AUSTIN, Texas — A police officer armed with a rifle watched the gunman in the Uvalde elementary school massacre walk toward the campus but did not fire while waiting for permission from a supervisor to shoot, according to a sweeping critique released Wednesday on the tactical response to the May tragedy.
Some of the 21 victims at Robb Elementary School, including 19 children, possibly “could have been saved” on May 24 had they received medical attention sooner while police waited more than an hour before breaching the fourth-grade classroom, a review by a training center at Texas State University for active shooter situations found.
This report is another stark example of the failure to take advantage of opportunities for police officers that could have saved lives during the most deadly school shooting in America since Sandy Hook Elementary School’s massacre in 2012.
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“A reasonable officer would have considered this an active situation and devised a plan to address the suspect,” read the report published by the university’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program.
According to the report, which is 26 pages long, the authors claim that the findings are based on footage from school, the police body camera, and testimony of officers present at the scene. Their findings include:
— It appeared that no officer waiting in the hallway during the shooting ever tested to see if the door to the classroom was locked. The head of Texas’ state police agency has also faulted officers on the scene for not checking the doors.
— The officers had “weapons (including rifles), body armor (which may or may not have been rated to stop rifle rounds), training, and backup. The victims in the classrooms had none of these things.”
— When officers finally entered the classroom at 12:50 p.m. — more than an hour after the shooting began — they were no better equipped to confront the gunman than they had been up to that point.
— “Effective incident command” never appears to have been established among the multiple law enforcement agencies that responded to the shooting.
At 11:33 AM, the gunman was an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle-wielding 18-year old. A Uvalde officer (whose identity is unknown) saw him carrying a weapon towards the west entrance of the West Hall. The officer asked a supervisor for permission to open fire, but the supervisor “either did not hear or responded too late,” the report said.
When the officer turned back toward the gunman, he already gone inside “unabated,” according to the report.
The door was approximately 148 meters away. He allegedly stated that he was worried about an errant shot entering the school.
“Ultimately, the decision to use deadly force always lies with the officer who will use the force. If the officer was not confident that he could both hit his target and of his backdrop if he missed, he should not have fired,” the report read.
It is the latest in a series of fact-finding reports that was launched following the Texas school shootings. Texas lawmakers also formed a committee to interview more than 20 witnesses, as well as officers, who were present on the scene for many weeks behind closed doors. The release of their findings is not known.
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It follows testimony last month in which Col. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the state Senate that the police response was an “abject failure.” He pinned particular blame on Chief Pete Arredondo, saying that as on-scene commander the Uvalde schools police chief made “terrible decisions” and stopped officers from confronting the gunman earlier.
Arredondo has tried to defend his actions, telling the Texas Tribune that he didn’t consider himself the commander in charge of operations and that he assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response. He said he didn’t have his police and campus radios but that he used his cellphone to call for tactical gear, a sniper and the classroom keys.
A Wednesday report claims that Arredondo and another Uvalde officer spent 13 minutes talking about tactical options and whether to use snipers. They also discussed how to gain access to the classroom windows.
“They also discussed who has the keys, testing keys, the probability of the door being locked, and if kids and teachers are dying or dead,” the report read.
McCraw stated that there were enough police officers on scene to stop the gunman from entering the Uvalde School massacre three minutes later. If they hadn’t bothered checking, they could have located the locked door to his classroom.
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A spokesperson for Uvalde’s city police did not respond immediately to inquiries for comment. Arredondo, who is currently on leave with Uvalde Consolidated International School District, resigned last week from his post as city councilor.
Texas Governor. Greg Abbott initially commended the Uvalde police force’s response. Abbott said officers reacted quickly and ran toward the gunfire with “amazing courage” to take out the killer, thereby saving lives. Later, he claimed he had been misled. Authorities gave inconsistent and inaccurate accounts about what had happened in the weeks and days following the shooting. Recriminations have erupted and there has been a rift between state and local authorities. On Tuesday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez released a letter asking Abbott to move administration of a victims relief fund from the local prosecutor’s office to the Texas Department of Emergency Management. They wrote that they’ve received numerous complaints about District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, “including the failure to timely deliver victim’s compensation resources to those in need.″
Busbee’s office declined to comment Wednesday.
Bleiberg reported in Dallas.
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