The law enforcement response to a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers was “an abject failure” in which a commander put the lives of officers over those of the children, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw has said.
During a Texas Senate hearing into the May 24 mass shooting on Tuesday, McCraw reiterated that as many as 19 officers waited more than an hour in a hallway outside classrooms 111 and 112 before a US Border Patrol-led tactical team finally made entry.
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“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,” McCraw said.
The development came amid sustained criticism about the police actions after the gunman entered Robb Elementary School and began shooting. Many parents and relatives have expressed deep anger about the police response.
The shooting, one of the deadliest school shootings in US history, happened less than two weeks after a self-declared white nationalist shot dead 10 people in Buffalo, New York. The shootings have reignited a national debate on gun violence, and triggered renewed calls for stricter gun control measures.
On June 8, survivors and relatives of gun violence victims testified before a Congressional committee in a new plea for gun control in the US.
McCraw said the classroom door in the elementary school was not locked even as police waited for a key, and there was no evidence any law enforcement officer ever tried the classroom door to see if it was locked.
“I don’t believe based on the information we have right now that door was ever secured,” the director added. “He [the shooter] didn’t have a key … and he couldn’t lock it from the inside.”
“The officers had weapons, the children had none. The officers had body armour, the children had none. The officers had training, the subject had none. One hour, 14 minutes, and eight seconds – that is how long the children waited, and the teachers waited, in Room 111 to be rescued,” the DPS director said.
“Three minutes after the subject entered the west building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armour to isolate, distract and neutralise the subject,” McCraw added.
“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,” the director said in the hearing.
McCraw said the scene commander, Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo, “waited for radio and rifles, and he waited for shields and he waited for SWAT”.
Arredondo earlier this month said he never considered himself the incident commander at the scene of the shooting, and that he did not order police to hold back on breaching the building.
Arredondo told the Texas Tribune that he left his two radios outside the school because he wanted his hands free to hold his gun. He had said he called for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside, holding back from the doors for 40 minutes to avoid provoking sprays of gunfire.
Community members along with parents of the victims urged Arredondo to resign during an impassioned school board meeting on Monday, ABC News reported.