As I’ve written to this point—the SMM Uvalde archive is here—I’m working from media accounts, which have to be taken not with a grain, but with a block of salt. This is not necessarily because they’re lying, but journalists know so little about such things, they always get details wrong. I’m also working from the experience of a police career, including SWAT duty, so I know how things should work. Let us, gentle readers, keep those two facts in mind as we proceed.
To this point, I’ve assumed there was some attempt to actually open one of what were apparently two classroom doors wherein children and teachers were being murdered over more than an hour. Apparently most, if not all, of the slaughter took place in a single room, though that room shared a bathroom with the adjoining room: a door to each room opening on the hallway, with a door from each room opening into the shared bathroom. The above diagram does not seem to reflect that, though it does seem to show a door between classrooms 111 and 112. I felt safe in this assumption because any competent police officer in this or any similar situation would have, at bare minimum, done two things:
1) Tried to see if they could see into the room, not only to see if they could keep an eye on the shooter, but to learn the size, shape and angles of the room prior to entering. Most classroom doors have windows.
2) Carefully tried the knob or handle to see if the door—or doors—was locked.
We now apparently know the classroom door could not be locked from the inside, and not only that, there is video evidence that during the long wait, while officers heard gunfire from inside the classroom, no one actually tried the door, but more on this shortly. Let’s take a step back to the end of May, and this from Mediaite.com:
A Texas Department of Public Safety official said responding officers were cautious as they entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas because ‘they could’ve been shot.’
Yes, they could. So? That’s why the police wear bullet resistant vests and carry firearms. That’s why they receive continually updated training. In light of that, consider this more recent article from PJ Media:
It’s not yet known who made the decision to stand down for nearly an hour while the assailant systematically executed the young children and their teachers, but Pete Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde school district police force, called the Uvalde Police Department—on a landline because he didn’t have a radio—at 11:40 a.m. requesting backup.
‘It’s an emergency right now,’ he said. ‘We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot… They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have firepower right now. It’s all pistols.’ He then waited for the school janitor to bring him keys to the classroom, none of which worked, and then waited for backup to arrive.
As it turns out, it was not “all pistols,” far from it. But even were that true, at inside-a-classroom distances, pistols, particularly the multiple pistols that were apparently present from three minutes into the attack forward, would not be at a tactical disadvantage against a single rifle. Obviously anyone getting into a gunfight would prefer to be armed with a rifle, or even a submachine gun, but one works with what one has, particularly when women and children are being continuously murdered.
The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety said Tuesday [06-21-22] that Uvalde police could have stopped the mass shooting at Robb Elementary within three minutes, calling their response an ‘abject failure.’
Testifying before a special Texas Senate committee hearing, Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told lawmakers that ‘There is compelling evidence that 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.’
‘Three minutes after the suspect entered the west building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract, and neutralize the subject,’ he said. ‘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.’
McCraw is blaming Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo.
‘The officers had weapons, while the children had none. The officers had body armor, the children had none. The officers had training, the subject had none,’ McCraw said Tuesday. ‘One hour, 14 minutes and eight seconds. That’s how long the children waited, and the teachers waited, in Room 111 to be rescued. And while they waited, the on-scene commander waited for radio and rifles. And he waited for shields, and he waited for SWAT. Lastly, he waited for a key that was never needed.’
The classroom door, which Fox News Digital first reported was physically brought into the state capitol for Tuesday’s hearing, was unlocked, but officers never even tried to open it, McCraw said.
McCraw testified that on video, he never saw anyone put a hand on the door before the keys arrived. Yet, he said it turns out the classroom door could not be locked from the inside.
That would tend to confirm at least that the door was unlocked—couldn’t be locked from the inside. No key–the key upon which they waited for an hour–was ever necessary.
The public safety chief began Tuesday by outlining for the Special Committee to Protect All Texans a series of missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and other mistakes.
McCraw said officers with rifles stood and waited in a school hallway for nearly an hour while the 18-year-old gunman carried out the attack using an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.
Let’s be clear about this: virtually every patrol vehicle in America has at least a shotgun, and many are now equipped with rifles, usually an AR-15 variant in .223/5.56mm caliber. Considering the sheer number of agencies represented that day, one would expect to find shotguns—very effective at in-school distances—and rifles from the moment the first officer arrived.
Eight minutes after the shooter entered the building, an officer reported that police had a ‘hooligan’ crowbar that they could use to break down the classroom door, McGraw said.
He means a “Halligan” tool, designed specially for firefighters to use to enter locked or jammed doors.
Nineteen minutes after the gunman entered, the first ballistic shield was brought into the building by police, the witness testified.
Even without a ballistic shield, a determined assault by multiple officers from multiple vectors could have ended it with minimal danger to officers. McCraw confirmed, as I’ve previously reported:
In addition, McCraw said police and sheriff’s radios did not work within the school; only the radios of Border Patrol agents on the scene worked inside the school, and even they did not work perfectly.
As I’ve previously noted, this is a common issue with radios and cell phones inside buildings with a great deal of structural steel and other heavy building materials. KVUE.com adds detail:
On Monday, KVUE and its news partners at the Austin American-Statesman exclusively obtained surveillance footage from inside Robb Elementary School on the day of the May 24 shooting.
The footage shows that multiple officers were inside the building with rifles and at least one ballistic shield, 19 minutes after the gunman arrived. They didn’t enter the classroom the shooter was inside for nearly another hour. [skip]
According to the latest timeline, officers ultimately breached the classroom at 12:50 p.m. The shooter entered at 11:33 a.m.
According to KVUE, using surveillance and body camera video, “authorities”—probably the DPS—have at least a tentative timeline:
Based on the newest information, it is believed that 11 officers entered the school within three minutes of the gunman. District Police Chief Pete Arredondo reportedly called a landline at the Uvalde Police Department at 11:40 a.m. for help.
‘It’s an emergency right now,’ he said. ‘We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot … They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have fire power right now,’ he said. ‘It’s all pistols.”
At 11:44 a.m., body camera footage then detects more shots from the gunman. At 11:52 a.m., an officer with the first ballistic shield enters the school and other officers grow more impatient. In body camera footage, you can hear one officer say, ‘If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there.’
As I’ve previously noted, apparently no one ever tried to look through an exterior window(!?). It appears in this building all rooms had a number of large exterior windows—this would be common for schools built in this era–but I’ve not seen an account that confirms this. Why that officer who obviously had the right idea, and others, didn’t assault the room remains unknown. Hopefully, a complete investigation will explain.
At 12:03 p.m., an officer with another shield enters the school, followed by a third two minutes later. New information also suggests that Arredondo also attempted to communicate with the gunman, asking whether he could hear him.
This is not current professional practice, potenitally indicating how far Arredondo was in over his head.
About 30 minutes before breaching the classroom, Arredondo is heard wondering aloud whether officers could consider shooting the suspect through the classroom’s windows.
Which would seem to confirm there were windows, yet again, there is no indication anyone actually tried to look through them into the classroom, nor is there any indication there were ever any officers in a position to shoot through the windows.
Then, at 12:46 p.m., the timeline shows that Arredondo told SWAT officers who had arrived that they should breach the classroom door as soon as they were ready. By this time, medical personnel had arrived and they began tending to the children after the suspect was dead.
An Associated Press Account at The Truth About Guns adds additional details:
Some diagrams of the school that police were using to coordinate their response were wrong.
Competent law enforcement agencies have diagrams, on paper or via in-vehicle computers, available for all patrol officers. However, even most local police officers are totally unfamiliar with the layout of the schools in their jurisdiction. Any school police department absolutely should have up-to-date, and regularly updated, diagrams, and should know all their buildings well. This is new information:
State police initially said the gunman entered the school through an exterior door that had been propped open by a teacher, but McGraw said that the teacher had closed the door and it could only be locked from the outside.
‘There’s no way for her to know the door is locked’ McGraw said. ‘He walked straight through.’
This does not sound right. Virtually all school exterior doors are crash bar equipped. Their default is to be locked unless they are purposely unlocked, usually by means of an Allen key applied from the inside. Some have exterior key locks, some do not. Crash bars are universal due to fire codes. They prevent anyone being locked inside in case of fire. More likely, the door was unlocked, and the teacher didn’t realize that, though she apparently pulled it closed, likely thinking that would engage the lock. We are told she propped the door open as she retrieved something from her vehicle, which would tend to indicate she believed the door was locked, and shutting it would keep it locked.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, authorities gave conflicting and incorrect accounts in the days after what happened, sometimes withdrawing statements hours after making them.
‘Everything I’ve testified today is corroborated,’ McCraw assured lawmakers.
Why might “authorities” get things wrong and have to retract them? They likely allowed themselves to be pushed into releasing information before it was confirmed. This is not uncommon, particularly in unusual situations. During my police days, “superior” officers often tried to push me to finish on scene and continuing investigations before I was done and before it was wise. I always refused to be rushed; they didn’t like that.
Final Thoughts: We now seem to know quite a bit more than we did, at least about the potential time frame, and we seem to have more answers about a few previously unknown and inexplicable failures to act, but there is a very long way to go before we know enough to draw any firm conclusions and lessons for the future. It looks bad indeed for law enforcement—pretty much every agency that was there that day—but I suspect when the dust settles, we’re going to find examples of relative heroism, and many more of confusion, frustration, and even cowardice.
Police officers feel fear. They’re just scared so often they learn to deal with it. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the mental discipline to act quickly and correctly regardless. This discipline is perishable, which is why formerly courageous line officers sometimes lose that discipline when they’ve been driving a desk for years. Most administrative officers excuse themselves from physical fitness and shooting standards. In so doing, they might tend to transfer their own inadequacies onto their officers, thinking them incapable of using their handguns effectively and preventing them from taking actions of which they are capable.
It’s important to keep in mind every officer in every one of those agencies, if they want to remain employed, and even if they want to ever work in law enforcement again, has to be very careful about what they say—to anyone. Any even implied criticism of “superior” officers, would be enough to destroy their careers. Remember: all LE agencies are paramilitary, with clear chains of command, and varying degrees of military discipline. They have to follow orders, and with everyone and their dog already out to get them, they are loath to say or do anything that would make that easier.
But why didn’t they just get it done? They had the manpower and weapons to stop the killing! Reread the last paragraph; that’s a partial answer, as is what appears to be conflicting and unclear chains of command. No one seemed to have known who was in charge or what was happening. I know were I there that day, I would have attacked, and tried to rally others to help, but that’s me. With children’s lives hanging in the balance, I wouldn’t have cared about personal consequences. Easy for me to say? Been there, done that, got the brass pissed at me.
Hopefully, the DPS will do a complete and competent report, and release it all. I suspect given all that’s happened, they’d be hard pressed to do otherwise. More as it develops.