Isaiah 6: 8 King James Version:
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
In Update 12 of this series—the SMM Uvalde archive is here—we ended with the death of the killer. We also learned no one was ever in charge, no command post was ever established, no incident commander took command, and no one ever bothered to try to doors to the classrooms to see if they were unlocked. We return to the Texas State House of Representative’s interim report–available here–to examine the state of security at Robb Elementary School.
With hindsight we can say that Robb Elementary did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder on campus.
The school’s five-foot tall exterior fence was inadequate to meaningfully impede an intruder. While the school had adopted security policies to lock exterior doors and internal classroom doors, there was a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks. At a minimum, school administrators and school district police tacitly condoned this behavior as they were aware of these unsafe practices and did not treat them as serious infractions requiring immediate correction. In fact, the school actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys.
The school district did not treat the maintenance of doors and locks with appropriate urgency. In particular, staff and students widely knew the door to one of the victimized classrooms, Room 111, was ordinarily unsecured and accessible. Room 111 could be locked, but an extra effort was required to make sure the latch engaged. Many knew Room 111’s door had a faulty lock, and school district police had specifically warned the teacher about it. The problem with locking the door had been reported to school administration, yet no one placed a written work order for a repair.
In other words, Robb Elementary was like just about every other American school. The fence, which appears to be four, rather than five, feet high was obviously not meant to stop intruders, but to keep children from running into the street. That teachers often propped open doors and circumvented locks is common practice. In schools, teachers, students and others are constantly coming and going, and very few, if any, schools are designed to accommodate and balance the necessities of schooling and security.
The issue of keys is interesting. School officials normally only give teachers the keys they need for their classrooms. Substitutes and others are on their own, and spend considerable time hunting down keys. On one hand, indiscriminately handing out keys is a security issue. On the other, it’s a control issue, with administrators zealously guarding their privileges, and even locking teachers out of their buildings from time to time, denying them access to their classrooms and materials. At Robb Elementary, only a few people had a master key, and the campus had seven separate, detached buildings.
As to maintenance issues, we learn the school district maintenance staff was understaffed and overworked. Was the lock issue ignored because no one cared, or because there was no one to fix it, or was there no budget for such repairs? We learn there were other issues that prevented timely and functional lock repairs. This is an interesting, and concerning issue:
Another factor contributing to relaxed vigilance on campus was the frequency of security alerts and campus lockdowns resulting from a recent rise of ‘bailouts’—the term used in border communities for the increasingly frequent occurrence of human traffickers trying to outrun the police, usually ending with the smuggler crashing the vehicle and the passengers fleeing in all directions. The frequency of these ‘bailout’-related alarms—around 50 of them between February and May of 2022—contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts.
That teachers would become complacent after 50 “bailout” alerts that amounted to no real threat is human nature, and has nothing to do with woke politics. Commonly, schools enact what they think are useful security measures, but they often amount to nothing more than annoyance for teachers. In my mid-sized Texas high school, the powers that be mandated small cards, red and green on alternate sides. In a lockdown, we were to hang the cards on our doors, green if all our kids were present, and red if they weren’t. The idea was principals could glance down a hallway and immediately tell if everyone was accounted for. That is until I took our principal by the hand and asked him to actually try it. He immediately realized he would have to walk to every door to see the cards or their color. Simply calling each teacher on the school intercom would be more efficient and effective.
The report also suggests if every interior and exterior door had been locked:
…that could have slowed his progress for a few precious minutes—long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker before he could massacre 19 students and two teachers.
Nonsense. As I’ve already pointed out, all of those doors had windows and/or large glass panes bordering the doors. At Newtown, the killer shot out a similar pane of glass within seconds to gain entry. The Robb Elementary killer could have done the same. Schools aren’t designed for security and upgrading physical security, such as replacing doors and windows, installing barriers, camera and intercom systems and other measures is expensive indeed. The report also makes clear many teachers didn’t get lockdown instructions because no one told them via intercom.
Because of these failures of facilities maintenance and advance preparation, the attacker fired most of his shots and likely murdered most of his innocent victims before any responder set foot in the building. Of the approximately 142 rounds the attacker fired inside the building, it is almost certain that he rapidly fired over 100 of those rounds before any officer entered.
This is the status quo of school attacks. It is virtually impossible for the police to arrive in time to prevent deaths. Unless there are willing and capable adults present when and where an attack occurs, armed and able to stop the attackers, the status quo will remain unchanged. This passage is as sad as it is pathetic:
The Uvalde CISD’s written active shooter plan directed its police chief to assume command and control of the response to an active shooter. The chief of police was one of the first responders on the scene. But as events unfolded, he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander. This was an essential duty he had assigned to himself in the plan mentioned above, yet it was not effectively performed by anyone. The void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon.
“Could have contributed to the loss of life”?! It absolutely contributed. The report does not establish when those “sporadic” shots were fired, leaving us to conclude that during more than an hour while officers waited in the hallway, they heard continuing shots, which should have convinced them children and teachers continued to die. This paragraph falls into the Captain Obvious category:
A command post could have transformed chaos into order, including the deliberate assignment of tasks and the flow of the information necessary to inform critical decision-making. Notably, nobody ensured that responders making key decisions inside the building received information that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in Rooms 111 and 112, and had called out for help. Some responders outside and inside the building knew that information through radio communications. But nobody in command analyzed this information to recognize that the attacker was preventing critically injured victims from obtaining medical care. Instead of continuing to act as if they were addressing a barricaded subject scenario in which responders had time on their side, they should have reassessed the scenario as one involving an active shooter. Correcting this error should have sparked greater urgency to immediately breach the classroom by any possible means, to subdue the attacker, and to deliver immediate aid to surviving victims. Recognition of an active shooter scenario also should have prompted responders to prioritize the rescue of innocent victims over the precious time wasted in a search for door keys and shields to enhance the safety of law enforcement responders.
The report advocates an “off-site” command post, which is nonsense. The school had multiple separate buildings, and a command post could and should have been set up in one of those. Distance from the event, particularly considering the radio and cell phone difficulties, would have harmed, not enhanced, police response. The report also suggests using a sledgehammer to enter the classroom, or entering through exterior windows. No sledgehammer was necessary; the doors were unlocked, as the report makes clear. Trying to enter through exterior windows would have been ridiculously slow and actually expose officers to unnecessary risk. Doing the obvious—violently and rapidly breaching the classroom door with sufficient force– was effective, and would have been effective at any point during the event.
The report also notes there were many officers and agencies present with superior training and equipment, yet no one coordinated with anyone else, no one asked questions, and no one ever took control. As I noted in Update 12, there is no indication anyone thought to try the classroom doors to see if they were open. There is no indication anyone thought to look through the classroom exterior windows, which provided a view of the entire classroom, to keep an eye on the shooter, and to relay where he was and what he was doing. They kept hearing shots. Perhaps they didn’t want to know, because that would force them to act?
The report also explains the School District established its own police force in 2018, with a total of six officers. There was no individual officer assigned Robb Elementary, and officers would, from time to time—“several times a week”—visit the school for “from 15-45 minutes.” There was no school resource officer, and reports to the contrary are wrong. There was an active shooter plan:
As directed by state legislation enacted in 2019, Uvalde CISD adopted a policy for responding to an active shooter emergency. And Uvalde CISD deserves credit for having done so—they are one of the few Texas school districts recognized by the School Safety Center as having submitted a viable active shooter policy.
The report outlines what is a common, vanilla response policy. It looks good on paper, but as with most school security measures, it is a “feel safe,” rather than an actually being safe band aid, particularly since it was not followed. The policy designates the school district police chief as the incident commander and directs him to coordinate with all other responding agencies. This is a standard bureaucratic response:
Before joining the Uvalde CISD Police Department, Chief Arredondo received active shooter training from the ALERRT Center, which the FBI has recognized as ‘the National Standard in Active Shooter Response Training.’ Every school district peace officer in Texas must be trained on how to respond in active shooter scenarios. Not all of them get ALERRT training, but Chief Arredondo and other responders at Robb Elementary did.
ALERRT’s training program identifies the challenge for law enforcement responders of possibly having to work ‘with a small ad hoc team of individuals they may have never trained with before,’ such that ‘the only way to swing the tactical advantage back in favor of the [law enforcement] responder is through the use of effective teamwork and tactics.’ The training identifies lessons to be learned from past active shooter incidents. From the Columbine tragedy in 1999, one lesson was that responders must have tools and training to immediately make entry and neutralize an active shooter threat. Another Columbine lesson was the ‘Priority of Life Scale’: innocent civilians come before law enforcement and other responders. After Columbine, ‘[w]hile protecting the lives of officers remained a high priority, Stopping the Killing of innocent civilians took first priority. From that moment forward, every law enforcement officer was expected to be willing to risk his or her life without hesitation.’ ‘Law enforcement officers were expected to distract, isolate, and neutralize the threat, even in tactically complex situations and when they lacked special training.’
The report goes on to speak about the importance of establishing an “incident command structure” under ALERRT guidelines, but if the first officers on the scene do their job, there will be no need for such a structure, as the killer will be quickly located and stopped. I don’t suggest such training is useless, only that it’s useless if it is not acted upon, and it is particularly useless if it is implemented as a “feel safe” public relations measure and little or nothing else is done to make schools as safe as possible.
Beginning in February of 2022, the school district bought a “Raptor” cell phone based alert system, which allowed any teacher to make an alert. Because the system didn’t differentiate between types of alerts, a high number of alerts made teachers complacent. There were other problems:
The Committee received evidence that Uvalde CISD employees did not always reliably receive the Raptor alerts. Reasons included poor wi-fi coverage, phones that were turned off or not always carried, and employees who had to log-in on a computer to receive a message.
While the system was better than nothing, there were no apparent attempts to make it useful and workable. Again, schools tend to enact measures that allow them and the public to “feel safe,” but tend to do little to actually be as safe as possible. This too is common:
Considering the district’s policies about keeping doors locked, it was important that doors and locks be properly maintained. The manufacturer discontinued production of the door locks used at Robb Elementary. While the school district had acquired a supply of key blanks at the time the locks were purchased, that supply was gone by May 2022.
The director of maintenance and operations, Mr. Harrison, testified that people frequently lose, forget, or simply do not want to carry school keys. As a result, the custodians spend a lot of time opening doors. The maintenance and operations department has one employee who specializes in door repairs, but it relies on YouTube instruction videos, online diagrams, and the help of a local locksmith to work on locks. Harrison testified that unless there is a work order notifying his department of a problem, his employees do not regularly check doors.
Replacing all the door locks and keys on a given school building is prohibitively expensive. Absent doing that, actually taking effective security measures, schools end up like this:
There were numerous different master keys that worked with different sets of locks at the Robb Elementary School campus. People who had master keys included Harrison, Principal Gutierrez, Assistant Principal Shawna Wolbert, Robb Instructional Coach Rebecca Guzman, Principal Gutierrez’s secretary, Janette Martinez, and lead custodian Jaime Perez. Both Uvalde CISD Police Chief Arredondo and Lt. Mike Hernandez possessed a large number of keys to Uvalde CISD buildings. Chief Arredondo kept a number of keys in his car, but he was not sure whether he had master keys for Robb Elementary. He knew he did not have a key to every building, though he testified that he had requested a complete set for himself. Of the over 50 keys that he carried with him, Lt. Hernandez testified that he had a Robb Elementary master key that had worked, although sometimes he had to jiggle keys to make them work. Additionally, sometimes staff would change locks without notice to him.
Fifty keys are as useless as a single key that does not reliably work.
To people familiar with law enforcement and schools, none of this is surprising. It is in fact, precisely what I expected any competent report to find. If we cannot expect school districts to appropriately update their locks, and to provide reliably functional keys, or if electronic locks, key cards, that work to those that need them, we certainly can’t expect them to enact far more expensive security measures.
Installing a comprehensive video system, for example, is expensive beyond cameras and monitors. To be effective, multiple people must be paid to constantly monitor the cameras. This virtually never happens, and at Parkland, a huge campus of at least 12 separate buildings, the security cameras/recorders were set on a 20 minute delay(?!), a fact unknown to the officers responding, who were always 20 minutes behind reality.
One irony of the Robb Elementary attack is keys were superfluous. They were a factor only because the police, who never bothered to see if the classroom doors were unlocked, believed they needed a master key. They didn’t.
As with virtually every school attack, Robb Elementary was a gun free zone for staff and a free fire zone for the killer. There was no deterrence, and no one on campus was able to stop the attack when and where it occurred. This is particularly ironic given the heightened possibility of violence due to rampant illegal immigration, and the crime associated with it, in the area.
What appears incontrovertible is among the officers at Robb Elementary, no one heard and answered the voice of the Lord, or if they tried, they were prevented from acting.
I’ll post the latest Too Stupid To Survive article on Friday, and on Saturday, I’ll return with an article on the Robb Elementary killer, and what we can learn from the report on that matter.