AUSTIN, Texas — The chief of Texas State Police on Tuesday issued a sharp and emphatic rebuke to the police response to a shooting last month at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, calling it “an abject failure” that went against the grain. against decades of training.
In his remarks before a state Senate special committee in Austin, Steven McCraw, the director of the Department of Public Security, gave the most complete public account yet of his agency’s months-old investigation and a strong argument that officers on the ground – and should have confronted the gunman immediately upon arrival. Just minutes after a gunman began firing at children on May 24, he said, officers on the ground had enough firepower and protective equipment to burst into classrooms.
“The only thing that prevented a corridor of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the commander on site,” Mr McCraw said.
But the commander “decided to put the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said, postponing confronting the gunman for more than an hour while “waiting for a key that was never needed.”
Most of the victims appear to have been shot in the shooter’s first few minutes in the classroom. But Mr McCraw’s testimony addressed a central and painful question that still hung over the massacre and police’s delayed response, one that investigators have attempted to answer through agent interviews and video reviews: Were locked the doors of the classrooms, allowing police officers to come in in time to save others?
“Based on the information we have now, I don’t believe that door was ever secured,” said Mr. McCraw of the classroom door the gunman entered. “The door was not secured.”
He said classroom doors in the school would normally be set with a key to lock automatically when closed. But the gunman had managed to get into the classroom, he noted, suggesting the door hadn’t been locked or not closed completely. A teacher had made a request for the lock to be repaired before the shooting, he said, adding that the lock wasn’t broken, but the so-called striker plate was “dysfunctional,” forcing someone to pull it to get it closed.
Anyway, he said, “You can’t lock the door from the inside. And there is no way for the subject to lock the door from the inside.
mr. McCraw directed his blame at the scene commander, whom he identified as Uvalde School District Police Chief, Pete Arredondo, who he said was the highest ranking person on the scene.
The chief has said he didn’t consider himself the boss, but Mr McCraw disputed that. “If you’re going to give commands, if you’re going to lead action,” he said, “you’re the commander on the ground.”
The delayed confrontation with the gunman, Mr McCraw said, “contradicted everything we’ve learned over the past two decades since the Columbine massacre” in 1999.
Several senators reacted with shock and anger. “Every shot is a death,” said Senator Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from the Houston suburbs. “And yet this incident commander finds every reason to do nothing.”
“I challenge this chief to testify in public,” Mr Bettencourt said loudly at one point, referring to Chief Arredondo. The chief was also at the state capitol on Tuesday to testify before a closed-door hearing of a Texas House inquiry committee. He did not speak before or after the news media.
An attorney for Chief Arredondo has not responded to a request for comment and the Chief has said he will not discuss the matter further until the investigation is completed.
Mr. McCraw has been the director of the public safety department since 2009 and oversees both the state police and the Texas Rangers, the organization investigating the Uvalde shooting. Born in El Paso, Mr. McCraw started out as a Texas State Trooper in the 1970s and later rose through the ranks of the FBI before returning to the Texas Police Department as the state’s director of homeland security under Governor Rick Perry.
His testimony, lasting more than four hours, was unusually charged as it followed weeks with little to no official updates on the investigation and came after a hesitant and disturbing first attempt by top officials to provide details about the shooting and the police. answer.
On Tuesday, Mr. McCraw brought poster boards showing a timeline of the shooting and police response to the school, photos of doors in the school and two maps showing the gunman and police officers entering the school and then the two connected classrooms. . He walked between them as he presented the investigators’ findings to the assembled senators. He also had a section of a classroom door, taken from Robb Elementary, demonstrating the locking mechanism.
The senators asked direct questions about the response, but also addressed the wider political debates about school safety and gun control that have erupted after the Uvalde shooting.
“It doesn’t take a gun,” said Senator Bob Hall, an East Texas Republican. “This man had enough time to do it with his hands. Or a baseball bat.”
Jon Rosenthal, a Texas House Democratic member who followed the hearing from afar, took an opposite lesson. “Tell me again how arming our teachers is your solution to the gun violence problem,” he said wrote on Twitter† “The problem is the GUNS.”
The summary presented by Mr. McCraw confirmed details first reported by DailyExpertNews in a series of articles over the past month, including that the officers entering the school for the first time — two minutes after the gunman — AR -15-style rifles, and that shields that could have been used to protect officers entering the classroom had arrived before noon, nearly an hour before officers finally entered.
Mr McCraw also presented new details, such as the exact time Chief Arredondo entered the school, at 11:36 a.m., three minutes after the gunman entered the classrooms and began firing.
The timeline also noted that at 11:54 a.m. a Texas Ranger was at the school, one of at least 12 state police officers who responded between when the gunman began shooting in the classroom at 11:33 a.m. and when officers killed him at 12 a.m. :50 hours
The presentation contrasted sharply with the version of events offered by Chief Arredondo in an interview with The Texas Tribune. The Times has reported that Mr. Arredondo arrived at school without his police radio and concentrated on finding the keys to the classrooms, even though the videos did not show anyone checking the classroom door to see if it was locked .
Chief Arredondo said the classrooms were locked and he knew this because he and another officer had checked both doors. He said he then focused on finding keys and tested dozens of them, he said, trying to find one that would work on the doors. One was eventually found, he said, and was used by the team that entered the classroom and killed the gunman.
But Mr McCraw said there was no evidence, either from video or interviews, that anyone had actually checked the doors. “Besides, you don’t need a key,” he said, pointing to the availability of burglary tools and the ability to enter through the windows.
Tuesday’s hearing represented the first public comments on the investigation in weeks.
The Department of Public Safety stopped holding public briefings within a week of the shooting after several details shared by officials, including Mr. McCraw and Gov. Greg Abbott, were found to be incorrect. The information to be corrected included the time it took officers to fire the first shots at the shooter (not immediately, but an hour and 17 minutes after he started firing inside the school) and how he gained access to the building (not through a door that was open, but through one that was unlocked.)
Rather than provide updates, state police began directing media investigations to local district attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, who declined requests for interviews and failed to hold press conferences.
The mixed story surrounding the massacre, which killed 19 children and two teachers, quickly undermined confidence in official records of the shooting and sparked tensions between state officials and those in Uvalde, most of whom gathered around their city’s police and Chief Arredondo, who recently sat on the city council.
Those tensions only increased when Mr. McCraw held a news conference three days after the shooting and said Chief Arredondo had been in charge of the police response and made the “wrong decision” by not attempting to confront the gunman immediately.
Shortly after that press conference, on May 27, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin asked the Federal Justice Department to conduct its own investigation, independent of that of the Texas Rangers. The State House is also conducting an investigation, meaning there are now at least three investigations into what happened.
Without official briefings, details emerged in other ways, including through investigative documents, surveillance videos and transcripts of CCTV footage of police bodies reviewed by The Times.
The Times revealed that police chiefs had been told there were people alive but injured in the classrooms; that an officer had been on the phone with his wife, a teacher, after she was shot but before she died, and that at 11:48 a.m., he told other officers about this so that they clearly indicated that there were people in the classrooms for urgent help needed; and that a police officer from Uvalde missed an opportunity to shoot the gunman outside the school for fear he would hit children.
On Tuesday, several senators asked whether the delay has cost lives. Most of the shots took place in the first few minutes the gunman was inside the classrooms, although he fired a few additional shots while officers waited outside the classrooms.
“Is there any way to determine how different this outcome would have been if we could have gone right in?” asked Senator Bryan Hughes, a Republican from Tyler, near the end of the hearing.
Mr McCraw said the prosecutor was very interested in answering that question and had sought help from emergency medicine experts.
The final question for Mr. McCraw came from Senator José Menéndez, a Democrat from San Antonio, and was directed not at the police responding, but at the AR-15-style rifle wielded by the shooter.
“Based on the 100 rounds he fired in a short period of time, could he have done that much damage with a bat, a knife, or a revolver?” asked Mr. Menendez. “Could he have killed as many people?”
“No,” replied Mr. McCraw.