Officers in Uvalde could have taken down gunman within 3 minutes had commander not hesitated


Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw testifies before the Texas Senate committee on June 21, 2022. Photo Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw testifies before the Texas Senate committee on June 21, 2022. Photo Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
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The Texas Tribune

BY ZACH DESPAR / The Texas Tribune

Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told a state Senate committee Tuesday that the law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting was an “abject failure” and police could have stopped the shooter at Robb Elementary School three minutes after arriving were it not for the indecisiveness of the on-scene commander, who placed the lives of officers before those of children.

McCraw said the inexplicable conduct by Uvalde school district police Chief Pete Arredondo was antithetical to two decades of police training since the Columbine High School massacre, which dictates that officers confront active shooters as quickly as possible.

“The officers had weapons; the children had none,” McCraw said. “The officers had body armor; the children had none. The officers had training; the subject had none. One hour, 14 minutes and 8 seconds. That’s how long children waited, and the teachers waited, in Room 111 to be rescued.”

The revelations detailed by McCraw completed a remarkable shift in the police response narrative state officials have given since the May 24 shooting. Twenty-seven days after Gov. Greg Abbott said the shooting “could have been worse” but for officers who showed “amazing courage by running toward gunfire,” his state police director described stunning police incompetence that bordered on cowardice.

Arredondo, who testified in closed session to a House committee on Tuesday, told The Texas Tribune that after he and another officer determined the doors to the adjoining classrooms containing the shooter were locked, the best course of action was to wait for more officers, firepower, keys and a breaching tool.

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McCraw laid out a starkly different set of facts: That officers with rifles arrived within minutes and the classroom doors could not have been locked from the inside. Reporting by The Tribune revealed that ballistic shields and a breaching tool, called a Halligan bar, were also quickly on scene. He also told lawmakers that sometime before the shooting that the teacher who taught in the conjoined classrooms 111 and 112 had flagged to the school administration that the door would not lock.

McCraw said though the state police are a far larger agency than the six-person Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District department, Arredondo was the rightful incident commander because he was the most senior first responder who had immediate jurisdiction over the district’s campuses. He said Arredondo could have transferred command to another agency, such as state troopers who arrived, but never did so.

Acting against the orders of an incident commander during an emergency can be dangerous and chaotic, McCraw said, responding to a question about why his troopers did not take charge. But he said the failure of one police agency means all law enforcement performed unacceptably that day.

“I don’t mean to be hyper-critical of the on-scene commander,” McCraw said. “But those are the facts… this set our profession back a decade.”

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, questioned Arredondo’s competence.

“This incident commander finds every reason to do nothing,” he said.

He added, “this person should have never even been in the job. We have to have incident commanders that are ready for this.”

Bettencourt challenged Arredondo to answer questions about his decision making in public instead of testifying in the House behind closed doors, which he did Tuesday while the Senate met.

“Come to the Senate where the public of Texas can ask these questions,” Bettencourt said. “This is — it’s just abominable.”

Brian Lopez contributed to this report.

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