Director and Colonel of the Texas Department of Public Safety Steven C. McCraw speaks at a press conference using a crime scene outline of the Robb Elementary School showing the path of the gunman, outside the school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 27, 2022. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo said officers responding to the Robb Elementary School shooting “probably would have rallied a little more” had they known that children were still alive and trapped inside classrooms with the gunman, according to a new Texas House Committee report. Arredondo’s near-immediate decision to treat the incident as a “barricaded subject” scenario rather than one with an active shooter was a “terrible, tragic mistake”, according to the 77-page report, released Sunday.
“I guess, if I knew there was somebody in there, I would have—we probably would have rallied a little more, to say, ‘Okay, someone is in there,’” Arredondo testified. Before any law enforcement officers arrived on the scene of May 24 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the gunman had already fired 100 of the 142 rounds he’d eventually use, the report found. And when police did eventually respond, a series of shocking oversights, miscommunications, and assumptions likely prevented them from saving some of the 19 children and two teachers who were killed. “It is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue,” the report says. While 376 law enforcement officers from a variety of agencies, including United States Border Patrol and state and local police, were on scene, the report found that no one took charge as incident commander. Officers in different parts of the school were also not effectively communicating crucial information with each other, including relaying the fact that students and teachers trapped inside the classrooms with the gunman had placed 911 calls. Despite being one of the first cops on scene, Arredondo did not assume the role of incident commander—contradictory to the school’s active shooter plan. Others on scene either assumed Arredondo was in charge or said the scene was “chaos” and that “they could not tell that anybody was in charge.”
Arredondo, however, said he testified that he felt justified making the call to not treat the situation as an active shooter, partly because he had no “visual confirmation” of injuries; he and the other first responders told the committee “they heard no screams or cries from within the rooms, and they did not know whether anyone was trapped inside needing rescue or medical attention.” But some officers did know kids were in there and had been calling 911 for help, yet “nobody ensured that responders making key decisions inside the building received information that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire.” Special Agent Luke Williams of the Department of Public Safety testified that when he went inside the school, he heard someone ask, “y’all don’t know if there’s kids in there?” Another officer responded that, “whoever was in charge would figure that out.” The report assessed that even if Arredondo had learned received information that there were injured kids inside the rooms with the shooter, “it is unclear that he would have done anything differently to act ‘more urgently.’” Arredondo also spent 40 minutes looking for master keys to open the classrooms where the gunman was located and waiting on shields that could protect law enforcement officers. But due to the chaos on site, when those items were available, it wasn’t communicated to him.
“An offsite overall incident commander likely could have located a master key more quickly—several people on campus had one,” the report found, noting that it’s likely one of the doors to the classrooms could have been opened without a key. “Nobody ever checked the doors of Rooms 111 or 112 to confirm they were actually locked or secured,” the report said. “Chief Arredondo’s search for a key consumed his attention and wasted precious time, delaying the breach of the classrooms.” Additionally, U.S. Marshals provided a rifle-rated shield at about 12:20 p.m. but it was still another half hour before police breached the classroom and killed the shooter. Officers located outside also stayed there due to receiving misinformation that Arrendondo was negotiating with the gunman. “Responders did not remain focused on the task of ‘stopping the killing’ as instructed by active shooter training,” the report said. The report also found that one of the first officers on scene, Lt. Javier Martinez of Uvalde police, began advancing on the classrooms with the gunman after him and a couple other officers were shot at, but no one followed him. “Several law enforcement officers suggested to the Committee that if others had followed him as backup, Lt. Martinez might have made it back to the classroom doors and engaged,” the report said. Despite the many law enforcement errors, the report opens with a section on the school’s shortcomings, including a “culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks.”
The report said that because of a failure to lock three doors along the school’s west building, the gunman had “unimpeded access.” “Had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, 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,” the report said. After the shooting was over, the initial press conferences—based on second-hand information—painted a picture of the cops as heroes.“These statements repeated a false narrative that the entire incident lasted as little as forty minutes thanks to officers who rapidly devised a plan, stacked up, and neutralized the attacker,” the report said. “The general sentiments shared that day were that law enforcement responders were courageous in keeping the attacker pinned down while children were evacuated.” Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter. Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.