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Texas lawmakers detail chaos in botched police response to Uvalde school shooting

Even with district policy in place for responding to active shooters, the bad Wi-Fi signal on campus delayed distribution of the principal’s lockdown alert to teachers.

(CN) — Three hundred and seventy-six law enforcement officers responded to the Robb Elementary school shooting, but a new report digs into what delayed them from confronting the gunman and why some of the wounded were left without medical attention until it was too late.

Drawing on its closed-door interviews with 35 witnesses, a committee of the Texas House of Representatives released an 80-page interim report Sunday about its investigation into the shooting on May 24 in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead and 17 injured.

The report details the chaos that unfolded as police waited more than 70 minutes to breach doors to one of the fourth-grade classrooms that Salvador Ramos had entered around 11:30 a.m. that day, firing over 100 rounds from his assault rifle within three minutes.

Though the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District had adopted a policy for responding to active shooters, the report recounts how Robb Elementary’s bad Wi-Fi signal delayed distribution of the principal’s lockdown alert to teachers.

The school district has nine campuses but just six police officers, and none of them are assigned full-time to Robb Elementary.

Pete Arredondo, the district's police chief, was one of the first officers on the scene. The district’s active-shooter policy called for him to take the role of incident commander, but he told the Texas House committee in an interview he did not consider himself to be in charge.

According to the report, Arredondo mistakenly believed that the shooter had barricaded himself in a classroom and it was no longer an active-shooter situation, as police did not hear any screams or cries coming from the classrooms. He instead focused his attention on getting students out of the building.

The failure of law enforcement to set up a command post caused a breakdown in communication as police in the building, including Arredondo, did not immediately learn that a student who survived an initial burst of gunfire had repeatedly called 911 from inside one of the adjoining classrooms Ramos had entered.

“Some responders outside and inside the building knew that information through radio communications. But nobody in command analyzed this information to recognize that the attacker was preventing critically injured victims from obtaining medical care,” the report states.

A back door at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman entered through to get into a classroom in last week's shooting, is seen in the distance in Uvalde, Texas, on May 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Despite the focus on Arredondo, the report stresses that he is not solely to blame for the botched police response.

“Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police — quickly arrived on the scene,” the report states.  

It notes officers from more than 20 agencies amassed at the school, including 149 Border Patrol agents and 91 Texas state police.

Agents in a Border Patrol tactical unit finally entered the classrooms and killed Ramos, who was 18.

The report describes how Arredondo fixated on finding a master key to get into one of the two classrooms Ramos had entered.

Since the lock had not been working properly, according to the report, it may have been unlocked the whole time even though school policy says all doors on campus were supposed to be locked. Nobody ever checked, however, during the May 24 shooting.

“Nobody called Principal [Mandy] Gutierrez to ask about the location of a master key. She had a key, and the head custodian had a key. Yet despite all the effort to find a key, nobody called her,” the report states.

Lawmakers also detail Ramos’ background, namely how a group of his Uvalde peers who he talked to on the Snapchat app started calling him “school shooter” after he shared pictures of himself wearing body armor and posing with a BB gun he tried to convince them was a real gun.

After the massacre, the FBI interviewed Ramos’ ex-girlfriend, according to the Texas House committee report.

“She described the attacker as lonely and depressed, constantly teased by friends who called him a ‘school shooter,’” the report says. “She said he told her repeatedly that he wouldn’t live past eighteen, either because he would commit suicide or simply because he ‘wouldn’t live long.’”

The report cites Ramos' online activity, stating he began to show an interest in gore and violent sex, watching and sometimes sharing videos of suicides and beheadings.

“Those with whom he played videogames reported that he became enraged when he lost. He made over-the-top threats, especially towards female players, whom he would terrorize with graphic descriptions of violence and rape,” it states.

Though Ramos stopped regularly attending school in the fifth grade, and by age 17 he had only completed the ninth grade, he had almost no disciplinary history at school.

And his increasingly troubling behavior did not put him on the radar of law enforcement. “There apparently was no information actually known to local Uvalde law enforcement that should have identified this attacker as a threat to any school campus before May 24, 2022,” the report states.

A gunman carrying an AR-15 style rifle enters and walks down a hallway at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. (Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

According to the report, Ramos moved in with with his grandparents after having a bad argument with his mom. And he occasionally worked for his grandpa, who had an air-conditioning repair business and paid him in cash.

Because Ramos lived rent-free with his grandparents, he saved up enough money to buy two AR-15 style rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, spending over $4,000, in the days after May 16, when he turned 18 and became legally able to buy guns and bullets, the report says.

Ramos shot his grandmother in the face in their home the morning of May 24 before driving her pickup truck to Robb Elementary.

She survived but her injuries reportedly prevented her from speaking to investigators.  

The report describes another factor that desensitized Robb Elementary School teachers to school-lockdown notifications.

Uvalde is 75 miles east of the Mexico border, and police chases are a common occurrence in the town of around 15,000 residents.

Chief Arredondo testified to the committee that, to avoid capture by law enforcement, drivers smuggling immigrants will purposely crash their cars, allowing themselves and their passengers to scatter.

A school official testified that since February 2021 “high-speed chases have been a daily event in the Uvalde area, causing Uvalde CISD schools to be secured or locked down frequently, with 47 ‘secure’ or ‘lockdown’ events happening since late February 2022, and approximately 90% of those being attributed to bailouts,” the report states.

It says the constant alerts caused some Robb Elementary staffers to not take the alert involving Ramos seriously.

“The series of bailout-related alerts led teachers and administrators to respond to all alerts with less urgency — when they heard the sound of an alert, many assumed that it was another bailout,” it states.

The committee is composed of Texas State Representatives Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican, and Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat, as well as Eva Guzman, a former Texas Supreme Court justice.

The committee says in its report it has not received evidence showing that if law enforcement had immediately breached the classrooms, shooting victims could have received medical attention to save their lives.

“However, given the information known about victims who survived through the time of the breach and who later died on the way to the hospital, it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue,” the report concludes.

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