Uvalde police could soon end the stampede

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“I don’t care if you have flip-flops and Bermuda shorts, go in.”

A window washer works around the town square on Thursday, June 9, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. AP Photo / Eric Gay

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Police had enough officers and firepower at the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to stop the gunman three minutes after he entered the building, and they may have found the door to the classroom where he was hiding was. If they bothered to investigate it, the Texas state police chief testified Tuesday, declaring the law enforcement response a “gross failure.”

Instead the rifled officers stood in a hallway for more than an hour, waiting for more weapons and gear, before they finally broke into orbit and killed the gunman, ending 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, so go in,” Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in blistering testimony at a state Senate hearing.

It turned out that the classroom door could not be locked from the inside, according to McCraw, who said a teacher reported before the shooting that the lock had been broken. Yet there is no indication that officials tried to open it during the standoff, McCraw said. He said the police were waiting for a key 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.

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,” McCraw said.

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. A lawyer for Arredondo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the police chief testified for nearly five hours at a closed-door hearing of the Texas House Committee, which is also investigating the tragedy, according to the panel’s chairman.

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 entered, an officer reported that police had a heavy-duty crowbar they could use 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 inside the school were not working. Only Border Patrol agents’ radios worked at the scene, and they didn’t work at all.
  • Some of the school diagrams that the police used to coordinate their response were incorrect.

Public leaders, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, initially praised the police response in Uvalde. Abbott said officers reacted quickly and fired shots with “amazing courage” to pull out the killer, saving lives. He later said that he was misled.

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. “We have a culture where we seem to have trained an entire school for the lockdown…. But we set up a condition for failure,” he said.

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.”

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”.

“It put our profession back a decade. That’s what he did,” he said of the police’s response.

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.

Bleiberg in Dallas and Associated Press writer Jamie Stengel, photographer Eric Gay in Austin and John Seaver in Toledo, Ohio contributed to this report.

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