Officers who responded to Uvalde school massacre did not attempt to open doors to classrooms for over an hour, reports say
Rosa Flores, Eric Levenson and Travis Caldwell, CNN
(CNN) — In the days after last month’s deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, authorities said a gunman with an AR-15-style assault rifle entered two adjacent classrooms, shot children and teachers and barricaded himself behind locked doors, preventing outgunned responding officers from stopping him until 77 minutes later.
Yet preliminary evidence suggests none of the officers attempted to open either of the doors until moments before taking down the gunman, according to a law enforcement source close to the investigation and reporting in the Texas Tribune and the Austin American-Statesman.
The officers were not without weaponry and equipment. One security footage image obtained by the Austin American-Statesman shows at least three officers in the hallway — two of whom have rifles and one who appears to have a tactical shield — at 11:52 a.m., 19 minutes after the gunman entered the school.
In all, officers had access to four ballistic shields inside the school, the fourth of which arrived 30 minutes before officers stormed the classrooms, the Tribune said, citing a law enforcement transcript.
Still, they remained in a hallway outside the classrooms and did not try to enter until 12:50 p.m.
During those 70-plus minutes, some children were still alive and calling 911 for help; one student told CNN she smeared herself with her friend’s blood and played dead.
The new details raise significant questions about the delayed police response to the shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. And the reporting — in three different news outlets and citing unnamed sources — also highlights Texas officials’ lack of transparency to the public in such a critical incident.
Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat, told CNN on Monday that the reporting underscored his questions about why police did not try to breach the doors sooner.
“We see that there (are) officers with adequate munitions, adequate equipment to be able to breach that room,” he said. “i just don’t understand why that didn’t happen, why they didn’t breach the room.
“Those answers need to be had. They shouldn’t be dribbling through the media in this way. We should have law enforcement agencies tell us exactly what went wrong. And the fact that we’re not getting that information is just a travesty in and of itself.”
Further details are expected Tuesday when Col. Steven McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, testifies before the Texas Senate Committee to Protect All Texans, according to the office of Texas State Sen. Robert Nichols, who chairs the committee.
McCraw and his team will display photos and diagrams of the school that show the layout of the classrooms, according to Nichols’ office.
What the new reporting shows
The school police chief and local authorities have faced fierce criticism over the length of time elapsed before the gunman was killed and first responders were able to reach the victims. The gunman entered one of the classrooms at 11:33 a.m. and began firing, and he remained in the classrooms until he was killed by officers at 12:50 p.m., according to a timeline from the Texas Department of Public Safety,
Eleven officers — including Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo — were inside Robb Elementary within three minutes of the gunman entering on May 24, a law enforcement source close to the investigation told CNN.
Initial officers approached the connected classrooms 111 and 112 and were shot at by the gunman, authorities said. After that, they retreated and remained stationed in an adjacent hallway.
Arredondo, who has been identified by other officials as the incident commander on scene, had previously told the Texas Tribune that officers had found the classroom doors were locked and reinforced with a steel jamb, hindering any potential response or rescue. Efforts were made to locate a key to unlock the door, he said.
Yet preliminary evidence suggests the officers did not approach the door again until over an hour later.
A review of surveillance footage and transcripts of radio traffic and phone calls by the Tribune — which says details were confirmed by a senior official at the state’s DPS — put the gunman shooting inside classroom 111, briefly walking out the door, then reentering and opening fire.
Within moments of the gunfire burst, 11 officers arrived on the scene, according to the Tribune report and confirmed by the law enforcement source to CNN.
Arredondo called the Uvalde Police Department’s dispatch by phone shortly after the gunman fired at officers, according to the source, requesting further assistance and saying he did not have his radio on him.
Citing a transcript, the Tribune notes that “by the time Arredondo called dispatch, at least 11 officers had entered the school and at least two are seen in the video carrying rifles. But Arredondo told the dispatcher that he didn’t have the firepower to confront the lone gunman.”
One officer, according to the American-Statesman, said that they needed to act.
“If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there,” the officer said. Another officer responded, “Whoever is in charge will determine that.”
Arredondo had previously told the Tribune he did not consider himself the incident commander that day. However, at least one of the officers is noted at 11:50 a.m. believing Arredondo was leading law enforcement response inside the school, telling others, “The chief is in charge,” according to the Tribune.
In the first minutes of their response, an officer also said a Halligan, a firefighting tool that is used for forcible entry, was on scene, according to the Tribune. However, the tool wasn’t brought into the school until an hour after officers arrived and was never used, the Tribune said.
Toward the end of the standoff, according to the law enforcement source, Arredondo wondered aloud whether officers would consider “popping him through the window.” A body camera transcript showed Arredondo indicating to other officers at 12:46 p.m. that if a SWAT response team was ready, they should breach the door, an action that came four minutes later.
CNN has reached out to both Arredondo’s attorney, George Hyde, and the Uvalde Police Department regarding the reports.
Arredondo, who has not spoken in a public capacity since the incident, will testify behind closed doors to a Texas House committee investigating the shooting on Tuesday, according to the committee.
The new reporting further angered mourning families whose questions have still not been answered.
“I feel anger,” said Jose Flores Sr., whose 10-year-old son, Jose Flores Jr., was among the children killed. “They let our kids down, left them in there scared and, who knows, crying. They abandoned them,” Flores told CNN’s “New Day” when asked about the latest revelations.
“They’re supposed to be trained professionals,” Flores said of the police. “I don’t understand the reason why they stood back that long for them to go back in … Standing back a whole hour, leaving them inside with that gunman, is not right. It’s cowardly, cowardly, cowardly stuff.”