Texas Chief: Uvalde Cops Could've Killed Gunman in 3 Minutes

Justin Rohrlich / The Daily Beast
Texas Chief: Uvalde Cops Could've Killed Gunman in 3 Minutes Uvalde. (photo: Twitter/Statesman/KVUE)

The on-scene commander, Pete Arredondo, decided to “place the lives of officers over the lives of children,” DPS Director Steve McCraw said Tuesday.

The teenage gunman who last month killed 19 children and two adults at a Uvalde elementary school could have been taken down three minutes after he entered the building, the state’s top law enforcement official testified at a hearing on Tuesday.

Describing the police response to the massacre at Robb Elementary School as an “abject failure,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said there was a “sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract, and neutralize the subject” just 180 seconds after Salvador Ramos, 18, started shooting inside the school.

In all, Ramos fired off at least 171 rounds that day, according to McCraw.

“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers over the lives of children,” said McCraw, adding, “The officers had weapons. The children had none.”

That commander was Chief Pete Arredondo of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, who previously claimed he couldn’t engage Ramos because Ramos was holed up in a locked classroom.

However, McCraw said the classroom doors “could not lock from the inside,” and that cops did not storm the building for fear of being shot themselves.

In fact, McCraw revealed on Tuesday, officers never even tried the door handle.

“One hour, 14 minutes and eight seconds—that’s how long the children waited and the teachers waited...to be rescued,” said McCraw. “While they waited, the on-scene commander waited for radios and rifles, waited for shields, and waited for SWAT. Lastly, he waited for a key that was never needed.”

In a transcript of a call that day between Arredondo and a police dispatcher, Arredondo made clear his concern that Ramos was armed with a rifle and that his own officers were armed only with handguns. On Tuesday, McCraw slammed the commander for his hesitation, arguing that cops have risky jobs. Yet, if there is even “one officer” on the scene, that officer has an obligation to “immediately engage the shooter.”

“He was right—officers are likely to get hurt, and some may die,” McCraw said during the session called by the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans. “But it’s less likely that they would than children without the armor, without the weapons, without the training, left alone with someone who... ultimately killed 21 people.”

In an “active shooter environment,” McCraw continued, “That’s intolerable.”

Responding officers had at least two rifles and ballistic shields shortly after arriving at Robb Elementary, according to McCraw. Still, he said, their inaction cost nearly two dozen lives.

About 20 minutes after the shooting started, a special agent with the Texas Department of Public Safety showed up to assist. In official transcripts reviewed by the Texas Tribune, the agent quickly asked an officer if any kids were still inside the classrooms.

“If there is, then they just need to go in,” the agent said, according to the outlet.

“It is unknown at this time,” the officer replied.

“Y’all don’t know if there’s kids in there?” the agent responded. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”

“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” said the cop.

“Well, there’s kids over here,” he said. “So I’m getting kids out.”

Other issues also conspired to make things worse that day, according to McCraw. For example, there were no deadbolts on the exterior doors, the fence surrounding the school was too low and broken in certain areas, and Robb Elementary suffered from a “lack of controlled access points,” he said.

The portable radios used by dedicated school police officers also did not work inside Robb Elementary. In fact, the only radios that worked inside the building were those carried by U.S. Border Patrol agents who showed up to assist.

McCraw pointed the finger not only at Uvalde police for their inaction, but also at members of the public who did not notify authorities about worrying behavior by Ramos.

“What was concerning is that no one brought it to the attention [of law enforcement],” he said. “...Some people were getting [disturbing] messages, were concerned, and sometimes blocked the subject from communication.”

McCraw also said Ramos engaged in animal cruelty which is “something to look for” when trying to identify future violent tendencies. But he said nothing in Ramos’ disciplinary files raised any red flags.

Sounding alternately infuriated and exasperated, McCraw said the “law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”

The committee was formed in the wake of the deadliest school shooting in Texas history at the behest of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who instructed the members to hold hearings on school safety, police training, social media, mental health, and firearm safety.

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