AUSTIN, Texas — Multiple police officers stood in a school hallway armed with rifles and at least one ballistic shield within 19 minutes of a gunman arrived on campus in Uvalde, Texas, according to documents reviewed by the US statesman, raising further questions or all lives could have been saved in the deadly attack.
Even as officers with high-powered weapons and ballistic shields gathered in the blue and green corridor, the gunman could hear shots fired — including at 12:21 p.m., 29 minutes before officers entered the classroom and killed him, the documents show.
Investigators say the latest information indicates officers had more than enough firepower and protection to take down the gunman long before they finally did. The massacre killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
Much of the new information is expected to be presented at a Texas Senate hearing Tuesday, the first of two consecutive days of Capitol hearings, where members of the public will have the first opportunity to address lawmakers on gun violence and related issues.
Law enforcement’s response has been closely scrutinized by state and federal investigators shortly after the massacre. On May 27, Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, revealed that officers waited more than 70 minutes to confront the gunman, even as fourth-graders trapped in two classrooms desperately called 911 for help.
The delayed response went against widely accepted law enforcement protocol, developed from many similar horrific school shootings across the country, which calls on officers to immediately and resolutely stop the gunman.
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‘If there are children, we have to go in there’
The latest timeline revealed in the investigative papers reviewed by the Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network, shows agents finally breaking through a classroom door at 12:50 p.m.; the shooter had come in at 11:33 am
Authorities have reconstructed the events of May 24 using footage from inside the school, showing the gunman casually entered a back door, walked into a classroom and immediately fired gunshots before barricading himself. The timeline was also created using body camera video from more than a dozen officers in the school.
According to the new information, 11 officers entered the school within three minutes of the shooter. Pete Arredondo, chief of police for the Uvalde school district, called a landline at the Uvalde Police Department for help at 11:40 am.
“It’s an emergency now,” he said. ‘We have him in the room. He has an AR-15. He shot a lot. † † They need to be prepared outside the building because we don’t have firepower right now,” he said. “They’re all pistols.”
“I don’t have a radio,” he added. “You must bring me a radio.”
Four minutes later, body camera images detected more shots from the gunman. At 11:52 a.m., an officer with the first ballistic shield entered the school as other officers grew increasingly impatient.
“If there are children, we have to go in there,” said an officer. Another replied, “Whoever is in charge will decide that.”
A transcript of officers’ body camera images showed Arredondo trying to find keys to open the classroom, although officers say they don’t believe officers tried to open the door.
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At 12:03 a.m., an officer with another ballistic shield entered the school, and a third arrived two minutes later.
The new information shows that Arredondo also tried to talk to the gunman and asked if he could hear him.
About 30 minutes before the break, Arredondo wondered aloud if officers would consider dropping him through the window? Got two gunmen on either side of the window? I say we break through those windows and shoot his (expletive) head through the windows.”
At 12:46 PM, the timeline indicates that Arredondo told the SWAT team officers who had arrived to break through the classroom door when they were ready.
By this time, medical units had arrived and footage shows them tending the children in the hallway after the gunman was dead.
Hearings are not about firearms restrictions
The agenda for the two committee hearings makes no mention of restricting access to firearms, and the state’s Republican leaders have insisted that gun restrictions be banned.
The Senate Special Commission to Protect All Texans, recently formed at the request of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, will hear invited witnesses and public testimony during Tuesday’s hearing on three issues: school safety, police training and social media.
On Wednesday, the committee of eight Republicans and three Democrats will address mental health and firearms safety.
Texas State Senator Robert Nichols, chairman of the committee, said he expects to cast a “broad net” to investigate a complex issue and develop recommendations to be presented to the full Senate.
“These hearings are intended to be a forum for vigorous discussions about solutions to the pervasive problem of tragic school shootings,” he said. “I recognize that there will not be just one solution to these problems, and I hope the work of this committee reflects that.”
Texas Lt. gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, chose a traditional committee structure after Abbott asked special panels to investigate the Uvalde shooting and direct the legislature. In addition to the GOP chairman, Patrick tapped two fellow Republicans to serve as vice presidents: Texas state Sens. Lois Kolkhorst and Brandon Creighton
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Some are concerned that Texas officials will use a legal loophole to prevent records from being released — even to the victims’ families — once the case is closed. The law’s exception protects information from the disclosure of crimes for which no one has been convicted. The Texas Attorney General’s office has ruled that it applies when a suspect is dead.
Officials also have not released records sought under public information laws from media outlets, including The Associated Press, often citing broad exceptions and the ongoing investigation. It has expressed concerns about whether such records will be released, even to the families of the victims.
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During Friday’s meeting in Uvalde, the committee’s chairman, Texas State Representative Dustin Burrows, said he was approached by a concerned resident after his committee gave a tour that morning of Robb Elementary School, where the shooting took place. .
Burrows said witnesses are more comfortable answering questions without cameras present, furthering the committee’s primary goal: providing complete and accurate records of what happened during the attack of 24 May.
“Before this committee is willing to announce what we believe to be the factual, accurate information, we want to hear from all sides, all the different points of view,” he said before vacating the room so that two school district police officers and two Robb Elementary teachers could be interviewed privately.
In previous meetings, the committee has heard from top officials from the Ministry of Public Security, the Uvalde Police Department, teachers and district officials, including the superintendent and the school principal. Wednesday’s meeting will also be held privately.
Contributions: The Associated Press