A door to a classroom where the Uvalde Elementary School shooter was locked up was unlocked while police searched for a key to enter, a senior Texas official said on Tuesday, describing the response from law enforcement. order to the rampage as a “dismal failure”.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw’s admission during a state Senate committee hearing investigating last month’s massacre was another stunning addition to the list of failures he recognized since the Robb Elementary School shooting.
“We know that there is compelling evidence that law enforcement’s response to the attack on Robb Elementary has been an abject failure and contrary to everything we have learned in the past two decades since the massacre at Columbine,” he told lawmakers.
“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from (entering rooms) 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to put the lives of officers before the lives of children. Officers have guns, children didn’t have any.”
It has been nearly a month since the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos, broke into Robb Elementary School on May 24 and killed 19 children and two teachers.
The carnage ended more than an hour after it began, when a Border Patrol tactical unit finally burst into a classroom where the shooter was locked up and killed him.
After the gunman crashed his truck at 11:28 a.m. that day near the school, he entered campus at 11:33 a.m., according to McCraw.
“And he starts firing…over 100 shots were fired initially,” he said.
Much of the attention after the shooting was on the response of local law enforcement and the decisions made by Pete Arredondo, the police chief for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District.
McCraw, in great detail, explained minute by minute how the police could have entered the unlocked room where the shooter was.
In the first days after the shooting, it was widely reported that police were prevented from entering classrooms and searching for keys where the shooter and his victims were due to locked doors.
McCraw confirmed recently published reports that adjoining classrooms are only locked from the outside, so the shooter, or anyone, could have entered.
“There’s no way to lock the door from the inside and there’s no way for the subject to lock the door from the inside,” McCraw said.
There were 11 police officers at the school at 11:36 a.m. that day, just three minutes after the killer entered campus and could have been confronted, McCraw said.
The top Texas law enforcement official lamented the long wait before officers finally confronted the killer.
“One hour, 14 minutes and 8 seconds. That’s the time the children waited and the teachers waited in rooms 111 (and 112) to be rescued,” he said.
“And while they waited, the commander on scene waited for the radio and the guns; and he waited for the shields and he waited for the SWAT.”
Ever since two students attacked Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, when police waited nearly an hour for a SWAT team to enter the building, law enforcement has stressed the urgency of engaging the shooter.
“Finally, he waited for a key that was never needed,” McCraw said. “The post-Columbine doctrine is clear, compelling, and unambiguous: stop killing, stop dying. You can’t do the latter unless you do the former.”
At 12:21 a.m. a fourth shield arrived on the scene around the same time four shots rang out from inside the classroom – but still with no action from police outside, said McCraw.
It was another moment when police should have stopped viewing the situation as one of a barricaded suspect, McCraw said.
“So if it’s a barricaded subject, why is he still shooting?” he asked rhetorically.
Arredondo knew at the time that there were several deaths, but he apparently feared provocative police action could lead to more bloodshed.
“”We lost two children, these walls are thin. He starts shooting, we’re gonna lose more kids,'” McCraw said, quoting Arredondo from body camera audio transcripts. “‘I have to say we have to put them aside now.'”
The embattled Arredondo whose actions are under scrutiny by state and federal authorities have kept a remarkably low profile since the shooting.
But he pushed back against the criticism, telling the Texas Tribune in an article published earlier this month that there was no way his officers had confronted the shooter sooner.
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