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‘Chaos’: How 400 police failed to stop Texas school shooting

Jake Bleiberg and Paul J. Weber

Uvalde, Texas | Almost 400 law enforcement officials rushed to a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, but “egregiously poor decision-making” resulted in more than an hour of chaos before the gunman who took 21 lives was finally confronted and killed, according to a damning report released on Sunday (Monday AEST).

The nearly 80-page investigative report was the first to criticise both state and federal law enforcement, and not just local authorities in the South Texas town for the bewildering inaction by heavily armed officers as a gunman fired inside a fourth grade classroom at Robb Elementary School on May 24.

A memorial outside the Robb Elementary School in Texas where a lone gunmen killed 21 students and teachers. AP

“Law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritise saving innocent lives over their own safety,” the report said.

The gunman fired about 142 rounds inside the building – and it is “almost certain” that at least 100 shots came before any officer entered, according to the report, which laid out in damning detail numerous failures. Among them:

  • The commander of a Border Patrol tactical team waited for a bullet-proof shield and working master key for the classroom, which may not have even been needed, before entering the classroom.
  • No one assumed command despite scores of officers being on the scene.
  • A Uvalde Police Department officer said he heard about 911 calls that had come from inside the classroom, and that his understanding was the officers on one side of the building knew there were victims trapped inside. Still, no one tried to breach the classroom.

The report – the most complete account yet of the hesitant and haphazard response to the massacre – was written by an investigative committee from the Texas House of Representatives and released to family members.

Systemic failures

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said the police chief, Lieutenant Mariano Pargas, had been placed on administrative leave to determine whether he was responsible for taking command after a gunman had entered the school.

“It’s a joke. They’re a joke. They’ve got no business wearing a badge. None of them do,” said Vincent Salazar, grandfather of 11-year-old Layla Salazer.

According to the report, 376 law enforcement officers massed at the school. The overwhelming majority of those were federal and state law enforcement. That included almost 150 US Border Patrol agents and 91 state police officials.

“Other than the attacker, the committee did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its investigation,” the report said. “There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision-making.”


The report noted that many of the hundreds of law enforcement responders who rushed to the school were better trained and equipped than the school district police – which the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state police force, previously faulted for not going into the room sooner.

“In this crisis, no responder seized the initiative to establish an incident command post,” the report said.

The report followed weeks of closed-door interviews with more than 40 people, including witnesses and law enforcement who were on the scene of the shooting.

No single officer has received as much scrutiny since the shooting as Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief who resigned from his newly appointed seat on the city council after the shooting.

Mr Arredondo told the committee he treated the shooter as a “barricaded subject”, and defended never treating the scene as an active shooter situation because he did not have visual contact with the gunman.

He also tried to find a key for the classrooms, but no one ever bothered to see if the doors were locked, according to the report.


“Arredondo’s search for a key consumed his attention and wasted precious time, delaying the breach of the classrooms,” the report said.

The report criticised as “lackadaisical” the approach of the hundreds of officers who surrounded the school and said they should have recognised that Mr Arredondo remaining in the school without reliable communication was “inconsistent” with him being the scene commander.

The report concluded that some officers waited because they relied on bad information, while others “had enough information to know better”.

A nearly 80-minute hallway surveillance video published by the Austin American-Statesman publicly showed for the first time a hesitant and haphazard tactical response, which the head of Texas’ state police has condemned as a failure, and some Uvalde residents have blasted as cowardly.

The committee didn’t “receive medical evidence” to show that police breaching the classroom sooner would have saved lives, but concluded “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue”.

Michael Brown, whose nine-year-old son was in the school cafeteria on the day of the shooting and survived, went to the committee’s news conference on Sunday carrying signs saying, “We Want Accountability”, and “Prosecute Pete Arredondo”.

“It’s disgusting. Disgusting,” Mr Brown said. “They’re cowards.”


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