Nearly a year after the devastating school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a new investigation shows responding officers failed to act in large part due to the gun used by the perpetrator, despite some officers bearing the same gun themselves.
After scouring body camera footage and interviews with investigators, the Texas Tribune found responding officers failed to immediately intervene in the Robb Elementary School shooting because they were too afraid to move on the shooter, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle, according to a report from the outlet published March 20.
“You knew that it was definitely an AR,” Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Donald Page told investigators in an interview after the shooting, according to the Tribune. “There was no way of going in. … We had no choice but to wait and try to get something that had better coverage where we could actually stand up to him.”
Despite being heavily armed and supplied with body armor and shields, Uvalde police opted to wait a grueling 77 minutes until a Border Patrol SWAT team stationed 60 miles away arrived at the school, the Tribune reported. In that time, 19 elementary students were killed along with two teachers.
“We weren’t equipped to make entry into that room without several casualties,” Uvalde Police Department Detective Louis Landry said in a separate interview with investigators, according to the Tribune. “Once we found out it was a rifle he was using, it was a different game plan we would have had to come up with. It wasn’t just going in guns blazing, the Old West style, and take him out.”
Even though some officers had AR-15s themselves, they concluded they needed more firepower.
They opted to wait for a Border Patrol SWAT team, with better body armor, shields & tactical training — even though the unit was based more than 60 miles away.https://t.co/XUUadfmq7y pic.twitter.com/mthJnRp7dT
— Zach Despart (@zachdespart) March 20, 2023
Former chief of police for the Uvalde school district Pete Arredondo initially claimed the delay from police officers was caused by a locked classroom door, telling the Tribune in June 2022 he needed a key because the steel-reinforced door was “impossible” to kick in. It was later revealed a specific key wasn’t needed at all, as the door to the classroom shielding the shooter was unlocked, according to NBC News.
“The only thing that was important to me at this time was to save as many teachers and children as possible,” Arredondo told the Tribune in June 2022 while describing how he had tried “dozens” of keys to open the unlocked door.
“We’re gonna get scrutinized [for] why we didn’t go in there,” Arredondo said the day after the shooting, according to the Tribune. “I know the firepower he had, based on what shells I saw, the holes in the wall in the room next to his. … The preservation of life, everything around [the gunman], was a priority.”
While Arredondo and other responding officers might have felt they had no choice but to wait for assistance from the Border Patrol SWAT team to intervene due to the presence of an AR-15 rifle, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw flatly rejected that notion at a state Senate committee hearing in June.
“The only thing stopping the hallway of dedicated officers from entering Room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” McCraw said.
“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 continued. (RELATED: ‘They Failed Us’: Family Of Uvalde Victim Demands ‘Accountability’ Over Botched Police Response)
McCraw called the law enforcement response to the fatal mass shooting an “abject failure.” He said the decisions made by Arredondo that day were in complete contrast to everything law enforcement had learned in the “last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”
“Three minutes after the suspect entered the west building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” McCraw said.