AUSTIN, Texas – Multiple police officers stood in a school hallway armed with rifles and at least one ballistic shield within 19 minutes of a gunman arriving at campus in Uvalde, Texas, according to documents reviewed by the American-Statesman, further raising questions whether any lives could have been saved during the deadly attack.
Even as officers with high-powered weapons and ballistic shields massed inside the blue and green hallway, the gunman could be heard firing rounds – including at 12:21 pm, 29 minutes before officers entered the classroom and killed him, the documents show.
Investigators say the latest information indicates officers had more than enough firepower and protection to take down the gunman long before they finally did. The massacre killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
Much of the new information is expected to be presented at a Texas Senate hearing Tuesday, the first of two consecutive days of hearings at the state Capitol that will give members of the public their first opportunity to address lawmakers on gun violence and related issues.
The law enforcement response has been scrutinized by state and federal investigators since shortly after the massacre. On May 27, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw revealed that officers waited more than 70 minutes to confront the shooter, even as trapped fourth graders inside two classrooms were desperately calling 911 for help.
The delayed response ran counter to the widely accepted law enforcement protocol, developed from many similarly horrific school shootings nationwide, that calls for officers to stop the shooter promptly and resolutely.
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‘If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there’
The latest timeline revealed in the investigative documents reviewed by the Statesman, part of the US TODAY Network, shows that officers ultimately breached a classroom door at 12:50 pm; the shooter had entered at 11:33 am
Authorities have reconstructed the events of May 24 using footage from inside the school, which showed the gunman casually entering a rear door, walking to a classroom and immediately spraying gunfire before barricading himself. The timeline was also built using body camera video from more than a dozen officers inside the school.
According to the new information, 11 officers entered the school within three minutes of the gunman. Pete Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde school district police force, called a landline at the Uvalde Police Department at 11:40 am for help.
“It’s an emergency right now,” he said. “We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot. . . They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have fire power right now, ”they said. “It’s all pistols.”
“I don’t have a radio,” he added. “I need you to bring a radio for me.”
Four minutes later, body camera footage detected more shots from the gunman. At 11:52 am, an officer with the first ballistic shield entered the school as other officers grew increasingly impatient.
“If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there,” one officer said. Another responded: “Whoever is in charge will determine that.”
A transcript of body camera footage from officers showed Arredondo was trying to find keys to open the classroom, even though officials say they don’t believe officers tried to open the door.
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At 12:03 pm, an officer with another ballistic shield entered the school, and a third arrived two minutes later.
The new information shows Arredondo also tried to speak to the gunman, asking him whether he could hear him.
About 30 minutes before the breach, Arredondo wondered aloud whether officers would consider “popping him through the window? Get two shooters on either side of the window? I say we breach those windows and shoot his (expletive) head off through the windows. ”
At 12:46 pm, the timeline indicates that Arredondo told SWAT team officers who had arrived that they should breach the classroom door if they are ready.
By then, medical units had arrived, and footage shows them tending to children in the hallway after the gunman was dead.
Hearings won’t address limiting firearms
Agendas for the two committee hearings include no mention of limiting access to firearms, and the state’s Republican leaders have insisted that gun restrictions will be off-limits.
The Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, recently formed at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s request, will hear invited witnesses and public testimony on three issues at Tuesday’s hearing – school safety, police training and social media.
On Wednesday, the committee of eight Republicans and three Democrats will tackle mental health and firearm safety.
Texas state Sen. Robert Nichols, chairman of the committee, said he expects to cast “a wide net” to examine a complex issue and develop recommendations to present to the full Senate.
“These hearings are meant to be a forum for robust discussion about solutions to the pervasive problem of tragic school shootings,” he said. “I acknowledge that there won’t be just one solution to these problems, and it is my hope that the work of this committee reflects that.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, chose a traditional committee structure after Abbott requested special panels to investigate the Uvalde shooting and guide the Legislature’s response. In addition to the GOP chairman, Patrick tapped two fellow Republicans to serve as vice chairs: Texas state Sens. Lois Kolkhorst and Brandon Creighton
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Some are concerned that Texas officials will use a legal loophole to block records from being released – even to the victims’ families – once the case is closed. The law’s exception protects information from being released in crimes for which no one has been convicted. The Texas Attorney General’s Office has ruled that it applies when a suspect is dead.
Officials also have not released records sought under public information laws to media outlets, including The Associated Press, often citing broad exemptions and the ongoing investigation. It has raised concerns about whether such records will be released, even to victims’ families.
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Speaking during Friday’s meeting in Uvalde, the committee’s chairman, Texas state Rep. Dustin Burrows, said he was approached by a concerned resident after his committee had toured Robb Elementary School, where the shooting took place that morning.
Burrows said witnesses are more comfortable answering questions without cameras present, which promotes the committee’s top goal – a full and accurate accounting of what happened during the May 24 attack.
“Before this committee is willing to announce what we believe is the factual, accurate information, we want to hear from all sides, all different viewpoints,” they said before the room was cleared so two school district police officers and two Robb Elementary teachers could be questioned in private.
In previous meetings, the committee heard from top officials of the Department of Public Safety, Uvalde police, teachers and district officials, including the superintendent and the school principal. Wednesday’s meeting will also take place in private.
Contributing: The Associated Press