By JAKE BLEIBERG and PAUL J. WEBER
UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Nearly 400 law enforcement officials rushed to a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, but “extremely poor decision-making” resulted in more than an hour of chaos before the shooter who claimed the lives of 21 people was finally confronted and killed, according to a damning investigative report released on Sunday.
The nearly 80-page report was the first to criticize state and federal law enforcement, not just local authorities in the South Texas city, for the baffling inaction of heavily armed officers while a gunman was shooting into a fourth-grade class at Robb Elementary School.
“At Robb Elementary, law enforcement failed to complete their active shooter training and failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety,” the report said.
The shooter fired around 142 rounds inside the building – and it is “almost certain” that at least 100 shots were fired before an officer entered, according to the report, which states in detail of many failures. Among them:
— The commander of a Border Patrol tactical team waited for a bulletproof shield and a functioning classroom master key, which may not even have been needed, before entering the classroom .
— No one took command despite the presence of dozens of officers on the scene.
– An officer with the Uvalde Police Department said he heard about 911 calls that came from the classroom and understood that officers on one side of the building knew there were casualties trapped inside. Yet no one attempted to enter the classroom.
The report – the most comprehensive account to date of the wavering and haphazard response to the May 24 massacre – was written by an investigative committee of the Texas House of Representatives. Quickly, the findings sparked at least one fallout: Lt. Mariano Pargas, an Uvalde Police Department officer who was the city’s acting police chief during the massacre, was placed on administrative leave.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said an investigation would be launched to determine whether Pargas should have taken over the premises. McLaughlin also said the city will now release all Uvalde police body camera footage that was taken during the filming.
Family members of the victims in Uvalde received copies of the report on Sunday before it was made public.
“It’s a joke. It’s a joke. They have nothing to do with a badge. None of them do,” said Vincent Salazar, grandfather of 11-year-old Layla Salazer, on Sunday.
According to the report, 376 law enforcement officers massed at the school. The overwhelming majority of those who responded were federal and state law enforcement. This included nearly 150 U.S. Border Patrol officers and 91 state police officers.
“Apart from the perpetrator, the Committee found no ‘bad guys’ during its investigation,” the report said. “There is no one who can be attributed with malicious or malevolent intentions. Instead, we found systemic failures and extremely poor decision-making.
The report noted that many of the hundreds of law enforcement responders who rushed to the school were better trained and equipped than school district police — than the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the force state police, had previously blamed him for not entering the room sooner.
Investigators said it was not their job to determine whether officers should be held accountable, saying the decisions were up to individual law enforcement agencies. Prior to Sunday, only one of the hundreds of officers at the scene — Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde School District Police Chief — was known to have been on leave.
“Everyone who came to the scene said it was chaotic,” said Texas State Rep. Burrows, a Republican who led the investigation.
Officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Border Patrol did not immediately return requests for comment on Sunday.
The report follows weeks of closed-door interviews with more than 40 people, including witnesses and law enforcement who were at the scene of the shooting.
No officer has received more attention since the shooting than Arredondo, who also resigned from his newly appointed seat on the city council after the shooting. Arredondo told the committee he treated the shooter as a “barricaded subject,” according to the report, and defended never treating the scene as an active shooter situation because he had no eye contact with the shooter. shooter.
Arredondo also tried to find a key for the classrooms, but no one ever bothered to see if the doors were locked, according to the report.
“Arredondo’s search for a key consumed his attention and wasted valuable time, delaying the breach of classrooms,” the report said.
The report called the approach of the hundreds of officers who surrounded the school “nonchalant” and said they should have acknowledged that Arredondo remaining in the school without reliable communication was “inconsistent” with the fact that be the scene commander. The report concluded that some officers waited because they were relying on bad information while others “had enough information to know better.”
A nearly 80-minute hallway surveillance video released by the Austin American-Statesman this week publicly showed a halting and haphazard tactical response for the first time, which the Texas State Police Chief condemned as a failure and some residents of Uvalde castigated as a coward.
Calls for police accountability have multiplied in Uvalde since the shooting. So far, only one officer from the scene of the deadliest school shooting in Texas history is on leave.
The report is the result of one of several investigations into the shooting, including another conducted by the Department of Justice. A report released earlier this month by tactics experts at Texas State University alleged that a Uvalde police officer had the opportunity to arrest the shooter before he entered the school armed with a AR-15.
But in an example of the conflicting statements and disputed accounts since the shooting, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said it never happened. This report had been written at the request of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which McLaughlin increasingly criticized and accused of trying to minimize the role of his soldiers during the massacre.
Steve McCraw, the Texas DPS chief, called the police response an abysmal failure.
The committee did not “receive medical evidence” to show that the police could have saved lives earlier in the classroom, but concluded that “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they did not didn’t have to wait another 73 minutes to be rescued. » ”
Michael Brown, whose 9-year-old son was in the cafeteria at Robb Elementary the day of the shooting and survived, came to the committee’s press conference on Sunday with signs that read “We want accountability” and “Sue Pete Arredondo.” “.
Brown said he hasn’t read the report yet but already knows enough to say police “have blood on their hands.”
“It’s disgusting. Disgusting,” he said. “They’re cowards.”
Weber reported from Austin, Texas.