Uvalde School Surveillance Video Underlines How Much Nothing Cops Did For 77 Long Minutes
Content warning: descriptions of mass shooting and of disturbing video. This story does not include the actual video.
On Tuesday, the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV published leaked security camera video from inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, during the May 24 mass shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead. The newspaper has dropped its usual paywall for its story on the video, as well as for an editorial explaining the decision to release the edited video, despite calls by state and local authorities to not publish it out of concerns for victims' families.
There are two versions of the video in the story and on YouTube; one is a four-minute compilation of key moments, and the other is a full-length video of the entire event from the time the shooter crashed his grandmother's pickup near the school, until shortly after a Border Patrol tactical team finally entered the classroom and killed the shooter.
None of the victims are visible, although the shooter can briefly be seen as he enters a back door of the school and heads down the hallway to the two classrooms where he killed the victims. And while gunshots are audible, both videos include one of the more horrifying editor's notes we've ever seen, noting that "the sound of children screaming has been removed."
Early on, a little boy can be seen leaving a restroom as the attack began, then fleeing back as the gunfire started. He survived; the video is blurred to protect his identity. The security video is accompanied by body camera video from one of the police officers on the scene, embedded in a corner.
We've only watched the shorter video, and it was quite enough; the captions are enraging, noting the time elapsed from the beginning of the attack, and pointing out again and again that police aren't yet going into the two adjoining classrooms where the gunman and the children are.
The video and the description in the Statesman give us the clearest timeline yet of how the shooting unfolded, which is among the reasons paper gives for releasing the videos. Police arrive on the scene within three minutes of the gunman's entry, shortly after the initial long period of gunfire has ended. They take up positions along the hallway, then retreat quickly as the gunman fires on them from the classroom.
Then more and more officers from multiple agencies arrive, and nothing at all is done to rescue the children. The video isn't able to offer any sort of explanation of that. The Statesman's Tony Plohetski describes the chaotic non-action, noting the video
shows in excruciating detail dozens of sworn officers, local, state and federal — heavily armed, clad in body armor, with helmets, some with protective shields — walking back and forth in the hallway, some leaving the camera frame and then reappearing, others training their weapons toward the classroom, talking, making cellphone calls, sending texts and looking at floor plans, but not entering or attempting to enter the classrooms. [...]
Even after hearing at least four additional shots from the classrooms 45 minutes after police arrived on the scene, the officers waited.
They asked for keys to one of the classrooms. (It was unlocked, investigators said later.) They brought tear gas and gas masks. They later carried a sledgehammer. And still, they waited.
As I say, it's frustrating and infuriating, knowing that during that long wait, children inside the classrooms were making whispered calls to 911 and begging for police to come and help, as out in the hallway, more and more cops stood around, with plenty of guns and equipment.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw says that the putative incident commander, Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo, made a fatal error in treating the incident as a "barricaded subject," rather than as an "active shooter," which would have required responding officers to get to the gunman and stop him, even if that meant risking their lives. But as the Statesman points out, the hallways of the school had no shortage of cops,
including officers from the Uvalde Police Department, Uvalde County sheriff's department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Rangers, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Marshals Service.
Arredondo finally resigned from the Uvalde City Council last week; the council voted Tuesday evening to accept his resignation. He's also been placed on administrative leave from his job as chief of the school district's small police force.
Speaking to CNN, North Richland Hills Police Department Chief Jimmy Perdue, who's also the president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said that regardless of what the incident commander was doing — or not doing — officers on the scene had a duty to act:
“I believe that the training is very clear on what we are supposed to do,” Perdue said. “Even a single officer has the responsibility to go stop the killing. And that did not happen.” [...]
“There are absolutely times in a tactical situation where you are supposed to hold and not advance on whatever the situation is. But there’s just as many times when you are supposed to be pushing and pushing the issue towards the gunfire and towards the gunman,” he said.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin condemned the Statesman and KVUE for releasing the video publicly before victims' families had had the chance to meet this coming weekend with members of the Texas House Investigative Committee, who plan to screen parts of the surveillance video and to discuss an interim fact-finding report with the families. That version of the video will not show the gunman entering the school.
“I mean, they were going to see the video, but they didn’t need to see the gunman coming in and hear the gunshots,” McLaughlin said. They don’t need to relive that, they’ve been through enough.”
Quite a few Uvalde families were outraged by the leak of the video to the media, too, particularly since they had been told by government officials they would see it before it was released to the general public.
The Statesman, in its editorial, said that its goal in publishing the video was "to continue to bring to light what happened at Robb Elementary, which the families and friends of the Uvalde victims have long been asking for," and that "We have to bear witness to history, and transparency and unrelenting reporting is a way to bring change."
And God knows Texas political leadership and law enforcement both need a hell of a lot of change.
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