police decision to abstain is largely at odds with what law enforcement has learned in the two decades following the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado that killed 13 people in 1999, McCraw said.
“You don’t expect a SWAT team. You have one officer, that’s enough,” he said. He also said that officers don’t have to wait for shields to enter the classroom. The first shield arrived less than 20 minutes after the shooter entered, McCraw said.
According to McCraw, eight minutes after the shooter entered, the officer reported that the police had a heavy-duty crowbar with which they could break down the door to the classroom.
The chief of public security spent almost five hours presenting the clearest picture of the massacre, outlining a number of other missed opportunities, communication failures and errors based on an investigation that included about 700 interviews. Among the errors:
“Arredondo didn’t have a radio with him.
The police and sheriff’s walkie-talkies were not working inside the school. Only the walkie-talkies of the border guard agents at the scene worked, and they did not work perfectly.
“Some of the school schemes that the police used to coordinate their actions were wrong.
State police initially said the shooter, Salvador Ramos, entered the school through an outside door that was opened by a teacher. However, McCraw said that the teacher had closed the door, but without her knowledge it could only be locked from the outside. According to McCraw, the shooter “went right through”.
According to McCraw, the shooter knew the building well, as he was in fourth grade in the same classroom where he attacked. According to the head of public security, Ramos never spoke to the police that day.
Senator Paul Betancourt said the whole premise of lockdown and shooter training is useless if school doors can’t be locked. “We have a culture where we think we’ve prepared an entire school for lockdown… but we’ve created the conditions for rejection,” he said.
Betancourt urged Arredondo to testify publicly and said he should have quit his job immediately. He angrily remarked that while the police were waiting, gunshots had been heard.
“During this time, at least six shots were fired,” he said. “Why is this man shooting? He is killing someone. However, this incident commander finds every reason not to do anything.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said Tuesday the city has “specific legal reasons” for not answering questions publicly or releasing records. “There is no cover-up,” he said in a statement.
Later that day, the Uvalde city council voted unanimously against granting Councilman Arredondo leave to be absent from public meetings. Relatives of the victims of the shooting pleaded with city officials to fire him instead.
“Please, please, we beg you, get this person out of our lives,” said Berlinda Arreola, Ameri Jo Garza’s grandmother.
After the meeting, the mayor rebutted McCraw’s testimony, placing the blame on Arredondo, saying that the Department of Public Safety repeatedly released false information about the shooting and embellished the role of its own officers.
He called the Senate hearing “a clown show” and said he heard nothing from McCraw about the involvement of state police officers, although McLaughlin said they outnumbered any other law enforcement agency in the school hallway during the massacre.
Questions about the law enforcement response began days after the massacre. McCraw said three days later that Arredondo made the “wrong decision” when he chose not to storm the classroom for more than 70 minutes, even as fourth graders stuck in two classrooms frantically called 911 for help and distressed parents outside the school begged officers to help. . come inside.
An hour after the shooter first crashed his truck outside the school, Arredondo said, according to McCraw’s timeline, “People will ask why we’re taking so long. We’re trying to save the rest of life.”
But McCraw said on Tuesday the amount of time that passed before officers entered the classroom was “unbearable.”
Police did not find any red flags in Ramos’s school disciplinary records, but learned from interrogation that he was cruel to animals. “He walked around with a bag of dead cats,” McCraw said.
In the days and weeks following the shooting, authorities gave conflicting and incorrect accounts of what had happened. But McCraw assured lawmakers: “Everything I testified today is confirmed.”
McCraw said that if he could only make one recommendation, it would be additional training. He also said that every Texas state patrol car should have shields and door-breaking tools.
“I want every soldier to know how to break through and have the necessary tools to do so,” he said.
Associated Press contributors Jamie Stangle and Terry Wallace in Dallas, John Seaver in Toledo, Ohio, and photographer Eric Gay in Austin contributed to this report.
Learn more about the Associated Press-covered Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting.