A top Texas law enforcement official said that there were enough armed police officers wearing body armor to stop the late May shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, three minutes after it began.
But instead, it took about an hour and 14 minutes from when officers arrived at the school to when they breached the door and ended the standoff with the gunman.
That was according to Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, who spoke to state officials during a Texas Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.
Within the first 3 minutes of the attack, there were at least nine officers out in the hallway, he said. There were at least two armed with rifles and a body shield, McCraw said. They also had bulletproof vests.
“The officers had weapons, the children had none. The officers had body armor, the children had none. The officers had training, the subject had none,” McCraw said.
He added that law enforcement officers on scene searched for a master key to the classroom but never actually tried to open the door. That is until officers ultimately confronted the shooter more than an hour after the attack began. He believes the door was likely unlocked the entire time.
McCraw called the police response to the shooting an “abject failure” and said it was “antithetical” to the lessons learned about active shooter situations since the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999.
The doors at Robb Elementary also did not or could not be locked from the inside. This allowed the gunman easy access into the school.
The information McCraw shared during his testimony in front of Texas lawmakers gave details of several failures with law enforcement’s actions on May 24 at Robb Elementary. It also demonstrated a major shift from the early narrative promoted by police shortly after the attack.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is one of several agencies investigating the attack.
In particular, McCraw criticized the on-scene commander for waiting to confront the shooter rather than breaching the classroom where he was hiding as soon as possible.
Authorities have said school district police chief Pete Arredondo, who treated the shooting as a barricade situation rather than an active shooter, caused delays in the police response. As McCraw was testifying, Arredondo was speaking with a Texas House committee behind closed doors.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt criticized Arredondo during the hearing. He said, “I challenge this chief to come testify in public as to what happened here. Don’t go hide in the House and talk privately. Come to the Senate, where the public and Texans can ask these questions!”
McCraw indicated during his testimony that Arredondo could have transferred command of the shooting scene to another law enforcement agency, like Texas Department of Public Safety, but chose not to.
Security failures at Robb Elementary
The door to the classroom the shooter entered was not secured, McCraw said, in part because of a malfunctioning strike plate. The classroom doors could not be locked from the inside, he said.
McCraw added that the outside door the shooter used to enter the school was unlocked.
He added that the handheld radios used by law enforcement officers — other than those used by the Border Patrol — did not work inside Robb Elementary School. He noted that the school’s four-foot perimeter fence failed to stop the shooter from entering campus grounds.
McCraw did share praise to the teachers and staff at the elementary school for quickly initiating active shooter protocols when the attack began.
More details on the gunman are shared
McCraw also provided more information on the gunman, Salvador Ramos, who died after officers stormed into the classroom.
Ramos, a high school dropout, once attended Robb Elementary School for one year. He attended fourth grade there.
McCraw shared that of the nearly 700 people interviewed as a part of the investigation into the shooting, at least half a dozen (including one of Ramos’ teachers) said they feared him. But they did not report their fears and concerns to police before the shooting.
In the months leading up to the shooting, Ramos made several weapons-related purchases online, including rounds of ammunition. After being rebuffed by a family member earlier in the year when he asked for them to buy him a gun, he finally bought two of them on May 16 when he turned 18.
He was able to buy his firearms and rounds of ammunition after saving money over a long period time doing odd jobs and working in the fast food industry, according to McCraw. At the time of the shooting, he was not working.
On the day of the May 24 shooting, Ramos was communicating with a teen from Germany about his plans to shoot his grandmother. Ramos shot his grandmother in the face, McCraw said.
Ramos then returned to message the teen again to say what he did and to say he was going to shoot up an elementary school, according to McCraw.
The grandmother ran to her neighbor’s house and that neighbor then called 911. In that time, Ramos took her truck (despite not having a driver’s license) and took off toward the school.
She has since lost her jaw, but is now in good condition, McCraw said.
McCraw said when the Uvalde district attorney’s office gives permission, the Texas Department of Public Safety will release all police body camera footage, as well as school and funeral home surveillance footage.
However, it’s unclear when, or if, that information will be released.