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Uvalde officer spotted gunman, then asked for permission to shoot, report says

A study by Texas State University researchers found that officers missed several opportunities to halt the massacre at Robb Elementary School

People gather at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., on May 29 to leave flowers and pay their respects to the victims. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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A rifle-wielding Uvalde police officer had the Robb Elementary gunman in his sight before he entered the school building but was concerned about hitting children and asked for permission to take the shot — and didn’t get it, according to an after-action report released Tuesday.

The officer’s supervisor “either did not hear the request or responded too late” to stop the 18-year-old shooter — one of several missed opportunities to halt the carnage that ended the lives of 19 children and two teachers.

Researchers from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center (ALERRT) at Texas State University, which specializes in active-shooter training, also found tactical errors and potential breaches of protocol in a review of the police response to the worst school shooting in the United States in nearly a decade. Subject matter experts based their findings on a one-hour briefing with an investigating officer and evidence such as surveillance footage, verbal testimony and radio logs.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) asked ALERRT to examine the police response. It’s one of several reports and investigations underway by local, state and federal officials examining law enforcement’s much-criticized reaction to the massacre. It took one hour, 11 minutes and 26 seconds after the first officers arrived at the scene for law enforcement to enter the classroom and kill the gunman. In the intervening minutes, injured and dying children in Rooms 111 and 112 were trapped and called 911 begging for help.

A three-person Texas House quasi-judicial committee has spent weeks interviewing 36 people — 19 of whom are law enforcement officers — behind closed doors and is expected to pull together an investigative report by late July. The committee said witnesses have been cooperative but Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco has so far ignored requests to testify and could face subpoena.

The Justice Department is also reviewing the law enforcement response to the attack.

While the ALERRT report echoes much of what Texas Department of Public Safety officials outlined for state senators earlier this month, the training experts added context and perspective to understand what should or could have happened if law enforcement had executed their training. Their timeline, however, falls short of explaining why certain decisions were made.

Armed Uvalde officers waited for key to unlocked door, official says

“Ultimately it is unclear why the officers decided to assault the room at 12:50:03,” the report said. “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.”

Much of the blame and anger has been directed toward the Uvalde school police chief, Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, who recently resigned from his city council post. But the authors focused on the individual actions of responding officers at the scene and the chaos clouding the multiple missed opportunities police had to stop the shooter.

A lawyer for Arredondo did not respond to requests for comment.

In the case of the Uvalde police officer, waiting for permission to use deadly force cost precious time, the report said. The officer at 148 yards away would have been justified in taking the shot, but he was concerned about missing and injuring students.

The hesitation doomed the likelihood of stopping the massacre before it started.

“When he turned back to address the suspect, the suspect had already entered the west hall exterior door at 11:33:00,” the authors wrote.

Pete Blair, ALERRT’s executive director and one of the report’s authors, said that under Texas law, it is not necessary for an officer to ask for permission to use lethal force. Though individual departments may have policies for specific circumstances, he said the officer ultimately had the authority to make a call on his own.

“He didn’t need permission,” Blair said.

A Uvalde school district officer who arrived at the school property in minutes drove so quickly that he missed the gunman. Experts said had he approached more slowly, “he might have seen the suspect and been able to engage him before the suspect entered the building.”

The first three Uvalde police officers on scene retreated when they were fired upon inside the school, leading to a loss of momentum, the report said. Two officers were grazed as the gunman’s bullets pierced through Sheetrock walls.

But what followed was a number of baffling decisions that did not appear to adhere to protocol for active shooting situations. Officers are trained to “stop the killing” and then “stop the dying,” but law enforcers in Uvalde were fixated on keys and locks for doors they had not tried to open. The shooting continued while police failed to develop an alternative plan to attack the gunman.

A half-century after one movement, ‘Fierce Madres’ in Uvalde call for another

Officers had body armor and rifles but they did not return fire. Arredondo called for a SWAT team. They asked for ballistic shields. The chief tried to negotiate with the unresponsive shooter. But none of those requests seemed to prompt immediate action to save lives, the report said.

“The first priority is to preserve the lives of victims/potential victims. Second, is the safety of the officers, and last is the suspect,” experts said. “This ordering means that we expect officers to assume risk to save innocent lives.”

“It is not surprising that officers who had never been shot at before would be overwhelmed by the directed gunfire,” the report said.

Every law enforcer, the report noted, should know there is a chance they will be injured or killed.

Arredondo testified for hours before the Texas House committee in a closed-door session but has seldom spoken publicly after the shooting. His lawyer, George E. Hyde, previously told the Texas Tribune that he was engaged as a first responder and “not in the capacity to be able to run this entire organization” reacting to the shooting.

“The lack of effective command likely impaired both the Stop the Killing and Stop the Dying parts of the response,” the report stated.

The report also affirmed that a Uvalde schoolteacher had closed the exterior door behind her when she retreated inside the building. But it was unlocked. The shooter had no problem entering. Had it been locked, however, the gunman could have shot out the windows and accessed the door anyhow.

It’s the first time ALERRT has been asked to produce a formal after-action report, Blair said. DPS officials provided the briefing and access to evidence. The report is the first installment of an expected three-part study, Blair said.

“Much of what they did is not consistent with our optimal response, but you have to give people the benefit of the doubt,” Blair said. “The purpose of this is not to say these guys screwed up or are responsible, but to identify what things went well and what didn’t go well.”

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D) said the report presented nothing new to the fact that the police response was flawed and stands in stark contrast to what law enforcement did in other recent mass shootings. The senator noted the report was lacking in details about the role Texas state troopers played.

“DPS facilitated that report,” Gutierrez said. “Are we really supposed to believe that the guy who broke up cafeteria fights was running the show that day?”

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