AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The Texas state police chief declared a law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting a “gross failure,” telling lawmakers that there were enough officers and firepower at the scene to stop the gunman three minutes later. . He entered the building.
Colonel Steve McCraw also said that officers would have found the door to the classroom where the attacker was hiding if they had bothered to investigate it.
Instead, police with rifles stood in a hallway for more than an hour, waiting for more weapons and gear, before they finally broke into the classroom and killed the gunman, following the May 24 attack. in which 19 children and two teachers were killed. ,
“I don’t care if you have flip-flops and Bermuda shorts, you go in,” McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in blistering testimony at a state Senate hearing on Tuesday.
It turned out that the classroom door could not be locked from the inside by design, according to McCraw, who also said that a teacher reported before the shooting that the lock was broken. Yet there is no indication that officials tried to open it during the standoff, McCraw said. He said the police were waiting for the keys instead.
“I have very good reasons to believe it was never safe,” McCraw said of the door. “How about trying the door on and seeing if it’s locked?”
The delay in the law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School has become the focus of federal, state and local investigations. Testimony was to be held again on Wednesday.
McCraw lit up at Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who McCraw said was in charge: “The only thing preventing dedicated officers from entering Rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to keep life.” Did the officers before the lives of the children.”
Arredondo made “terrible decisions,” said McCraw, who lamented that the police response “put our profession back a decade.”
Arredondo has said that he did not consider himself the person in charge and assumed that someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response. He has repeatedly declined requests for comment from the Associated Press.
According to the panel’s chairman, the police chief also testified for nearly five hours during an in-camera hearing Tuesday of a Texas House committee investigating the tragedy.
Senate members hearing the latest details reacted with fury, some calling Arredondo incompetent and saying the cost of the delay remains. Others pressed McCraw as to why state troops at the scene did not take charge. McCraw said soldiers do not have the legal authority to do so.
The public security chief presented a timeline that said three officers with two rifles entered the building less than three minutes after the gunman, one with an 18-year-old AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. Minutes later, several more officers entered. Soon two officers who entered the hallway were gunned down.
McCraw said the decision to withdraw by police went against what law enforcement has learned in the two decades since the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, which killed 13 people.
“You don’t wait for a SWAT team. You have one official, that’s enough.” He also said that the officers need not wait for the shield to enter the classroom. According to McCraw, the first shield arrived less than 20 minutes after the shooter entered.
McCraw said that eight minutes after the shooter had entered, an officer reported that police had a heavy-duty crowbar they could have used to break into the classroom door.
The Chief of Public Safety spent nearly five hours painting the clearest picture yet of the massacre, outlining a range of other missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and errors based on an investigation that involved nearly 700 interviews. Among the mistakes:
— Arredondo didn’t have a radio.
The police and sheriff’s radios were not working inside the school. Only Border Patrol agents’ radios worked at the scene, and they didn’t work at all.
– Some school diagrams used by the police to coordinate their response were incorrect.
State police initially said gunman Salvador Ramos had entered the school through an exterior door that was kept open by a teacher. However, McCraw said that the teacher had locked the door, but he had no idea it could only be closed from the outside. McCraw said, the gunman “went straight.”
McCraw said the gunman knew the building well, having studied in fourth grade in the same area where he attacked. The public safety chief said that Ramos never contacted police that day.
Sen Paul Bettencourt said the entire premise of the lockdown and shooter training is useless if the school doors cannot be closed. He said, “We have a culture where we feel like we have trained an entire school for the lockdown…
Bettencourt challenged Arredondo to testify publicly, saying he should have fired himself immediately. He gestured angrily that while waiting for the police, gunshots were heard.
“At least six bullets were fired during this period,” he said. “Why is this person shooting? He’s killing someone. Yet this incident the commander finds every reason not to do anything.”
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said Tuesday that the city has “specific legal reasons” that it is not publicly answering questions or releasing records. “There is no cover-up,” he said in a statement.
Later in the day, Uvalde City Council unanimously voted against granting Arredondo, a council member, a leave of absence from attending public meetings. Relatives of the shooting victims had urged city leaders to shoot them.
“Please, please, we’re begging you, get this man out of our lives,” said Berlinda Arreola, the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza.
After the meeting, the mayor accused Arredondo of blaming McCraw’s testimony, saying that the Department of Public Safety had repeatedly misinformed about the shooting and highlighted the role of its own officers.
He called the Senate to hear a “clown show” and said that he had heard nothing from McCraw about the involvement of state soldiers, even though McLaughlin said that their numbers during the slaughter in the school hallway could be compared to any other law. more than the enforcement agency.
Questions about the law enforcement response began a few days after the massacre. McCraw said three days later that Arredondo had made the “wrong decision” when he decided not to storm the class for more than 70 minutes, even as a fourth grader trapped inside two classrooms called for help. Calling 911 and outside the school angry parents were begging the authorities. go inside.
According to McCraw’s timeline, an hour after the shooter first crashed his truck, Arredondo said: “People are going to ask why we’re taking so long. We’re trying to preserve the rest of the lives.” “
But McCraw said Tuesday that the time elapsed before the officers entered the classroom was “unbearable”.
Police have not found any red flags in Ramos’ school disciplinary files, but have learned through interviews that he engages in cruelty to animals. “He left with a bag of dead cats,” McCraw said.
In the days and weeks following the shooting, officials gave conflicting and inaccurate descriptions of what happened. But McCraw assured lawmakers: “Everything I testified today has been confirmed.”
McCraw said that if he could make just one recommendation, it would be for further training. He also said that every state patrol car in Texas should have shield and door breaker devices.
“I want every soldier to know how to breach and have the tools to do it,” he said.
Associated Press writers Jamie Stengel and Terry Wallace in Dallas, John Seaver in Toledo, Ohio, and photographer Eric Gay in Austin contributed to this report.
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