Armed Uvalde officers arrived outside unlocked classroom three minutes after shooting began

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS), testified on Tuesday morning at a state Senate hearing

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 21 June 2022 21:56
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Uvalde police response was 'abject failure', hearing told

Officers armed with rifles and pistols were positioned outside the unlocked classroom at Robb Elementary School just three minutes after the gunman began opening fire inside, according to bombshell testimony heard at a Texas Senate hearing on the Uvalde mass shooting.

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS), testified on Tuesday morning that officers could have ended the active shooting situation and begun rescuing the wounded and dying victims just three minutes after it began.

Instead, another one hour, 14 minutes and eight seconds passed before law enforcement finally entered the classroom and shot gunman Salvador Ramos dead.

“Three minutes after the subject entered the west hallway, there was sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armour, to isolate distract and neutralise the subject,” he said.

“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”

“The officers had weapons. The children had none. The officers had body armour. The children had none.

“The officers had training. The subject had none.”

At 11.33am on 24 May, Ramos entered the school building through an unlocked door and entered two adjoining classrooms, where he began shooting students and teachers.

Three minutes later – at 11.36am – the first officers arrived on the scene with rifles and pistols.

Minutes later – at 11.40am – Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo said in a call with a dispatcher that he didn’t have enough resources on the scene to stop the gunman and that officers needed “more firepower”.

“We don’t have enough firepower. I need more firepower,” he said, per the transcript.

Then, around eight minutes after the shooting began, an officer reported that they had a hooligan – a crowbar tool – that they could use to force entry into the classroom.

Mr McCraw said that 19 minutes into the massacre, police officers had received at least one ballistic shield.

It wasn’t until 12.50pm – 77 minutes after the shooting first began – that law enforcement entered the room and ended the active shooting situation.

Mr McCraw said that even one officer with a gun is enough to try to tackle an active shooter situation.

“You don’t wait for a SWAT team. If you have one officer that’s enough,” he said.

“You stop the killing and you stop the dying. That is preached and practiced in the state of Texas. It just wasn’t implemented.”

He said multiple times that officers also do not need to wait for a shield in an active shooting situation.

Mr McCraw also testified that the door to the classroom appears to have been unlocked during the entire massacre but none of the officers tried the door handle.

The investigation has so far uncovered that Ramos entered Robb Elementary School through an unlocked door at the west side of the building.

The door had been propped open with a rock by a teacher, said Mr McCraw.

Police officers stand outside a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on 24 May, 2022, armed with rifles and a ballistic shield.

However, the same teacher removed the rock and closed the door after she saw the gunman heading to the school and placed the building into lockdown.

The door should have automatically locked but – for an unclear reason – it did not do so.

“It was closed, but unlocked,” Mr McCraw said, adding that Ramos was able to “walk straight through it”.

There was no way for the teacher to know if the door had automatically locked from the inside, he said.

“The only way to know that the door is unlocked is to go out, close the door, then try it,” he said.

Once inside the building, Ramos was able to enter the classroom, exit back into the hallway and reenter “seamlessly” and without a key.

Surveillance footage from inside the corridor outside the classroom reveals that no officers tried the door.

“I don’t believe based on the information we had right now that the door was ever secured,” said the TDPS director.

He added that – even if the door had been locked – there was still “no need to wait for a key” as officers could have breached the door with a tool or the windows.

The significant time lapse is believed to have cost lives with one teacher dying in an ambulance on the way to hospital while three children died after reaching hospitals.

The special Texas Senate committee – Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans – has been tasked to probe the events of the 24 May massacre and make legislative recommendations to the state.

Eight Republican and three Democratic state senators sit on the committee.

Notably absent from the committee is Democratic state Sen Roland Gutierrez, whose district covers Uvalde.

Sen Gutierrez has hit out at the police response to the mass shooting and called for the state to pass tighter gun control measures.

The next Senate committee hearing will take place on Wednesday.

At least two other separate investigations have been launched by the Texas Rangers and the US Justice Department.

On a national level, the massacre of 21 innocent people in Uvalde has led to renewed debate over gun control in Congress.

Last week, a bipartisan group of senators said they had reached a deal on a package of narrow gun safety measures.

The deal includes expanding background checks for people aged 18 to 21 and more money for school safety and mental health resources.

However, it does not include the ban on assault weapons that many are calling for, after high-capacity rifles were used in the recent attacks to kill multiple people.

The massacre at Uvalde came just 10 days after 10 Black people were shot dead by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

In both shootings, the 18-year-old suspects used semi-automatic rifles.

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