Police who responded to the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, had the firepower and tools to stop the gunman inside, officials said Tuesday. But they chose to wait more than an hour, even as wounded students and teachers pleaded for help from the classroom the shooter had entered. And the state’s top law-enforcement official said that, contrary to previous information, the door to that classroom was not even locked.
The stunning revelations came at a Texas state-senate hearing, where a timeline indicated that Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school-district police chief who was nominally in charge of the response, was most responsible for the delay. Colonel Steve McCraw of the Texas Department of Public Safety said that “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.” He called the overall response an “abject failure” and said that if officers had followed correct protocol, they could have stopped the gunman in three minutes. Instead, they waited 77 minutes to finally storm the classroom.
Ahead of the hearing, the Texas Tribune on Monday published the most comprehensive report on the shooting’s aftermath, relying on phone transcripts, video footage, and previous investigations by other outlets, much of which was confirmed on Tuesday. The Tribune reports that only minutes after the gunman began shooting, a phalanx of officers arrived with rifles, ballistic shields, and a Halligan bar, a specialized tool for prying open doors. Yet Arredondo, who had entered the school first along with several officers — two of whom were grazed by bullets from the gunman — hung back for the rest of the encounter, never giving an order to go in. Several officers questioned the wait-and-see strategy, which went against established school-shooting protocol; one officer’s wife was among the victims in the classroom and had told him on a phone call that she was bleeding to death. Officers could also hear additional bursts of gunfire, clearly indicating that the situation was hardly contained.
The new information complicates one of the central defenses offered by Arredondo. He has described officers facing a locked door, with no way to get through it, and a long wait for a janitor’s key. But while the officers did eventually use a key to open the door, none of the video footage the Tribune obtained showed anyone attempting to breach the door at all — or even check whether it was locked. The footage shows the gunman entering the classroom earlier with no resistance, possibly indicating an unlocked door. Surveillance footage shows officers never tried to open the door until they finally breached it.
Along this week’s hearings, a federal investigation will likely focus on the delayed response. Since the shooting, local and state authorities have largely stonewalled the press, leaving many unanswered questions about what exactly happened on May 24. The more details trickle out, the clearer it is why they would prefer to keep things under wraps.