NOTE: Texas law enforcement held a press briefing just as we posted this story; we have added updates where needed. Here’s video of the presser conducted by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw. It’s … something. Our updates based on the presser will be in boldface.
It was bad enough to learn Thursday that police in Uvalde, Texas, stood around outside Robb Elementary School for 40 minutes to an hour doing nothing while 18-year-old with an AR-15 barricaded himself inside a fourth grade classroom, killing 19 children and two teachers. But then, later yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the police inaction had been far worse even than that, and that Texas law enforcement officials had revised significant parts of their previous accounts of what happened during Tuesday’s school shooting. The police response to the shooting just looks worse and worse; one smartass on Twitter grimly joked that we’re about “one update away from finding the cops shot a couple of fleeing kids.”
The Journal piece is a disturbing account of chaos and dysfunction by law enforcement, although the staid prose of the WSJ avoided the most accurate description, which is that it was a complete clusterfuck. (We also found a link to a paywall-free archived version.) Today’s press conference by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw made clear that the management of the police response was even more chaotic than the reporting so far.
For starters, the initial reports that the shooter was met at the school by an armed school district police officer turned out to not have happened at all, according to DPS regional director Victor Escalon.
Mr. Escalon said Thursday that information was incorrect and no one encountered Ramos as he arrived at the school. “There was not an officer readily available and armed,” Mr. Escalon said.
Update: the school resource officer was working that day but was not at the school; he arrived after the shooting began and went to the back of the school, where he confronted a man he thought might be the shooter, but was a teacher.
New Timeline: No School Cop Was There
As a matter of fact, after he crashed his grandmother’s pickup truck in a ditch, the shooter didn’t make a beeline inside the school, but instead lingered around outside, firing at civilians for about 12 minutes, according to a new timeline from Texas DPS. Why didn’t police on the scene shoot him during the first 12 minutes? Again, now we know there were no police on the scene, no school police officer at all. Please airbrush that memory out of your head.
[The shooter] shot his grandmother Tuesday morning and drove her truck to Robb Elementary School, crashing the vehicle into a nearby ditch at 11:28 a.m., according to the timeline laid out by Mr. Escalon. He then began shooting at people at a funeral home across the street, prompting a 911 call reporting a gunman at the school at 11:30. [The shooter] climbed a chain-link fence about 8 feet high onto school grounds and began firing before walking inside, unimpeded, at 11:40. The first police arrived on the scene at 11:44 and exchanged gunfire with [the shooter], who locked himself in a fourth-grade classroom. There, he killed the students and teachers.
Now, even if there was no phantom school cop to not shoot the attacker, you’ll note that police were on the scene when the shooter locked himself in a classroom, but somehow they stayed outside the school until a Border Patrol tactical team (with the help of school staff who had a key) got into the room and shot the guy a full hour later, at 12:40.
That completely disregards what’s supposed to be standard police practice after Columbine. The idea is that you go after the shooter with whatever police are on hand, not that you wait for backup. Yes, that’s dangerous. Police work, as cop unions keep reminding us, is dangerous. It’s also sometimes the job.
Update, per the press conference: The shooter was able to enter the school through a door that had been propped open earlier by a teacher, just a minute before the shooter crashed his truck. After the crash, the teacher called 911 at 11:30, shortly before the shooter came into the school.
Shortly afterwards, three Uvalde police officers went into the hallway, and were followed by four more local police; the attacker shot at them, wounding two. Eventually there were 19 Uvalde cops inside the school.
We now know why standard protocol wasn’t followed: The “incident commander” in charge of the response to the shooting, the head of the school district police department, mistakenly believed that the shooter had barricaded himself in an empty classroom and was no longer an “active shooter,” but instead a “barricaded subject.”
McCraw said that’s why the incident commander “believed they needed more equipment and more officers to do a tactical breach” of the classroom, and requested the help of the Border Patrol Tactical Response Team (BORTAC).
While waiting for the Border Patrol team, police instead focused on evacuating teachers and children from the rest of the school, and, as the Journal reports, keeping parents from going into the school.
McGraw said that “was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision, period. There was no excuse for that.”
Ignore Shooter, Arrest Parents
There’s so much to be horrified by here, like the account of Angeli Rose Gomez, who drove 40 miles to the school when she heard the news, and grew increasingly frustrated that the cops “were just standing outside the fence. They weren’t going in there or running anywhere.”
Gomez told the Journal that she and multiple other parents outside the school
began encouraging—first politely, and then with more urgency—police and other law enforcement to enter the school sooner. After a few minutes, she said, U.S. Marshals put her in handcuffs, telling her she was being arrested for intervening in an active investigation.
Ms. Gomez said she convinced local Uvalde police officers whom she knew to persuade the marshals to set her free.
The Journal dutifully provides readers the US Marshals Service’s denial that its deputies handcuffed anyone, and unless video turns up of Ms. Gomez actually in handcuffs (give it five minutes), then clearly she must have been making that up.
Gomez said she also saw police tackling one father and throwing him to the ground, and that another parent was pepper sprayed. And then, the police doing fuck all, she took off to save her own kids:
Once freed from her cuffs, Ms. Gomez made her distance from the crowd, jumped the school fence, and ran inside to grab her two children. She sprinted out of the school with them.
She also said that when school buses arrived to take kids from the school after the shooter had been killed, she saw a cop tase a father who went up to one of the buses to get his kid.
“They didn’t do that to the shooter, but they did that to us. That’s how it felt,” Ms. Gomez said.
It just goes to show how people can’t be satisfied. The police were subduing a whole bunch of people and taking them down, and here’s a lady complaining just because they were the kids’ parents, not the guy shooting the kids.
Update: Again, we now know why: the incident commander wrongly believed that “there were no kids at risk,” although that was not the case.
‘A Lot Going On’
Texas DPS spox Escalon offered a sort-of explanation for why officers who went into the school didn’t concentrate on stopping the shooter. He said the
officers inside the school were evacuating students and school employees from the premises, as well as calling for backup. “There’s a lot going on,” he said.
Again, I’m just a blogger, not a police agency supervisor, but it seems to me that even with a lot going on, cops could have made getting into that classroom and stopping the murders a higher priority.
Maybe when they train to respond to active shooters, cops should have a checklist of some sort that puts “stop the killer” right up top, way above “tase parents and handcuff mouthy family members of victims/hostages.”
Update: That’s actually how the process should have gone, but obviously, it did not because the guy in charge no longer thought it was an active shooting, and thought the shooter was alone in the room.
TRIGGER WARNING: Somehow, the fact that at least one child was calling 911 from inside the classroom, and one other person also called from inside the adjoining room to say there were still children alive in the classroom, did not make it to the incident commander at the scene. Here’s McCraw’s description of the calls:
A caller identified — I will not say her name, but she was in room 112 — called 911 at 12:03. The duration of the call, was 1 minute and 23 seconds. She identified herself and whispered she’s in room 112.
At 12:10, she called back, in room 112, advised there are multiple dead.
At 12:13, again, she called on the phone.
Again at 12:16, she’s called back and said there was eight to nine students alive.
At 12:19, a 911 call was made, and another person in room 111 called. I will not say her name. She hung up when another student told her to hang up.
At 12:21, you could hear over the 911 call that three shots were fired.
At 12:36, a 911 call, it lasted for 21 seconds. The initial caller called back. The student — child called back, and was told to stay on the line and be very quiet. She told 911 that he shot the door.
At approximately 12:43 and 12:47, she asked 911 to please send the police now.
At 12:46, she said she not could not—— that she could hear the police next door.
At 12:50, shots are fired, they can be heard over the 911 call.
At 12:51, it’s very loud, and sounds like officers are moving children out of the room. At that time, the first child that called was outside before the call cuts off.
We know that one of the children who called 911 survived, and that, according to a parent, another was killed. McCraw wasn’t sure if more than one kid who called had survived.
What’s not clear yet: Why didn’t the incident commander learn that children were alive in the room and calling 911 for help. McCraw said he didn’t know whether 911 dispatchers were in communication with police on the scene. If they were, how didn’t reach the commander? And if not, how the hell did that happen?
Worse: Is it possible the cops on the scene knew about the 911 calls and were afraid to go through that door?
Also not clear: How could the incident commander ignore the continued shots being fired by the shooter in the classroom?
Look For The Helpers And Tell Them To Stand Down
In even more infuriating coverage today, the New York Times reports that when the Border Patrol tactical team arrived on the scene, local police “would not allow them to go after the gunman who had opened fire on students inside the school,” according to “two officials briefed on the situation.”
The report also says the agents — a combined team from Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — actually were on the scene much earlier than had been previously reported, too, some time between noon and 12:10,
But they did not breach the adjoining classrooms of the school where the gunman had locked himself in until a little before 1 p.m. Members of the federal tactical team killed the gunman.
The officials said that members of the Uvalde Police Department kept the federal agents from going in sooner.
And again, what the actual fuck:
Texas law enforcement officials have said that the gunman was locked in a pair of adjoining classrooms and had already shot a number of students there in the first few minutes; with him pinned down there, they said, the local police initially focused on evacuating students and teachers from elsewhere in the school.
The first attempt to enter the classroom was met with fire coming from the shooter, which wounded two cops, so as far as we can tell they decided to just leave the shooter in there and write off off the fourth graders because confronting the shooter would be too hard.
The federal officers had driven up from the Mexican border, one official said. The official said it was not clear to the federal agents why their team was needed, and why the local SWAT team did not respond.
That’s what we’ve been wondering too. Where was the Uvalde SWAT team? How loudly are we going to scream when we eventually find out?
Update: McCraw did not address that at all; a reporter did ask why the Uvalde PD SWAT team was not in the lead of the incident, but McCraw didn’t know. We haven’t seen whether the SWAT team was on site and unused, or where they were if not there.
Jesus Christ in a surplus MRAP, this story just gets worse and worse.
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