Newly-released body camera footage from the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, shows that within moments of arriving at Robb elementary school, some police officers knew they needed to move swiftly to save lives.
“Dude, we gotta get in there,” said staff sergeant Eduardo Canales, according to body camera footage released late on Sunday by the small south Texas city, adding: “He’s still shooting. We gotta get in there.”
Instead, a growing group of officers from a variety of agencies waited 73 minutes before a federal agent breached the classroom where children and teachers were dying, and killed the young gunman.
It was a delay that had almost immediately become public, if not the specifics, and caused outrage, heartbreak and conflicting accounts after the shooting occurred in May, and which a state committee report just released said could have cost lives.
The video footage, released by the city Sunday evening, illustrates a chaotic scene, described by the committee’s report. Among the missteps identified: the school district’s police chief, Pete Arrendondo, did not follow his own shooting incident plan that called for him to set up a command center outside where the incident was taking place.
Instead, the newly-released footage shows he was inside the hallway trying to find a key to the classroom door that the state committee found was possibly unlocked.
“We’re having a problem getting into the fucking room because it’s locked,” he said as more officers arrived.
Later, an off-camera voice whose identity has not been confirmed pleads unsuccessfully with the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.
“Mr. Ramos, can you hear us? Mr. Ramos?” the unnamed officer says, addressing the shooter. “Please don’t hurt anyone. These are innocent children. Please put your firearm down. We don’t want anyone else hurt.”
The camera footage then shows officers from multiple local, state and federal agencies arriving with more and more tactical gear. Several of them repeatedly question the ongoing delay.
“What are we doing here?” one asked 20 minutes after officers arrived at the school.
“People are gonna ask why we’re taking so long,” another said nearly an hour later.
The state committee found “multiple systemic failures” – including red flags about the shooter, unlocked doors and poor alert systems at the school – led to the shooting, but much of the public outcry, including from grieving families, has focused on the law enforcement response.
The committee’s report said 376 officers were at the school, but that they took a “lackadaisical” approach when attempting to confront the shooter.
“They lost critical momentum by treating the scenario as a ‘barricaded subject’ instead of with the greater urgency attached to an ‘active shooter’ scenario,” according to the report.
The report committee’s chairman, state representative and Lubbock Republican Dustin Burrows, said on Sunday: “There were officers in that building who knew or should have known that more should’ve been done.”
Burrows also criticized the lack of a clear chain of command at the scene. Besides Arrendondo, acting Uvalde police chief Lt Mariano Pargas was also in the hallway, according to the body camera footage. Both Arrendondo and Pargas have been put on administrative leave.
On the footage, a dispatcher is heard telling officers via radio that a child in the “room full of victims” had called 911. An officer tells Pargas, who does not audibly respond.
In another video from outside the school a half-hour after the gunman arrived, Uvalde police sergeant Daniel Coronado pulls out a collapsible baton and smashes a school window.
“Is anybody in there? Police,” one officer shouts into the broken window. “I want you to come to the window right now. We’re only here to help.”
Several officers, including at least one from the US Border Patrol, begin lifting children and teachers out from the window, trying to avoid injury on the broken glass.
“It’s, OK baby, it’s OK,” Coronado tells the children as they exit and flee. “It’s ok, baby. Run, run, run.”
July 18, 2022 at 11:54PM Charlie Scudder in San Antonio