An open back door. A missed shooter. A struggle for equipment. An elusive key. A mind-boggling decision.
A series of critical errors and unfortunate pauses have drawn attention in the week since the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, providing a stark reminder of the fine line that can separate a close call from an unspeakable tragedy.
“It could be as simple as servicing a door that isn’t locked properly, or the door is propped up,” Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, told the Fox News Channel.
“It only takes one of those things to create this level of failure, which is why we have to be so critically focused every day, on every school in this country, to make sure every detail is taken care of,” he said.
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District had implemented extensive security measures, including threat assessment teams, security personnel, partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, fencing and a closed classroom policy.
All that didn’t stop the 18-year-old gunman from shooting and murdering 19 children and two teachers in a fourth-grade class at Robb Elementary School, where almost everything that could go wrong went wrong on May 24.
At 11:27 a.m., an unknown teacher pushed open the back door with a rock. A minute later, the gunman crashed his grandmother’s truck into an adjacent ditch, then walked to the school with a rifle and backpack full of ammunition.
He shot at two employees outside the funeral home across the street, but missed them. He climbed over the fence. He fired at the school building.
According to Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the teacher ran back inside to retrieve a cell phone, apparently to call 911.
That was the first mistake. Then came the bad luck: the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District [CISD] has six school staff for nine schools, but none were with Robb at the time.
At 11:31 am, however, an officer came running in his car – and drove right past the gunman, who was crouched behind a vehicle. The officer approached the teacher instead, Mr. McCraw said.
At 11:33 a.m., the gunman slipped into the school through the back door, which was still ajar. He then made his way to rooms 111 and 112, a pair of conjoined classrooms closest to the door that he could enter.
sen. Texas Republican Ted Cruz said Uvalde’s shooter “went in exactly the same way as the Santa Fe shooter,” referring to the deadly 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas.
“He walked through an unlocked back door into an open classroom,” said Mr. Cruz Friday at the National Rifle Association convention in Houston. “We need serious funding to upgrade our schools to install bulletproof doors and lock classrooms. And to hire law enforcement to protect our most precious asset: our children.”
Even if the door hadn’t been propped open, Texas Lt. President Dan Patrick said the gunman might have gotten in after all.
“When that door was finally closed, it didn’t lock automatically,” Mr Patrick told Fox News. “We have made money available to schools for this. This was a different kind of lock that apparently needed to be activated.”
At 11:33 a.m., Mr. McCraw said the gunman had fired “hundreds of shots” into adjacent classrooms. Three Uvalde police officers arrived at 11:35 a.m. and went to the classroom, but the gunman opened fire and hit two of them. They fell back.
Seven officers were soon in the school hallway, but they were paralyzed by insufficient equipment and the tactical advantage of the gunman, who had locked the classroom door.
Representative Tony Gonzales, a Republican in Texas, said he asked one of the first officers on the scene, “Hey, why didn’t you come in sooner? Guide me through that.”
The congressman said the officer told him, ‘Look, here’s the deal, Tony, it was a steel door and it was locked and he would go out, not in, which means I would give him a can. have to open.’ He says, “We didn’t have that kind of tool. We were looking for it.’”
Police tracked down a gamekeeper who had a crowbar and hammer, he said, before getting the keys to the classroom from the school janitor.
“Eventually they find a key,” Mr. Gonzales told Fox News. “But what matters to me is that these people wanted to get in as quickly as possible. These were their children. These were their neighbors.”
Patricia Chapa, whose brother is a Uvalde police officer and whose sister teaches at the school, insisted that the officers not retreat but were kept at a distance by the gunman.
“They didn’t retreat until the shooter was shot. They were there all the time,” said Ms. Chapa. “People don’t understand, people think there was no one inside at the time. They were inside, they just couldn’t get to the shooter. The shooter would come out and shoot at them. There was no way for them to just go in and shoot.”
What followed was what has been widely billed as the episode’s biggest blunder.
Rather than rush the attacker, the incident commander reclassified the gunner from active gunner to barricaded subject and chose to wait for border patrol backup.
That decision goes against generally accepted police protocol adopted after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, which is to run to the gunfire rather than wait for SWAT teams or other support before engaging the shooter.
“That’s 100% against the lessons Columbine has learned,” said George Brauchler, a former district attorney of Arapahoe County, Colorado.
“The lessons we learned from Columbine were: You don’t spin, you run to where the problem is, because ultimately the primary goal is to save those kids’ lives, period, period, period. There is no other purpose. It’s to save the lives of those children,” he said.
He cited examples from his tenure as a prosecutor, including the 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting.
There, a school employee sprinted to the library to confront a gunman who had already fatally wounded a student. The gunman committed suicide as the officer approached.
“Keep in mind that when they find him dead in the library, written on his forearm in Sharpie, the other classrooms he planned to go to were,” said Mr. brauchler. “If this guy hadn’t run to the library, what would happen? What crazy thing is happening?”
The commander of the incident in Uvalde has been identified as the school district police chief Pete Arredondo. He has not responded publicly.
After the early barrage of gunfire, the shots were only intermittent and apparently aimed at deterring the officers, leading to the conclusion that the gunman was the only one alive in the class.
“Any shooting after that was sporadic and it was on the doorstep,” said Mr McCraw. “So the belief is that maybe no one else is alive and the subject is now trying to keep law enforcement at bay, wait or trick them into committing suicide” by the agent.
However, some of the children were still alive, and someone outside knew it.
As of 12:03 a.m., 911 operators received calls from the classrooms of at least two students who said seven to eight children had survived. One girl begged the dispatchers to ‘please send the police now’.
It is possible that the school’s agents were not aware of the calls. The investigation into the shooting is being led by the Texas Rangers and the FBI.
“We still don’t know, and the interviews are still going on,” said Mr. patrick. “One of the problems we have across America is that different police departments are in different bands, and whether they got that information right away or not. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter. They should have gone in. They should have been in by now.’
He and others have defended the police officers who followed orders, claiming that this was not a situation like the 2018 Parkland shooting, in which the school resource officer on site never entered the building.
This is not like “the case in Parkland where no one went in. These police came within about four minutes of the shooter entering through that unlocked door,” Mr. patrick. “They were there in three or four minutes, and they met him bravely and were shot. Some of them were injured.”
After that, “no one left the school. They crouched in the hallway, about 19 of them, so he had nowhere else in the school to escape. So these police officers did the right thing in the beginning, and many wanted to get in,” he said.
At 12:15 pm, the border patrol tactical unit [BORTAC] arrived. A team of seven officers used keys to open the door, broke into the classroom and killed the gunman at 12:50 p.m.
Texas has invested $100 million in strengthening schools since the Santa Fe shooting, but the Uvalde massacre shows that best practices, such as having only one open access to a school, have not always been followed.
“When the doors are open and the police don’t follow protocol, these things happen,” said Mr. patrick. “But I agree with the governor: I am angry. It shouldn’t have happened, but my focus is on the families, and that’s what we need to focus on, healing them at this time and putting politics aside.”