AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement had enough officers at the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to stop the shooter three minutes after he entered the building, and they never checked a classroom door to see if it was locked, the Texas Public Safety Chief testified Tuesday, calling the police response a “pathetic failure.”
Instead, police officers stood with guns and waited for over an hour before finally storming the classroom and killing the gunman, ending the May 24 attack that killed 19 children and two teachers.
It turned out the classroom door couldn’t be locked from the inside, but there’s no indication officers tried to open the door while the shooter was inside, said Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safe, off. Instead, he said, the police waited for a key.
“I have good reason to believe it was never backed up,” McCraw said of the door. “How about you try the door and see if it’s locked?”
McCraw testified at a state Senate hearing on the police’s handling of the tragedy. Delays in law enforcement responses have become the focus of investigations at the federal, state and local levels.
“Obviously there just wasn’t enough training in that situation. Because the commander on the ground made terrible decisions,” McCraw said of Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde School District Police Chief.
Eight minutes after the shooter entered the building, an officer reported that police had a “hooligan” crowbar they could use to force open the classroom door, McCraw 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 Arredondo decided to prioritize the lives of officers over the lives of children.
The head of public safety outlined for the committee a number of missed opportunities, communication glitches, and other failures, including:
— Arredondo didn’t have a radio with him.
— The police and sheriff’s radios did not work inside the school; Only the on-site border guards’ radios worked at the school, and even they didn’t work perfectly.
— Some of the school’s diagrams, which the police used to coordinate their response, were wrong.
State police initially said the gunman entered the school through an outside door that was held open by a teacher, but McGraw said the teacher closed the door and it could only be locked from the outside.
“She has no way of knowing the door is locked,” McGraw said. “He went straight through.”
Questions about law enforcement’s response began days after the massacre. McCraw said three days after the shooting that Arredondo made “the wrong decision” when he decided not to storm the classroom for more than 70 minutes, despite trapped fourth-graders in two classrooms frantically calling 911 for help and worried parents outside of school officials urged to go inside.
Arredondo later said he did not consider himself responsible and assumed someone else took control of the law enforcement response. Arredondo has declined repeated requests for comment to The Associated Press.
Regarding the time that elapsed before officers entered the classroom, McCraw said, “In an environment with active shooters, that’s unbearable.”
“It set our profession back a decade. It did,” said the police operation in Uvalde.
The 18-year-old gunman used an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, authorities provided conflicting and false accounts of what happened, sometimes retracting statements hours after they were made. But McCraw assured lawmakers, “Everything I testified today is confirmed.”
McGraw said if he could only make one recommendation, it would be more training. He also said a “go-bag” should be placed in every state squad car in Texas, complete with a sign and tools to break down doors.
“I want every soldier to know how to break in and have the tools to do it,” he said.
(Copyright (c) 2022 Sunbeam Television. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)
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