Top cop from Texas: Uvalde police response was ‘abject failure’

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas state police chief said the law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting was an “abject failure,” telling lawmakers there were enough officers and firepower on the scene to to stop the shooter three minutes later. he entered the building.

Colonel Steve McCraw also said officers would have found the door to the classroom where the attacker was hiding unlocked if they bothered to check it.

Instead, police stood in a hallway with guns for over an hour, partially waiting for more weapons and equipment, before finally storming the classroom and killing the gunman, ending the May 24 attack that left 19 children and two teachers died.

“I don’t care if you’re wearing flip flops and bermudas, you go in,” McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a blistering testimony at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The classroom door, it turned out, could not be locked from the inside by design, according to McCraw, who also said a teacher reported the lock was broken before the shooting. Still, there’s no evidence that officers tried to open it during the standoff, McCraw said. He said the police were waiting for keys instead.

“I have good reason to believe it was never secured,” McCraw said of the door. “How about trying the door and seeing if it’s locked?”

Delays in law enforcement response to Robb Elementary School have become the focus of federal, state and local investigations. The testimony was to resume on Wednesday.

McCraw fell for Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde School District Police Chief who McCraw said was in charge, saying: “The only thing that kept a corridor of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the on-site commander who decided for the lives of officers for the lives of children.”

Arredondo made “terrible decisions,” said McCraw, who complained that the police response “set our profession back a decade.”

Arredondo has said he did not consider himself responsible and assumed someone else was in control of law enforcement’s response. He has declined repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press.

The police chief testified for about five hours Tuesday during a closed-door hearing of a Texas House committee that also investigated the tragedy, the panel chair said.

Senate members hearing the final details reacted angrily, with some calling Arredondo incompetent and saying the delay has cost lives. Others urged McCraw as to why state troopers on the ground did not take the lead. McCraw said the troopers had no legal authority to do so.

The head of public security presented a timeline that said three officers with two guns entered the building less than three minutes behind the gunman, an 18-year-old with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. A few minutes later, several more officers entered. Two of the officers who entered the hallway early were grazed by gunfire.

The police’s decision to hold back goes against much of what law enforcement has learned in the two decades since the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, which killed 13 people in 1999, McCraw said.

“You don’t wait for a SWAT team. You have one officer, that’s enough,” he said. He also said officers didn’t have to wait for shields to enter the classroom. The first shield arrived less than 20 minutes after the gunman entered, according to McCraw.

Eight minutes after the gunman entered, an officer reported that police had a heavy crowbar they could use to break open the classroom door, McCraw said.

The head of public safety spent nearly five hours providing the clearest picture yet of the massacre, outlining a range of other missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and errors based on a survey that included about 700 interviews. Among the missteps:

— Arredondo had no radio with him.

— The police and sheriff’s radios didn’t work in the school. Only the radios of Border Patrol agents on the ground worked, and they didn’t work perfectly.

— Some school diagrams the police used to coordinate their response were wrong.

State police initially said the gunman, Salvador Ramos, entered the school through an exterior door held open by a teacher. However, McCraw said the teacher had locked the door, but unbeknownst to her, it could only be locked from the outside. The gunman “walked straight ahead,” McCraw said.

The gunman knew the building well, as he was in fourth grade in the same classrooms where he carried out the attack, McCraw said. Ramos never communicated with police that day, the head of public security said.

sen. Paul Bettencourt said the whole premise of lockdown and shooting training is worthless if school doors can’t be locked. “We have a culture where we think we’ve trained an entire school for lockdown…but we’ve created a precondition for failure,” he said.

Bettencourt challenged Arredondo to testify publicly and said he should have pulled out immediately. He angrily pointed out that shots had been heard while police waited.

“At least six shots were fired during that time,” he said. “Why is this person shooting? He kills someone. Yet 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 public questions or releasing records. “There is no cover-up,” he said in a statement.

Later in the day, Uvalde’s city council voted unanimously against granting leave to Arredondo, who is a councilor, to appear at public meetings. Relatives of the shooting had begged city leaders to fire him instead.

“Please, please, we beg you, get this man out of our lives,” said Berlinda Arreola, Amerie Jo Garza’s grandmother.

After the meeting, the mayor pushed back on McCraw’s testimony and blamed Arredondo, saying the Department of Public Security repeatedly disseminated false information about the shooting and obscured the role of its own agents.

He called the Senate on hearing a “clown show” and said he hadn’t heard from McCraw about the involvement of state poachers, although McLaughlin said their number in the school hallway outnumbered other law enforcement agencies at points during the slaying.

Questions about law enforcement’s response began days after the massacre. McCraw said three days later that Arredondo had made “the wrong decision” when he chose not to storm the classroom for more than 70 minutes, even as incarcerated fourth-graders in two classrooms desperately called 911 for help and anguished parents outside the school pleaded with officers for help. go inside.

An hour after the gunman crashed his truck in front of the school for the first time, Arredondo said, according to McCraw’s timeline: “People are going to ask why it’s taking us so long. We’re trying to save the rest of life.”

But McCraw said Tuesday that the amount of time that passed before officers entered the classroom was “unbearable.”

Police found no red flags in Ramos’ disciplinary files at school, but found through interviews that he was guilty of animal cruelty. “He was carrying a bag of dead cats,” McCraw said.

In the days and weeks after the shooting, authorities issued conflicting and inaccurate statements about what happened. But McCraw assured lawmakers, “Everything I testified today is confirmed.”

McCraw said if he could make just one recommendation, it would be for more training. He also said every state patrol car in Texas should have shields and door-breaking tools.

“I want every trooper to know how to break through and have the tools to do it,” he said.

Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle and Terry Wallace in Dallas, John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, and photographer Eric Gay in Austin contributed to this report.

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