Steve McCraw, the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, decried law enforcement’s response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, saying police could’ve stopped the gunman within three minutes after he entered the building, but didn’t.
“There’s compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre,” McCraw testified to a Texas Senate committee Tuesday, June 21.
McCraw’s testimony marked his first public statements on the shooting since a late May press conference, where he was also fiercely critical of the law enforcement response led by Pete Arredondo, the police chief for the Uvalde School District. His testimony today was equally scathing as he offered one of the most detailed timelines of the May 24 massacre.
“Three minutes after the subject [18-year-old Salvador Ramos] entered the west building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” McCraw said. “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. The officers had training, the subject had none.”
McCraw explained that the response to the shooting went against pretty much every principle of the post-Columbine protocols for engaging and stopping active shooters. He stressed that in active shooter situations, it’s imperative that law enforcement “isolate, distract, and neutralize” and that officers “run to the sound of gunfire. You don’t stop. When you get there, you run into gunfire and it’s so important to do so.”
While McCraw noted law enforcement was helpful in some regards — especially evacuating students from the school — he reserved pretty much all of his praise for teachers on the scene. He noted that not only did teachers follow active shooter protocol exactly, but one was even able to call 911 to report a person with a gun after Ramos crashed his car outside Robb Elementary and before he’d even entered the campus.
During his testimony, McCraw described an array of mistakes and miscommunications that caused law enforcement’s response to drag out to an excruciating one hour, 14 minutes and eight seconds. One of the most damning details he shared was that Arredondo waited to confront Ramos in the classroom because he was waiting for a key that wasn’t even needed to enter the classroom where the shooter was.
“There’s no way to lock the door from the inside, and there’s no way for the subject to lock the door from the inside,” McCraw said, adding, “I don’t believe, based on the information that we have right now, that the door was ever secured. The door was unsecured.”
When asked later whether anyone had tried to open the door, or even test if it was locked, McCraw said the video footage available didn’t show anybody “put[ting] their hand on the door up until the breach.” Additionally, those who did breach the classroom said in interviews that they “did not try the door handle beforehand.”
Along with waiting for the unnecessary key, McCraw said law enforcement also wasted time waiting for shields that were unnecessary to confront Ramos. “You never need a shield, for an active shooter you don’t have time for a shield,” McCraw said. (Even if shields were necessary, the first ballistic shields arrived on the scene 19 minutes after Ramos entered the school, McCraw noted.)
Additionally, McCraw noted various problems with law enforcement communication during the shooting. He confirmed previously reports that Arredondo arrived at Robb Elementary without a radio, and also stated that neither Uvalde police nor Border Patrol agents had good radio signals inside the school. This forced Arredondo, for instance, to communicate with dispatchers using his cellphone.
“This set our profession back a decade,” McCraw said bluntly of law enforcement’s response. “That’s what it did.”