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Texas lawmakers scrutinize police response to Uvalde school shooting

State senators are holding the first committee meeting focused on clarifying the sequence of events that led to the deaths of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A Texas Senate committee met for the first time Tuesday to hear testimony on what changes need to be made to prevent mass shootings like the one at Uvalde's Robb Elementary School last month from happening again.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw spoke before the committee first and called the law enforcement response to the shooting an "abject failure." The director underscored that the officers on the scene would have done whatever was necessary to stop the shooter, but confusion at the scene led to the shooter being locked inside the classroom with children.

The shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was inside the school for over an hour before being killed by police.

McCraw told the committee that officers were inside the school within three minutes of the gunman entering the building on May 24. If not for hesitation and miscommunication with the incident commander, Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo, the shooter could have been stopped earlier, McCraw said. 

Initial reports of a school resource officer engaging with the shooter were found to be another layer of confusion. McCraw said the officer arrived on campus and reported they were approaching who was thought to be the shooter, but who turned out to be a teacher outside the school.

It was also revealed during the hearing that the door leading into the classroom could only be locked from the outside. During the shooting, officers did not attempt to open the door to see if it was unlocked. Meanwhile, officers searched for a master key to unlock the door, leading to a further delay in police response.

Another issue law enforcement faced once inside the school was a struggle to communicate. Many of the radios used by the responding officers lost reception while inside.

According to McCraw, in the over 700 interviews conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety, many teachers and members of the community believed the shooter posed a possible threat. Some reported that they saw him abusing animals and allegedly carrying a bag of dead cats. None of this information was reported to the police before the shooting.

One teacher told investigators Ramos scared her and he showed signs of being dangerous, according to McCraw.

Ramos reportedly communicated his plans to commit violence through online social media platforms to people who appeared sympathetic to his plans. The shooter’s posts on social media were made as private messages. Shortly before traveling to the elementary school, Ramos shot his grandmother, an act he broadcast live on social media.  

His grandmother, who survived being shot in the face, has yet to be interviewed by the Department of Public Safety due to her inability to communicate as a result of her injuries.    

Recommendations made by McCraw include providing ballistic shields and breaching tools to every state trooper. The director stressed the importance of improving school-hardening measures such as single-point secure entries. In addition, he recommended improving the mass alert system. 

The gunman purchased two AR-15 rifles online and picked them up, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, from the same store.

Senator Roland Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat, asked McCraw what sort of conclusion can be drawn from an 18-year-old purchasing two assault weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. 

“It is certainly suspicious,” McCraw said.

Since the shooting, Texas Democrats have called on Republican Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session to raise the age to purchase an assault rifle from 18 to 21, create red flag laws and institute a mandatory waiting period to obtain such firearms. 

Senator Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, asked McCraw during the committee hearing whether raising the age to buy assault weapons would have an impact on safety. McCraw responded that such an issue is up to the Legislature.

The Texas Senate's Special Committee to Protect All Texans was formed by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on June 1 in response to the Uvalde shooting. Comprised of eight Republicans and three Democrats, the committee is tasked with studying school safety, mental health, social media, police training and firearm safety to create changes meant to prevent future massacres. 

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