Jurisprudence

The Police Are Now Telling a Very Different Story About What Happened in Uvalde

McCraw stands at a podium in front of a bunch of law enforcement officers wearing cowboy hats and a drawn plan of the school where the massacre took place.
Steven C. McCraw, director and colonel of the Texas Department of Public Safety, speaks during a press conference about the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Friday. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

On Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw offered the most complete timeline of Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 children and two teachers dead. For the first time, McCraw acknowledged that the police in Uvalde, Texas, did not do everything they could and should have done to try to save those people, contradicting the initial story from law enforcement officials.

Indeed, as children in the classrooms under assault by shooter Salvador Ramos called 911 pleading for police to help, the chief of police of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and commanding officer at the scene, Pete Arredondo, ordered his officers to stand down and await backup, even as “there was plenty of officers to do what needed to be done,” McCraw said.

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The most chilling takeaway from Friday’s briefing was that there was a more than 40-minute gap between when officers likely should have gone into the classroom to try to “neutralize” the shooter and when they actually went in, according to McCraw’s description. It’s still entirely unclear whether any injured children who might have been saved by first responders ultimately died in that time, or whether any additional children were shot and killed in that interim period. McCraw said he was unable to answer those questions.

But he did substantially change the public’s understanding of what, exactly, happened inside and outside Robb Elementary on Tuesday. Beyond that, the discrepancies between what police originally said about the massacre and this latest presentation underline not only the utter debacle of the police as they confronted this crisis on the ground, but their failures in the days that followed.

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First, here is the relevant timeline as McCraw described it:

• May 17: The day after his 18th birthday, and one week before the shooting, Ramos—now legally able to buy semi-automatic rifles in Texas—purchases the first of two semi-automatic rifles at the Oasis Outback sporting goods store in Uvalde. In the ensuing days he also buys a large cache of ammo. Ultimately, “he had purchased and had a total of 1,657 total rounds of ammunition,” McCraw told the public on Friday.

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• Around 11 a.m. on May 24: Ramos shoots his grandmother, who is injured and calls 911 before being transported for medical attention.

• 11:27 a.m.: McCraw describes video evidence that shows “the exterior door” of the school, “where we knew the shooter entered … was propped open by a teacher.”

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• 11:28 a.m.: Ramos crashes his vehicle into a ditch in front of the school and near a funeral home. The teacher that propped the door open runs into Classroom 132 to retrieve her cell phone and “that same teacher walks back to the exit door and the door remains propped open.” Men at the funeral home seek to confront Ramos and are shot at. One of them calls 911 at 11:30 a.m.

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• 11:31 a.m.: Patrol vehicles approach the funeral home. The school’s officer, who was not at the scene at the time of the initial incident, drives by Ramos as he hides behind a vehicle and confronts a teacher, whom the officer mistakes for the shooter. Ramos begins firing several dozen bullets at the school.

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• 11:33 a.m.: The shooter enters the unlocked door to the school and begins shooting into the adjacent and connected classrooms, 111 and 112, firing “more than 100 rounds based on the audio evidence at that time.”

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• 11:35 a.m.: Three Uvalde Police Department officers enter the school from the same door that Ramos had and are fired upon. As they approach a door to enter the classrooms, which is closed, two are grazed and none has any serious injuries. They retreat from the door, and four of their colleagues enter.

• 11:37 a.m.: Ramos fires 16 more rounds from inside one of the classrooms.

• 11:51 a.m.: More officers begin to arrive. The classrooms are not breached.

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• 12:03 p.m.: More officers arrive, with “as many as 19 officers” in the school at that time. At this time, a student calls 911 and whispers that she is “in Room 112.” The classrooms are not breached.

• 12:10 p.m.: The student calls back and says that multiple of her classmates are dead. The classrooms are not breached.

• 12:13 p.m.: The student calls back again. The classrooms are not breached.

• 12:15 p.m.: Members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (who will later enter the room and kill Ramos) arrive. They have shields and are fully armed.

• 12:16 p.m.: The student calls back again and says that eight or nine students in the classroom are still alive. The classrooms are not breached.

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• 12:19 p.m.: Another student calls 911 from the adjacent Classroom 111 and hangs up when another student tells her to.

• 12:21 p.m.: Ramos fires again, possibly at the door, possibly at children still in each of the conjoined classrooms. “Law enforcement move down the hallway,” McCraw says. The classrooms are not breached.

• 12:36 p.m.: The initial student caller calls back to 911 and informs them that the shooter had shot the door. The classrooms are not breached.

• 12:43 p.m.: The initial student caller calls 911 at this time and again four minutes later, and “asked 911 to ‘Please send the police now,’ ” McCraw says.

• 12:50 p.m.: The Border Patrol Tactical Unit team finally breaches the door and kills Ramos before beginning to clear the area. Two of the students described as calling 911 are ultimately rescued alive, though McCraw said that “I can’t tell you that with certainty” whether other children who may have called 911 from the classroom could have been killed in that period. There are 58 total magazines from the shooter at the school and ultimately 315 rounds of ammunition found inside, including 142 spent rounds of ammunition. There are 35 spent rounds of law enforcement ammunition at the immediate site of the shooting, eight in the hallway outside of the classrooms, and 27 inside Classroom 111, where Ramos was killed.

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After presenting this timeline, McCraw put the responsibility—if not the outright blame—for the decision not to breach the classroom in the midst of an active shooter situation on Arredondo, even though a breach is standard protocol for police departments in Texas in such a scenario. McCraw said Arredondo made the decision because he claimed to have incorrectly believed it was a “barricaded subject situation” and not an “active shooter situation.” According to McCraw, Arredondo told the other officers on the scene “that there were no kids at risk” during that entire more-than-40-minute period when there enough officers on the scene, with students calling 911 begging for police to intervene.

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“When it comes to an active shooter, you don’t have to wait on tactical gear, plain and simple, you’ve got an obligation,” McCraw said. “If shooting continues, and you have any reason to believe there’s individuals alive in there, you’ve got an obligation to move back to an active-shooter posture, and that means everybody at the door.”

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This did not happen, and the question continues to be why. McCraw did not have an answer, aside from explaining Arredondo’s judgment at the time. McCraw offered that “the belief is that there may not be anybody living anymore, and that the subject is now trying to keep law enforcement at bay or entice them to come in to do suicide by cop.” He said he could not at this time answer questions as to whether the police on the scene were aware of the 911 calls from the children inside, and why they might not have been. Still, he acknowledged that officers on the scene had a duty to enter and try to save any students who may have been dying in the classroom. “Clearly there was kids in the room, clearly they’re at risk, and, oh by the way, even when he goes back to shooting, there may be kids that are injured, that may have been shot but injured, and it’s important for lifesaving purposes to immediately get there and raid,” McCraw said. This was all during a period when parents of students were reportedly pleading with officers outside of the building to either do something or allow them to enter the school to attempt to rescue their kids. Some, according to reports, were arrested, handcuffed, and tased by those outside police. McCraw responded, “I don’t have any information on that,” when asked if any family members had been tased. When asked how many students had died between 12:03 p.m., when there were upward of 19 officers in the school, and 12:50 p.m., when the shooter was finally “neutralized,” McCraw responded, “I don’t have that answer right now.”

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As horrifying as all this is, it somehow feels worse when you consider the discrepancies between McCraw’s current, more apparently reality-based response, and the official story as first presented by law enforcement. Some of those discrepancies:

• The school police officer was initially said to have been on the scene, and to have confronted the shooter before he entered. He was neither on the scene nor did he confront the shooter. (He confronted a teacher after arriving late.) McCraw could not explain why the school officer was not on campus at the time of the initial incident, saying, “We’ll have all those answers down the road.”

• It was reported by the school’s social media account that the school was undergoing “lockdown” procedures. In reality, a teacher had left a door open for the shooter to enter after the first shots were fired.

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• It was reported that Border Patrol agents secured the situation upon arrival. According to CNN, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said that his own agents acted in an as-timely-as-possible fashion. “They didn’t hesitate. They came up with a plan. They entered that classroom and they took care of the situation as quickly as they possibly could,” Ortiz said. It turns out they were on the scene for nearly 40 minutes before being allowed to breach the door. In that time, additional shots were fired. The New York Times reported on Friday, citing anonymous officials, that a commanding officer—presumably Arredondo—had prevented the Border Control agents from breaching the classrooms.

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• Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Chris Olivarez initially defended the actions of police, which his boss McCraw later acknowledged had been wrong. Olivarez told CNN the officers “had the suspect contained inside the classroom” and that “if those officers weren’t there, if they did not maintain their presence, there is a good chance that gunman could have made it to other classrooms and commit[ted] more killings.” We know now that appropriate procedure for them was to breach the classroom, particularly after more shots were fired at 12:21 p.m.

• Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez on Thursday also defended that police response as timely and appropriate. “It is important for our community to know that our officers responded within minutes,” he said.

The degree to which the Arredondo apparently botched the rescue was so extreme that McCraw couldn’t help but criticize it, even after promising at the start of the press conference that he wasn’t there “to defend what was done or to criticize what was done, or the actions taken.”

Ultimately, McCraw concluded of the decision not to breach: “Of course it was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision, very wrong, there is no excuse for that.”

For more on what it’s like to survive a school shooting, listen to this special encore episode of Amicus.

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