AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement authorities had enough officers on the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to have stopped the gunman three minutes after he entered the building, the Texas public safety chief testified Tuesday, pronouncing the police response an “abject failure.”
Police officers with rifles instead stood and waited for over an hour while the gunman carried out the May 24 attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, testified at a state Senate hearing on the police handling of the tragedy. Delays in the law enforcement response have become the focus of federal, state and local investigations.
“Obviously, not enough training was done in this situation, plain and simple. Because terrible decisions were made by the on-site commander,” McCraw said of Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief.
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, McCraw said. Nineteen minutes after the gunman entered, the first ballistic shield was brought into the building by police, the witness testified.
McCraw told the Senate committee that Arredondo decided to put the lives of officers ahead of the lives of children.
The public safety chief began outlining for the committee a series of missed opportunities, communication breakdowns and other mistakes:
— Arredondo did not have a radio with him.
— 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.
— Some diagrams of the school that police were using to coordinate their response were wrong.
— The classroom door could not be locked from the inside.
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.”
Questions about the law enforcement response began days after the massacre. McCraw said three days after the shooting that Arredondo made “the wrong decision” when he chose not to storm the classroom for more than 70 minutes, even as trapped fourth graders inside two classrooms were desperately calling 911 for help and anguished parents outside the school urged officers to go inside.
Arredondo later said he didn’t consider himself the person in charge and assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response. Arredondo has declined repeated requests for comment to The Associated Press.
The 18-year-old gunman used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.
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.
Bleiberg and Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle contributed to this report from Dallas.