AUSTIN, Texas – Police 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, calling the police response an “abject failure” that ignored lessons from previous school shootings and put the lives of officers ahead of the lives of children.
Within minutes of the shooter entering, there were enough officers “to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” DPS Director Steve McCraw told a state Senate committee Tuesday.
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 that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
McCraw blamed the incident commander, Pete Arredondo, the school district’s police chief, for stopping officers from quickly confronting the gunman. He said the on-scene commander “decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”
“The officers had weapons, the children had none. The officers had body armor, the children had none,” McCraw said.
“The officers had training, the subject had none,” McCraw 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.
‘Antithetical to everything we’ve learned’ in past shootings
During the hearing, McGraw laid out one of the most cohesive timelines thus far of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School.
Eight minutes after the shooter entered the building, an officer reported that police had a “hooligan” crowbar 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, he testified.
The public safety chief outlined a series of missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and other mistakes. He confirmed Arredondo did not have a radio with him when he arrived on the scene.
McCraw also said the classroom door could not be locked from the inside.
In addition, McCraw acknowledged police and sheriff’s radios did not work within the school, a point Arredondo made in an interview with The Texas Tribune earlier this month. McCraw said the only radios operable were those used by Border Patrol agents and even they did not work perfectly.
“There’s compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack on Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre,” he said.
The doctrine developed after 13 people were killed in 1999 at a high school in Columbine, Colo., is “clear and compelling and unambiguous — stop the killing, stop the dying,” McCraw said.
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. Arredondo has declined repeated requests for comment.
Tuesday’s hearing was the first of two days of hearings at the Texas state capitol that will allow members of the public to address lawmakers on gun violence issues.
Contributing: Associated Press