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Government/Politics

More damning details, still no accountability 4 weeks after Uvalde shooting

View of the memorial for victims of the Uvalde school shooting
Lisa Krantz/REUTERS
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Uvalde resident Raul Nolasco Jr. stands by the memorial for victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting, at Uvalde Town Square, Texas, U.S., June 11, 2022. REUTERS/Lisa Krantz

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Four weeks after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, shocking information about what happened — and what didn’t happen — is still coming to light. Nineteen fourth graders and two teachers were killed that day.

At a state senate committee hearing Tuesday, the top law enforcement officer in Texas, Steve McCraw, said there were enough officers and equipment to successfully stop the gunman three minutes after he entered the building.

“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111 and 112 (for more than an hour) 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 is the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. His testimony broke more than three weeks of silence from authorities about the mass shooting.

During McCraw’s testimony Tuesday, he placed the blame for the wait to confront the shooter on Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo, doubling down on comments he made during the last public update May 27. Arredondo has since been placed on administrative leave by UCISD Superintendent Hal Harrell.

“I appear to be hypercritical of the on-scene commander and I don't mean to be but the facts are the facts. Mistakes were made. It should have never happened that way,” McCraw said. “This set our profession back a decade is what it did.”

Uvalde Senate hearing
SARA DIGGINS/VIA REUTERS
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USA TODAY NETWORK
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw uses maps and graphics to present a timeline of the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde to the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans during the hearing at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, U.S. June 21, 2022. Sara Diggins/USA TODAY NETWORK via REUTERS

The official account of what happened during the May 24th shooting has shifted numerous times — and it did again Tuesday.

In an interview with the Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he waited to confront the shooter for more than an hour because couldn’t find a key to unlock the classroom door where he was holed up. Arredondo also told the Tribune he didn’t consider himself the incident commander during the shooting.

A timeline compiled by DPS based on dispatch records and video footage from body cameras and security cameras confirmed that Arredondo repeatedly searched for a key.

But McCraw said that same evidence reveals that the classroom door could have been opened at any time — because the door was never locked. He said video footage shows the shooter walking into the classroom, returning to the hallway, then walking back into the classroom.

“He didn't have a key, and he couldn't lock it from the inside. So, the door was unsecured,” McCraw said. “We've gone back and checked in our interviews. And (asked if) anybody touched the door and tried it?... And of course, no one had.”

McCraw said school employees were aware the classroom door was malfunctioning because at least one maintenance request to fix the lock had been submitted.

He also testified that the husband of Eva Mireles — one of the two teachers killed during the Uvalde mass shooting — attempted to enter the classroom on the day of the shooting but was detained by law enforcement and escorted away. Ruben Ruiz was one of the Uvalde CISD officers at the scene. He attempted to enter the classroom after receiving a call from Mireles saying she was shot.

Related: The police response at Robb Elementary was a failure, a Texas official says

McCraw’s testimony lasted for hours Tuesday, with multiple senators asking him questions, including State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde.

McCraw told Gutierrez there were “as many as 91” DPS officers in the area around the school building before law enforcement confronted the gunman.

Gutierrez asked McCraw which takes precedence: chain of command or the active shooter protocol to immediately confront the shooter.

McCraw said the active shooter protocol always takes precedence but wouldn’t concede that another agency should have taken command.

Back in Uvalde during a city council meeting Tuesday evening, Mayor Don McLaughlin was critical of McCraw. McLaughlin said he had been asked by law enforcement to stay out of the investigation but he couldn’t stay quiet any longer.

"What kind of farce do you have in Austin today?" McLaughlin said. "We had the Bozo the Clown show in the Senate today with, you know, McCraw parading out there and giving answers that they still don't have the facts to."

Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin listens to Texas governor Greg Abbott speak during a press conference in Uvalde, Tex., on May 27,
Omar Ornelas/El Paso Times/USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Co
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Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin listens to Texas governor Greg Abbott speak during a press conference in Uvalde, Tex., on May 27, 2022.

In early June, McLaughlin acknowledged to reporters that he had not asked his own city police chief for a briefing on what happened that day.

Related: Uvalde mayor says he’s in the dark on shooting investigation

Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo continues to find himself at the center of criticism, but he has not been available for public questions. Arredondo, who was recently sworn in to the city council, has not attended a city council meeting. If he misses one more, he could be removed from office.

On Wednesday, Sen. Guttierez announced he’s suing DPS to get access to records related to the shooting that law enforcement has kept secret that could shed light on what actually happened.

“From the very start, the response to this awful gun tragedy has been full of misinformation and outright lies from our government. On the first day following the shooting, Governor Abbott told us that without law enforcement’s quick response this situation would have been worse. That was one of several political narratives that turned out not to be accurate information. Diligent reporting in the days since has revealed more of the truth,” Guttierez said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

Guttierez said he has been unlawfully denied access to records related to the shooting.

“For over 40 agonizing minutes students and teachers lay dying in the classrooms, hopelessly dialing 9-1-1 while law enforcement held back and waited for keys despite having at least 3 ballistic shields and a breaching tool on-site. By not taking common-sense gun safety measures to prevent such atrocities as this, the state of Texas failed 21 Texans, their families, and countless others touched by the tragedy,” he said. “We must not fail these families again with cover-ups and misinformation.”

Even with the most recent revelations, there are many unanswered questions.

Uvalde residents have known for weeks now that law enforcement’s response to the shooting went wrong. At a school board meeting on Monday, they called for accountability.

Jesus Rizo Jr. said he didn’t understand why the school district police chief hasn’t been at least suspended until the investigation is completed.

“The children that didn't make it, we don't hear their voice(s) anymore. But I promise you one thing: We will speak for them. You will hear their voice through us until accountability takes place,” Rizo said.

Brett Cross told the school board they were failing the city by keeping Pete Arredondo on staff. Cross is the uncle of Uziyah Garcia, one of the 19 kids killed in the shooting.

“Innocence doesn't hide. Innocence doesn't change its story. But innocence did die on May 24 at Robb Elementary,” Cross said. “Not just the victims, but every survivor, every child that heard those shots, every child that ran from the school, every teacher that stood steadfast in front of their children.”

Cross said it’s terrifying that someone incapable of making decisions that would have saved lives still works for the district.

Lyliana Garcia, the 16-year-old daughter of teacher Irma Garcia, said she and her three siblings are orphans now because of a “lack of due diligence.”

She said her 12-year-old sister has lost the most — robbed of the chance to dance with her parents at her quinceañera.

“I would like to share a quote of one of my little sister's agonizing cries. She said, 'My mom died protecting her students. But who was protecting my mom?' This will always haunt me and should always haunt all of you,” Lyliana said.

Marian Navarro and Sergio Martínez-Beltrán contributed to this story.

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