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Uvalde shooting hearing: Police response was 'abject failure'

The Texas Senate

(AUSTIN) — The Texas state Senate heard testimony Tuesday on the deadly school shooting in Uvalde as part of a committee hearing on preventing future mass shootings in Texas. Among those testifying was Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, whose office is conducting one of multiple investigations into the law enforcement response to the massacre.

Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was the incident commander on site, was the lone witness in a separate hearing on the shooting held Tuesday in executive session by the Texas state House of Representatives.

Here’s how the news developed. All times Eastern.

Jun 21, 3:21 pm
McCraw concludes his testimony

After nearly five hours of testimony, the committee chairman of the Texas state Senate concluded Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw’s portion of Tuesday’s hearing.

The panel was scheduled to hear additional testimony from experts in Texas law enforcement training and protocols, with an eye toward preventing future mass shootings in the state.

Jun 21, 3:16 pm
McCraw recommends equipping troopers with ‘go-bag’

Among the recommendations that Texas Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw made with an eye toward improving police response to future mass shootings was equipping all officers with a specialized “go-bag.”

“I’d like a go-bag for every trooper, that has the shield that I discussed … and certainly breaching tools. And then not just issued but trained on them,” McCraw said.

Jun 21, 3:08 pm
Lawmakers question why state troopers ceded command to local police chief

Multiple state senators challenged Texas Director of Public Safety Steve McCraw to explain why arriving officers from larger law enforcement agencies did not take over command during the Uvalde shooting, instead leaving those responsibilities to Pete Arredondo, the local school district police chief.

McCraw explained that the agency with the most expertise should take command — and that the school district police chief, in this circumstance, was the best person to deliver orders.

“I’m reluctant to encourage — or even think of any situation — where you’d want some level of hierarchy, where a larger police department gets to come in and take over that type of thing,” McCraw said.

“I don’t see why y’all didn’t take command once you had DPS agents inside the hall pushing to breach the door,” one state senator asked McCraw later. “Lives would have been saved.”

“They don’t have authority by law,” McCraw shot back.

Jun 21, 2:21 pm
State senator calls on chief to testify in public

New revelations from the Senate hearing have put an additional spotlight on Pete Arredondo, the embattled school district police chief who was the on-site commander during the Uvalde shooting but has largely remained silent in the wake of the mass shooting.

Arredondo has spent the day in the neighboring House chamber, testifying behind closed doors. A lawmaker on the state Senate panel called on Arredondo to appear before their committee in a public setting.

“I challenge this chief to come testify in public as to what happened here,” said Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Republican on the state Senate committee. “Don’t go hide in the House and talk privately — come to the Senate, where the public … can ask these questions.”

“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” Arredondo told The Texas Tribune on June 9. “We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat.”

Jun 21, 1:24 pm
‘Not enough training was done’ in Uvalde, McCraw says

Texas Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw alluded on multiple occasions to specific lapses in protocol and training during the Uvalde shooting — but his overall message is that police officials on site were not trained well enough.

“Obviously, not enough training was done in this situation, plain and simple. Because terrible decisions were made by the on-site commander,” McCraw said.

Asked what one recommendation he would make to prevent a repeat of Uvalde, McCraw was unequivocal: “We need to train more men.”

He also suggested that the police failures at Robb Elementary could pose lasting harm to law enforcement’s reputation.

“Mistakes were made. It should have never happened that way. And we can’t allow that ever to happen in our profession,” he said. “This set our profession back a decade, is what it did.”

Jun 21, 12:35 pm
Door to classroom might not have been locked, McCraw says

Texas Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw sought to clarify some confusion over whether the exterior and interior doors used by the Uvalde gunman to enter Robb Elementary School were locked — and whether officers even needed keys to breach the classroom where the gunman had barricaded himself.

According to McCraw, the door to the classroom containing the gunman could not be locked from inside, meaning it was likely unlocked for the duration of the shooting.

“I have great reasons to believe [the door] was never secured,” he said.

McCraw later said it appears that officers on the scene never checked whether the door to the classroom was unlocked, even as they waited for additional equipment to breach it and worked to secure a set of keys.

“How about trying the door and seeing if it’s locked?” McCraw said he would ask the officers who responded first.

Regarding the gunman’s entry into the building, McCraw confirmed previous reporting that a teacher at one point propped a door open but later closed it before the gunman arrived. He did not clarify how or why the door closed but remained unlocked.

“The only way you can lock these exterior doors in the West building … the only way to do that is from the outside. You can’t do it otherwise,” McCraw said. “So when [the teacher] knocked the rock out, it closed securely, but there’s no way for her to tell that the door was unlocked. The only way to know that the door is unlocked is to go out, close the door, OK, then try it.”

Jun 21, 12:00 pm
Police radios didn’t work well in school, McCraw confirms

Texas Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw laid out a series of communications failures that exacerbated the decision-making missteps that hampered the police response to the shooting at Robb Elementary School.

McCraw confirmed previous reporting that Pete Arredondo, the on-scene commander, arrived at the school without a radio. Later, according to McCraw, local police and Border Patrol lost radio communication signals inside the school.

Those circumstances ultimately led Arredondo and others to begin communicating with dispatchers on their cellphones, McCraw said.

“Cellphones did work, obviously, inside the school,” he said. “It’s just the portable radio devices that first responders had didn’t.”

McCraw also said “there was no duress system throughout the campus,” which caused confusion among those inside the building. The principal of the school did trigger an emergency alert system called Raptor, but the program did not appear to sufficiently inform those inside the school about the shooting.

“It’s not the same as a direct system,” he said.

Jun 21, 11:28 am
‘We’re trying to preserve life,’ commander said on police radio

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw walked through an updated timeline of events from the Uvalde shooting and read aloud from a transcript of police radio communications.

The transcript describes Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo and other officers speculating on the status of those inside the classroom and painstakingly debating whether and how to breach the door.

Nearly an hour after the gunman entered the school, according to the transcript, an officer told Arredondo, “People are going to ask why we’re taking so long.”

“We’re trying to preserve life,” Arredondo replied, per the transcript.

Jun 21, 11:17 am
McCraw says commander was ‘only thing’ holding back officers

Reviewing the timeline of the Uvalde shooting, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, said that enough officers and equipment arrived on-site “within three minutes” of the gunman entering the school to “neutralize” him.

McCraw said the on-scene commander, Uvalde schools Police Chief Pete Arredondo, was the “only thing stopping” officers from breaching the classroom.

Arredondo, McCraw said, “decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”

Jun 21, 11:10 pm
McCraw calls Uvalde police response ‘abject failure’

In his opening statement, Texas Director of Public Safety Steven McCraw said his department’s ongoing probe has uncovered “compelling evidence” to suggest that the police response “was an abject failure.”

“Three minutes after the subject entered the west hallway, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor, to isolate distract and neutralize the subject,” McCraw said in reviewing the timeline of events. “The only thing stopping a 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.”

“The officers had weapons — the children had none. The officers had body armor — the children had none,” he said.

“One hour, 14 minutes and eight seconds. That’s how long the children waited and the teachers waited in rooms 111 to be rescued. And while they waited, the on-scene commander waited for radios and rifles. Then he waited for shields. Then he waited for SWAT. Lastly, he waited for key that was never needed,” McCraw said.

Jun 21, 11:10 am
Hearing gaveled in with moment of silence

Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Nichols, a Republican, gaveled the hearing to order shortly and immediately asked those present to observe a moment of silence for the lives lost in Uvalde.

Members of the panel then had an opportunity to make brief opening remarks, where lawmakers wasted little time criticizing law enforcement officials who presented shifting narratives about the Uvalde shooting in the ensuing days and weeks.

“I have never seen in my entire public policy career facts that change 180 degrees from one week to the next,” said Texas state Sen. Paul Bettencourt. “I hope today with the witnesses that we have, we can get nearer to the bottom of the facts because they’ve been elusive … we are all in the dark.”

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