Texas’s top public safety official said officers on the scene failed to follow protocol at the Uvalde elementary school shooting, with officers standing in the hallway as children in the classroom called 911 as their classmates were killed.
At a Friday afternoon press conference, state Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw said that 19 officers stood in the hallway outside the fourth-grade classroom on Tuesday while students inside the room called 911 for help. McCraw said the on-site commander, school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo, thought there was no longer a threat to the children inside, so he waited for nearly an hour to breach the room because the gunman had locked the door.
“From the benefit of hindsight, where I'm sitting now, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision, period. There is no excuse for that. But again, I wasn't there. I'm just telling you, from what we know, we believe there should have been an entry as soon as you can.”
At a press conference later in the day, Gov. Greg Abbott claimed he had been misled by authorities and was "absolutely livid" after initially praising the law enforcement response on Wednesday. Speaking moments after he addressed the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in a pre-recorded video message, Abbott said that "every act by every official involved in this entire process is under the investigation conducted both by the Texas Rangers and by the FBI" and information he had been given about the shooting "turned out in part to be inaccurate."
When asked why authorities didn’t enter the Robb Elementary classroom, McCraw said that “it was believed at the time that the subject was stationary, barricaded and there was no risk to other children.” But, he said, “clearly there were kids in the room, clearly they were at risk, and, oh, by the way, even when you go back to shooting, there may be kids that were injured, they may be shot but injured, and it’s important for lifesaving purposes to immediately get there and render aid.”
McCraw said that Texas active-shooter doctrine states that police should have engaged the gunman and neutralized him. According to McCraw, students in the room were calling 911 and pleading with police to help as they stood outside the classroom where 19 students and two teachers were killed. After a Border Patrol tactical team arrived, law enforcement finally breached the classroom and killed the gunman after a janitor had unlocked the door.
“When it comes to an active shooter, you don’t have to wait on tactical gear. Plain and simple, you’ve got an obligation,” McCraw said, adding, “If shooting continues and you have any reason to believe there’s individuals alive in there, you’ve got an obligation to move back to an active-shooter posture, and that means everybody at the door.”
McCraw choked up as he shared details of at least eight 911 calls made by students inside the classrooms before police made entry. He said the first student called 911 at 12:03 p.m., and calls continued for more than 45 minutes, during which operators could hear gunfire over the phone. At 12:16, McGraw said, a girl called to report that "eight to nine" students were alive. She called back 30 minutes later, begging for help, saying she could hear officers outside the classroom.
"Please send the police now," she said, according to McGraw.
McCraw was unable to explain how word of the 911 calls was not relayed to officers on the site as they stood outside. When asked if the parents of the children who died while officers stood outside were owed an apology, he said, “If I thought it would help, I'd apologize.”
In an interview with CNN, 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, who was in the classroom, said she and a friend were able to grab her dead teacher’s phone and call 911 for help. She said she told a dispatcher, "Please send help because we’re in trouble.”
As Miah lay there, she thought the police simply hadn't yet reached the school, according to CNN. Later, she said, she overheard that police had been waiting outside the school. When she spoke about it during the CNN interview, she started crying, and said she didn’t understand why the police didn’t come inside and get the children.
A senior government official who conducts active-shooter trainings at schools told Yahoo News the responding officers broke every protocol put in place since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
“What they did was pre-Columbine protocol. After Columbine, all this changed — active shooters, you go in, the first guy goes in and neutralizes the threat,” the official said, ”They broke every rule in the book. They did everything wrong.”
The official said the decision to wait about 45 minutes for a janitor to unlock the door with a skeleton key cost lives.
“You can breach a door in 15 seconds,” the official said. “You put plastique on the edge of the door, you blow it open. If you have no bomb guys, you shoot the door, you shoot the lock, the lock will break, you get in that way.”
“Nineteen cops … didn’t breach the door, they waited for [Customs and Border Protection]. Shoot the door, just shoot the door,” the official added. “I don’t know why they waited, they could have gone outside of [the] building and fired into the glass. Saying, ‘Sorry, it’s a bad call’ — well, it’s a bad call with 21 people dead.”
The Friday press briefing also confirmed there was no school district police officer present, reversing what McCraw and Abbott had originally said at a press conference on Wednesday. Officials also originally reported that the gunman was wearing body armor, which they also later retracted.
Just before McCraw spoke, the New York Times reported that federal agents arrived on the scene between noon and 12:10 p.m. but that the Uvalde Police Department kept them from going in, with the eventual breach not coming until nearly 1 p.m.
A Border Patrol source with knowledge of the Uvalde response told Yahoo News the team that responded to the shooting urged local cops to let them rush the building, saying, "We were told to wait; we were told to wait and wait, and the team wanted to go, but you have to understand CBP is not the lead agency, so they had to wait, and now look what happened."
Authorities have said the gunman, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, entered the school through what was believed to have been an unlocked door around 11:40 a.m.
In a February 2020 Facebook post, the Uvalde Police Department posted a photo of its SWAT team — nine officers armed with assault rifles — stating that they would be visiting local schools and businesses to “familiarize themselves with layouts.” McCraw said he did not know why the team did not lead the assault on the gunman.
While officers stood in the hallway, parents who could still hear gunshots were pushing law enforcement outside the school to do something. There are multiple reports of parents being handcuffed outside as they pleaded with officers to act. A nearly seven-minute video posted to social media supports the reporting, showing police restraining parents outside the school and even holding one person on the ground.
“There were five or six of [us] fathers hearing the gunshots, and [police officers] were telling us to move back,” Javier Cazares, whose daughter Jacklyn was killed in the attack, told the Washington Post. “We didn’t care about us. We wanted to storm the building. We were saying, ‘Let’s go,’ because that is how worried we were, and we wanted to get our babies out.”
Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez has yet to give a public briefing but issued a written statement Thursday in which he said he understood that "questions are surfacing regarding the details of what occurred," but that police had responded “within minutes” and had suffered gunshot wounds.
Abbott had praised the law enforcement response, saying Wednesday,“The reality is, as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives. And it is a fact that because of their quick response getting on the scene, being able to respond to the gunman and eliminate the gunman, they were able to save lives. Unfortunately, not enough.”