Uvalde police response leaves a trail of contradictions and confusion a week after mass shooting

·Senior Writer
·9-min read

As the Uvalde, Texas, community buries the 19 children and two teachers slain in last week’s massacre at Robb Elementary School, grieving family members are still left with more questions than answers about the police response.

Why did officers ignore their training and wait outside the fourth-grade classroom for nearly an hour while others detained parents outside? Did the police on-site ignore 911 calls from kids in the room pleading for help? How has so much of the information given by officials later been proven wrong?

Answers to those questions may not come quickly. ABC News reported Tuesday that the Uvalde Police Department and the Uvalde Independent School District police force were no longer cooperating with the Texas Department of Public Safety’s investigation into the shooting.

A police officer stands near the makeshift memorial for the shooting victims outside Robb Elementary School.
A police officer near the makeshift memorial for the shooting victims outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 28. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

The coordination had ended after a press conference Friday in which Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw laid the blame on the on-site commander, school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo, for more than a dozen officers standing outside the classroom for nearly an hour while children inside called 911 begging the police for help.

“When it comes to an active shooter, you don’t have to wait on tactical gear. Plain and simple, you’ve got an obligation,” McCraw said, adding, “If shooting continues and you have any reason to believe there’s individuals alive in there, you’ve got an obligation to move back to an active-shooter posture, and that means everybody at the door.”

McCraw said the choice not to immediately confront the shooter “was the wrong decision, period” and that “clearly there were kids in the room, clearly they were at risk, and, oh, by the way, even when you go back to shooting, there may be kids that were injured, they may be shot but injured, and it’s important for lifesaving purposes to immediately get there and render aid.”

A Border Patrol tactical team eventually arrived, and after reportedly being delayed by local law enforcement, they had a janitor unlock the classroom door — which had been described as “barricaded” — and killed the gunman.

On Friday, a source for that agency told Yahoo News that the team that responded to the shooting urged local officers to let them rush the building.

Law enforcement personnel outside Robb Elementary School following the shooting on May 24.
Law enforcement personnel outside Robb Elementary School following the shooting on May 24. (Dario Lopez-Mills/AP)

“We were told to wait. We were told to wait and wait, and the team wanted to go, but you have to understand Border Patrol is not the lead agency, so they had to wait, and now look what happened,” the Border Patrol source said.

Two CBP sources with knowledge of the Uvalde response said Texas Rangers, the lead investigators, are preventing CBP officials on scene from interviewing those involved, with one source saying, “They didn’t listen, they didn’t let us go in, and now they are changing their stories multiple times a day, and because CBP has been pushed out of the investigation, we have no idea if what they are saying is even accurate, which is terrible for everyone especially — obviously — the families.”

The timeline of events has changed repeatedly in the week since the shooting, with a patchwork of officials contradicting each other and themselves. San Antonio Express-News and other outlets reported Tuesday that a teacher did not leave the door the gunman entered the school through propped open as law enforcement initially said, including at McCraw’s briefing on Friday.

“She remembers pulling the door closed while telling 911 that he was shooting,” Don Flanary, the teacher’s lawyer, told the Express-News. “She thought the door would lock because that door is always supposed to be locked.”

Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw.
Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw at a press conference on May 27. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The Department of Public Safety later said it was able to confirm the teacher’s account. Previously, officials said that the shooter was wearing body armor (he was not) and that a school district police officer had “engaged” the shooter before he entered the school (they now say the officer drove by and didn’t see the shooter). After initially praising first responders for their quick action, Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday that information he had been given about the shooting “turned out, in part, to be inaccurate” and a full investigation into what had happened was taking place.

The Justice Department announced Sunday that it would investigate the police response to the school shooting and publish its findings.

Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez has yet to hold a public briefing but has defended his department’s actions, while Arredondo hasn’t spoken since brief statements early last week. Arredondo was sworn in as a city council member on Tuesday, after Mayor Don McLaughlin had said the ceremony would be delayed to focus on the victims. Arredondo, an Uvalde native, won an election early last month.

“Out of respect for the families who buried their children today, and who are planning to bury their children in the next few days, no ceremony was held,” McLaughlin said in a statement Tuesday. “Our parents deserve answers, and I trust the Texas Department of Public Safety/Texas Rangers will leave no stone unturned.”

On Monday, McLaughlin said Arredondo was “duly elected” and that “there is nothing in the City Charter, Election Code, or Texas Constitution that prohibits him from taking the oath of office. To our knowledge, we are currently not aware of any investigation of Mr. Arredondo.”

Chief Pete Arredondo of the Uvalde school district police department.
Chief Pete Arredondo of the Uvalde school district police department, third from left, at a news conference on May 26. (Dario Lopez-Mills/AP)

Two Department of Public Safety spokespeople told the Texas Tribune that Arredondo had not responded to a request for a follow-up interview with investigators. The Department of Justice has also said it will pursue a federal inquiry into the botched response. On Tuesday, Texas’s largest police union advised its members to “cooperate fully” with the investigation.

“There has been a great deal of false and misleading information in the aftermath of this tragedy,” said the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas in a statement. “Some of the information came from the very highest levels of government and law enforcement. Sources that Texans once saw as iron-clad and completely reliable have now been proven false.”

A senior government official who conducts school active-shooter trainings told Yahoo News on Friday that the responding officers broke every protocol put in place since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

“What they did was pre-Columbine protocol. After Columbine, all this changed — active shooters, you go in, the first guy goes in and neutralizes the threat,” the official said. “They broke every rule in the book. They did everything wrong.”

Authorities said it took time to obtain a janitor’s key to unlock the classroom door, but the official said that 45 minutes likely cost lives.

Police responding to the school shooting waited before killing the assailant, believing he was barricaded in a classroom.
Police responding to the school shooting waited before killing the assailant, believing he was barricaded in a classroom. (AP graphic)

“You can breach a door in 15 seconds,” the official said. “You put plastique on the edge of the door, you blow it open. If you have no bomb guys, you shoot the door, you shoot the lock, the lock will break, you get in that way.

“Nineteen cops … didn’t breach the door, they waited for [Customs and Border Protection]. Shoot the door, just shoot the door,” the official added. “I don’t know why they waited, they could have gone outside of [the] building and fired into the glass. Saying, ‘Sorry, it’s a bad call’ — well, it’s a bad call with 21 people dead.”

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said Sunday that at least one of the children in the room appears to have died as a result of the time it took to get her medical attention.

“The first responder that they eventually talked to said that their child likely bled out. In that span of 30 or 40 minutes extra, that little girl might have lived,” Gutierrez told CNN.

In a February 2020 Facebook post, the Uvalde Police Department posted a photo of its SWAT team — nine officers armed with assault rifles — stating that they would be visiting local schools and businesses to “familiarize themselves with layouts.” McCraw said he did not know why the assault team did not lead the shooting’s response and storm the classroom.

While officers stood in the hallway, parents who could still hear gunshots were pushing law enforcement outside the school to do something. There are multiple reports of parents being handcuffed outside as they pleaded with officers to act. A nearly seven-minute video posted to social media supports the reporting, showing police restraining parents outside the school and even holding one person on the ground.

Families hug outside the Willie de Leon Civic Center.
Families hug outside Willie de Leon Civic Center in Uvalde, where grief counseling was offered. (Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images)

“There were five or six of [us] fathers hearing the gunshots, and [police officers] were telling us to move back,” Javier Cazares, whose daughter Jacklyn was killed in the attack, told the Washington Post. “We didn’t care about us. We wanted to storm the building. We were saying, ‘Let’s go,’ because that is how worried we were, and we wanted to get our babies out.”

In an interview last week with San Antonio outlet KENS 5, a fourth grader who said he had been hiding in a classroom indicated that police officers’ actions may have caused another child to get shot.

“When the cops came, the cop said, ‘Yell if you need help!’ And one of the persons in my class said, ‘Help.’ The guy overheard, and he came in and shot her,” said the boy. “The cop barged into that classroom. The guy shot at the cop. And the cops started shooting.”

Jana Winter contributed reporting to this story.

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