Law enforcement authorities had enough officers on the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to have stopped the gunman three minutes after he entered the building, the Texas public safety chief testified Tuesday, pronouncing the police response an “abject failure.”
Police officers with rifles instead stood and waited in a school hallway for nearly an hour while the gunman carried out the May 24 attack at Robb Elementary School that left 19 children and two teachers dead. The 18-year-old gunman used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.
Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, testified at a state Senate hearing on the police handling of the tragedy. Delays in the law enforcement response have become the focus of federal, state and local investigations.
Eight minutes after the shooter entered the building, an officer reported that police had a “hooligan” crowbar that they could use to break down the classroom door, McGraw said. Nineteen minutes after the gunman entered, the first ballistic shield was brought into the building by police, the witness testified.
McCraw told the Senate committee that Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief, decided to put the lives of officers ahead of the lives of children.
The public safety chief began outlining for the committee a series of missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and other mistakes.
“It has been reported that he didn’t have a radio with him. That’s true. He did not,” McCraw said of Arredondo.
McCraw also said the classroom door could not be locked from the inside.
In addition, McCraw said police and sheriff’s radios did not work within the school; only the radios of Border Patrol agents on the scene worked inside the school, and even they did not work perfectly.
Questions about the law enforcement response began days after the massacre. McCraw said three days after the shooting that Arredondo made “the wrong decision” when he chose not to storm the classroom for more than 70 minutes, even as trapped fourth graders inside two classrooms were desperately calling 911 for help and anguished parents outside the school urged officers to go inside.
Arredondo later said he didn’t consider himself the person in charge and assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response.
Families of those who lost their lives during the shooting are demanding accountability from law enforcement after the Austin American-Statesman published a photo of armed police in the school hallway. The images reviewed by the newspaper show a timestamp taken nearly one hour before the gunman was stopped.
Several family members of victims made emotional pleas during a school board meeting on Monday to fire Arredondo.
“We were failed by Pete Arredondo,” said Brett Cross, the uncle and guardian of victim Uziyah Garcia. “He failed our kids, teachers, parents, and city, and by keeping him on your staff, y’all are continuing to fail us.”
“My mom died protecting her students. But who was protecting my mom?” said Lyliana Garcia, the daughter of Irma Garcia, one of the two teachers who died trying to protect their students.
A senior sheriff’s deputy told The New York Times that two Uvalde city police officers also passed up a fleeting chance to shoot the gunman before he entered the school.
The unidentified officers, one of whom was armed with an AR-15-style rifle, said they feared hitting children playing in the line of fire outside the school, Chief Deputy Ricardo Rios of nearby Zavalla County told the newspaper.