Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he is “livid” about what he’s learned of the police response to the Uvalde mass shooting—and so are families in the tight-knit South Texas community.
“Law enforcement is going to earn the trust of the public by making sure they thoroughly and exhaustively investigate exactly what happened,” Mr Abbott said on Friday.
As more details about the school shooting emerge, it’s clear multiple law enforcement failures contributed to the tragic final death toll of 21 people.
Missed warning signs
Following a spate of mass shootings in Texas, the Uvalde school district invested in social media monitoring, campus police, and teacher training to prevent future tragedies.
These early prevention measures did not flag 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos as a threat, even though he talked with numerous classmates and strangers online about guns and school shootings.
“Are you gonna shoot up the school or something?” an acquaintance once asked in an Instagram group chat, two months before the shooting.
“No, stop asking dumb questions,” Ramos responded. “You’ll see.”
A classmate also told CNN Ramos messaged him pictures of guns and ammunition not long before the shooting.
“I was like, ‘Bro, why do you have this?’ and he was like, ‘Don’t worry about it’,” the student said. “He proceeded to text me, ‘I look very different now. You wouldn’t recognise me’.”
No officer on campus at start of shooting
Despite the Uvalde school district investing tens of thousands of dollars in security and training for an active shooter in recent years, no school police officer was on the scene when Ramos arrived on campus.
“That officer was not on scene, not on campus, but had heard the 911 call with a man with a gun, drove immediately to the area, sped to what he thought was the man with a gun, to the back of the school, to what turned out to be a teacher, but not the suspect,” Steven C McCraw, Director and Colonel of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference on Friday.
“In doing so, he drove right by the suspect, who was hunkered down behind the vehicle, where he began shooting at the school.”
This even though two months before the shooting, officers practiced their response to just such an incident, and officials said at the time it was the latest in several active shooter trainings.
Prior to the attack, the school district also received $69,000 dollars from a $100m state grant programme for physical security enhancements including metal detectors, barriers, security systems, and an active-shooter alarm.
That’s in addition to doubling its security budget since 2017, investing in social media monitoring, and enhancing teacher security training in 2018 following another mass shooting in Texas that killed eight students and two teachers.
A mistaken tactical call and 19 officers waiting nearly an hour
Once Ramos was inside the school, officers made a crucial tactical error and temporarily considered the active shooting stage of the incident over, believing a barricaded standoff would begin instead.
As a result, a group of as many as 19 officers stood in a hallway outside the classroom where Ramos was inside slaughtering students, waiting for backup and tactical equipment.
“Of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision, period. There’s no excuse for that,” Mr McCraw said.
“When it comes to an active shooter, you don’t have to wait on tactical gear,” he said, adding, “There were plenty of officers to do what needed to be done.”
All the while, children inside the classroom were making frantic 911 calls to police, asking for police to be sent in, raising questions about whether this information was reaching first-responders.
Stopping one SWAT team, and another going absent
Even once elite reinforcements with gear like ballistic shields arrived, there were delays.
Members of the Uvalde Police Department temporarily kept the elite team of Border Patrol commandos who ultimately killed Salvador Ramos from entering Robb Elementary School, The New York Times reports, citing unnamed government sources.
Specially trained agents with the force’s Bortac SWAT team drove from the US-Mexico border to assist responding officers in Uvalde.
They arrived between noon and 12.10pm, nearly 40 minutes before they ultimately killed the 18-year-old gunman.
The group was baffled why local officers told them to temporarily wait, according to the newspaper, and unsure why the Uvalde PD’s own SWAT team was not already on the scene.
Officials have released scant details about the Uvalde SWAT team’s role, and whether they were even involved in the rescue.
Failing to find a key
Eventually, a group of Uvalde police, federal agents, and county deputies did prepare to breach the classroom where Ramos was hiding.
They would’ve done so sooner, but the door into the room was locked, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Border Patrol agents were only able to get into the room once a school staff member got them a key, raising questions about whether the school had common security features like a master box of room keys accessible to law enforcement—or whether police thought to ask.
Keeping parents in the dark
As all this was going on inside the school, parents were massed outside, where they desperately pled with heavily armed officers to go inside and save their kids.
Instead, some were harassed, handcuffed, and tased by police on scene.
“Y’all keep fighting with us, go fight that motherf***er!” one person can be heard yelling at officers in video from the scene.
In another, a livestreamer can be heard saying that it had “already been about an hour and they still can’t get the kids all out”.
“That’s f***ing crazy, bro, they’re standing all outside, there’s f***ing kids in there still, man,” he said.
“You’re scared of getting shot? I’ll go in without a vest, I will!” one mother told an officer.
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