San Antonio Express-News
Surveillance footage shows that police never tried to open a door to two classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in the 77 minutes between the time a gunman entered the rooms and massacred 21 people and officers finally stormed in and killed him, according to a law enforcement source close to the investigation.
Investigators believe the 18-year-old gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at the school on May 24 could not have locked the door to the connected classrooms from the inside, according to the source.
All classroom doors at Robb Elementary are designed to lock automatically when they are closed so that the only way to enter from the outside is with a key, the source said. Police might have assumed the door was locked, but the latest evidence suggests it may have been open the whole time, possibly due to a malfunction, the source said.
The surveillance footage indicates gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, was able to open the door to classroom 111 and enter with an assault-style rifle, the source said.
Another door led to classroom 112.
Ramos entered Robb Elementary at 11:33 a.m. that day through an exterior door that a teacher had pulled shut but that didn’t lock automatically as it was supposed to, indicating another malfunction in door locks at the school.
Police finally opened the door to classroom 111 and killed Ramos at 12:50 p.m. Whether the door was unlocked all along remains under investigation.
Regardless, officers had access the entire time to a “halligan” — a crowbar-like tool that could have opened the door to the classrooms even if it was locked, the source said.
Two minutes after Ramos entered the building, three Uvalde police officers chased him inside. Footage shows that Ramos fired rounds inside classrooms 111 and 112, briefly exited into the hallway and then re-entered through the door, the source said.
Ramos then shot at the officers through the closed door, grazing two of them with shrapnel. The officers retreated to wait for backup and heavy tactical equipment rather than force their way into the classrooms.
Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief and the on-scene incident commander, has said he spent more than an hour in the hallway of the school. He told the Texas Tribune that he called for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside. He said he held officers back from the door to the classrooms for 40 minutes to avoid gunfire.
When a custodian brought a large key ring, Arredondo said he tried dozens of the keys but none worked.
But Arredondo was not trying those keys in the door to classrooms 111 and 112, where Ramos was holed up, according to the law enforcement source. Rather, he was trying to locate a master key by using the various keys on doors to other classrooms nearby, the source and the Texas Tribune article said.
While Arredondo waited for a tactical team to arrive, children and teachers inside the classrooms called 911 at least seven times with desperate pleas for help. One of the two teachers who died, Eva Mireles, called her husband by cellphone after she was wounded and lay dying.
The massacre occurred two days before the start of summer break, on the same day as a just-completed awards ceremony for the 3rd and 4th-graders at Robb Elementary.
Days after the massacre, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference that “each door can lock from the inside” and that when Ramos went in, “he locked the door.” That information was preliminary, the source said, and further investigation by the Texas Rangers has yielded new revelations about the door.
As the investigation has unfolded, law enforcement has changed the story of the massacre several times, adding to public confusion over how police responded to the mass shooting.
Days after the shooting, DPS said the exterior door that Ramos entered had been left propped open by a teacher. It wasn’t. She had closed it. And the agency also corrected early misinformation that school police shot at Ramos before he entered the school. No school police officers confronted him outside the school.
DPS and Uvalde city officials have refused to provide further details, citing an ongoing criminal investigation into the massacre by Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee.
The Texas Rangers, with assistance from the FBI, are investigating the police response. Separately, the Justice Department is conducting a “critical incident review” of the police response.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D- San Antonio, said he was upset by the new details.
“As more of the story comes out, I’m shocked like the rest of the country at the incompetence and dereliction of duty by multiple law enforcement agencies who failed to save those kids,” Castro said. “I’m also increasingly disturbed by what looks like an attempt to cover up the truth by state officials and the local police department who have refused to comply with requests to release information to the public.”
State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D- San Antonio, whose district encompasses Uvalde, said he was unaware of the revelations about the door. If the door was unlocked the entire time — or if police could have forced their way in regardless — then people likely died unnecessarily, he said.
“If that’s true, we probably could have saved three or four extra children,” Gutierrez said. “The teacher possibly could have been saved. We know two kids had gunshot wounds that they bled out from. We know that one teacher was alive when they pulled her out and she died on the way to the hospital.”
Any law enforcement agency whose officers waited in the hallway for more than an hour “committed negligence,” he said, if the door could have easily been breached the entire time.
Gutierrez added that investigators should immediately clarify exactly how police responded — or failed to respond — to the massacre.
“What were the failures?” Gutierrez continued. “Were they communication failures? Were they human error failures? Were they system failures? Or was it simply something as simple as not turning a doorknob? We need to know that. And the fact that they are hiding all of this information from the public and community in Uvalde is just a tragedy.”
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