A new report indicates that officers who delayed their response to last year’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, did so in part because they were scared of the gunman’s rifle.
“You knew that it was definitely an AR,” Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Donald Page said in an interview with investigators after the shooting at Robb Elementary School. “There was no way of going in.”
The new police interviews and body camera evidence come from a report by The Texas Tribune, which published its investigation into the poor police response on Monday.
On May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary in Uvalde and killed 19 children and two teachers with an AR-15 rifle. From the moment the shooter was finally killed by police, questions were raised about why it took more than a dozen officers over an hour to breach the door to the classroom. That included waiting for a sledgehammer to beach the door. The door was unlocked.
Days after the shooting, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said it was the “wrong decision” for officers to have waited.
“With the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision, it was the wrong decision, there was no excuse for that,” DPS director Steven McCraw told reporters.
Another official, Lt. Chris Olivarez, said three days after the shooting that police delayed their response because they “could’ve been shot.”
The Texas Tribune report further highlights the fears police had as the minutes ticked by and kids were executed.
In a radio call to dispatch during the shooting, Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Daniel Coronado warned others about the gun.
“I have a male subject with an AR,” Coronado said, according to the publication.
“Fuck,” another officer responded.
Officials ultimately decided to wait for a Border Patrol SWAT team, which had more protective armor and better training.
“We weren’t equipped to make entry into that room without several casualties,” Uvalde Police Department Detective Louis Landry said in an interview obtained by the Tribune.
“Once we found out it was a rifle he was using, it was a different game plan we would have had to come up with,” Landry said. “It wasn’t just going in guns blazing, the Old West style, and take him out.”
In July, Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program published a report detailing the multiple failures of law enforcement at the time, and concluded that officers should not have retreated even if they were in fear for their lives.
“We commend the officers for quickly entering the building and moving toward the sounds of gunfire,” the report said. “However, when the officers were fired at, momentum was lost. The officers fell back, and it took more than an hour to regain momentum and gain access to critically injured people.”
During that hour, police waited for ballistics shields and gas canisters, according to the ALERRT report. (The gas canisters were ultimately never used.) Less than a minute after police received their fourth ballistics shield, the shooter could be heard firing four shots in the classroom.
It’s possible that lives could have been saved if officers had responded appropriately, according to the ALERRT report.
“While we do not have definitive information at this point, it is possible that some of the people who died during this event could have been saved if they had received more rapid medical care,” the report said.
CORRECTION: A prior version of this story mistakenly implied that the shooter had locked himself in the classroom with the victims. The door to the classroom was unlocked.