In Next School Shooting, Cops Probably Should Check Doors, Have Radios, Stuff Like That
New reporting over the weekend about the police response to the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, suggests that police in the school had enough equipment to go after the gunman, but didn't take action. There are new holes in the official explanation for the delay in storming the classroom: Supposedly, police needed to find a key to enter a classroom and kill the gunman. But police records indicate that a door-breaching tool was on the site early on in the incident, as were ballistic shields and high powered rifles. Worse, video from inside the school doesn't show police even checking the doors to the two adjoining classrooms where an 18-year-old shot killed 19 children and two teachers. The gunman himself went in and out of the classroom during the incident, so it's quite likely the door hadn't locked.
In addition, the New York Times reported Friday that an Uvalde city police officer armed with an AR-15 rifle believed he had the chance to shoot the gunman early on, but hesitated to fire because he feared hitting children. That sounds like the only justified judgment call we've heard of in the entire clusterfuck of a police response.
It's almost enough to make one wonder whether making military-grade weapons available for any angry 18-year-old to buy on his birthday is a bad idea in general, given that the "good guys with guns" seemed determined to avoid confronting the shooter.
The Texas Tribune published an exhaustive (and exhausting) review yesterday of what police records, reporting by other Texas journalists, and video from inside Robb Elementary School indicate happened during the shooting; much of that evidence contradicts statements made by officials, including claims by Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo in a June 9 interview with the Tribune. Arredondo and other official sources have since gone silent apart from occasional leaks. After all, there's an election coming up in November and Gov. Greg Abbott needs Texans to think he's super tough on crime.
The Tribune reports that within 20 minutes of the gunman entering rooms 111 and 112 of the school, which are connected by an interior door, there were not only local officers inside the school but also state police. Ballistic shields and cops with rifles were arriving on the scene, as was a "Halligan bar" — a firefighting tool used to pry open heavy doors. One special agent from the Texas Department of Public Safety had a simple question: Were there still kids in the two classrooms?
“If there is, then they just need to go in,” the agent said.
Another officer answered, “It is unknown at this time.”
The agent shot back, “Y’all don’t know if there’s kids in there?” He added, “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”
“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” came the reply.
The inaction appeared too much for the special agent. He noted that there were still children in other classrooms within the school who needed to be evacuated.
“Well, there’s kids over here,” he said. “So I’m getting kids out.”
The special agent wasn't the only cop on the scene who wanted to move in quickly, but instead cops inside the school waited for orders that never came from the purported incident commander, Arredondo, who was at one end of the hallway where the classrooms were. In that earlier interview, Arredondo explained he hadn't taken a radio with him because it would have gotten in the way while he ran into the school and he doubted it would work inside the building anyway. He also said he didn't consider himself in charge of the operation (!!!!!!), although DPS and other agencies say he was definitely supposed to be.
Saturday, the San Antonio Express-News reported that there's no evidence police actually tried to open the doors to rooms 111 and 112, despite Arredondo's claim in the June 9 interview that officers had tried the doors and found them locked. Whether they were actually locked is still being investigated, but security video showed the gunman entering room 111 with no difficulty. He briefly stepped out again, and shortly after that fired through the door at three Uvalde cops who were armed only with handguns (two were grazed with bullets). Even if the doors had been locked, the Express-News notes, officers could have used the Halligan to pry open the doors, which opened outward.
Arredondo tried multiple keys from a key ring on various classroom doors, trying to find a master key, the Express-News reports, but he also never tried the doors to rooms 111 or 112 until finding the master key and letting the Border Patrol tactical team go in and shoot the gunman.
In paywalled reporting, the Austin American-Statesman reported yesterday that police had plenty of equipment available to get into the classrooms well before Arredondo found keys to get in — which, again, may have been unnecessary.
And the still image from surveillance up top, from the Tribune, shows that by 12:04 — roughly a half hour after the gunman entered the school, and 45 minutes before the Border Patrol team went in — there were at least two officers with ballistic shields and five AR-15s on hand. The Tribune reports that in total four ballistic shields were inside the school shortly afterward, about 15 minutes after that video still.
And again, the Halligan tool arrived at the school "within the first minutes" of the police response; it was never used.
What we still don't know is whether any of the victims could have been saved if police had gone into the classrooms sooner. That seems likely, the Tribune points out, since one of the teachers, Eva Mireles, died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital after the classrooms were finally cleared. She had managed to call her husband, an Uvalde cop, to tell him she had been injured. During the long wait for anyone to go into the classroom, the shooter also fired several times.
That said, it's unclear any of the children hit by the gunman could have survived, considering the profound damage the AR-15 did to their small bodies. The delay certainly couldn't have helped.
UPDATE: In a Texas state Senate hearing today, Texas DPS Director Steven McCraw testified that
the door to the classroom containing the gunman could not be locked from inside, meaning it was likely unlocked for the duration of the shooting.
"I have great reasons to believe [the door] was never secured," he said. [...]
"How about trying the door and seeing if it's locked?" McCraw said he would ask the officers who responded first.
We'll let you know what other Wonkette headlines are included in the testimony.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.