The head of the Department of Public Safety told the families of the Uvalde shooting victims that first responders were “wrong” in their delay to breach the classroom where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers.
The gunman, who remained in the classroom for more than an hour, should have been stopped within 10 minutes of entering Robb Elementary School, DPS Director Steve McCraw said in a hearing on Thursday, as victims’ families looked on.
“Five minutes into that situation, that tragic, horrific situation, after the subject walked into room 111-112, five minutes afterward, there was enough officers, there was enough equipment, there was enough knowledge, there was enough information to do what needed to be done, immediately,” he said. “Stop the killing — that didn’t happen.”
“We were wrong.”
The hearing, during a Public Safety Commission meeting in Austin, was also the first time the families spoke publicly, face-to-face with the DPS director as his agency and others remain under fire for their response to the massacre.
While parents have urged McCraw and others to resign over the incident, Thursday marked the first time they’ve asked him to his face. Still, McCraw refused.
Watch: Sen. Roland Gutierrez addresses Public Safety Commission
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said McCraw and DPS are withholding information from the families. He said he has to sign a non-disclosure agreement when he speaks with the director.
“You’re withholding information that these people want to see. They don’t want to see their dead kids, they don’t want to see any of that,” he said, referring to body camera footage. “They want to know who failed.”
Gutierrez said DPS backed off when they realized Bortac, the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, was on the way.
DPS troopers failed to take control of the situation and neutralize the threat, and provided false information to the public, Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez urged DPS to provide the truth, have accountability, own up to any inactions and make restitution payments to victims.
“It is failing today by continuing to not disclose all of the information that is important to us,” he said, adding that supervisors need to be reviewed.
The criminal investigation into the response will be finished by the end of the year, McCraw said.
Watch: Brett Cross addresses DPS director Steve McCraw at Public Safety Commission meeting
The families and Gutierrez said McCraw placed the blame on other agencies, like Uvalde CISD police and their then-chief, Pete Arrendondo, and Robb employee Emilia “Amy” Marin.
Just days after the massacre, McCraw told the press that the staff member left a door propped open, allowing the gunman to enter the school. That staff member he was referring to was Marin.
The victims’ families speaking publicly said McCraw has not been truthful or accountable for DPS’ alleged inaction.
“You, sir, have told lies, you’re not in control of your officers, nor are you the leader this great state deserves,” said Brett Cross, the guardian of student Uziyah Garcia. “You have disgraced the state, your position and the people.”
Cross urged McCraw to resign, as McCraw previously told CNN that he would do so if any of his troopers had “any culpability” in the delayed response.
Instead, on Thursday, McCraw restated that he would only resign if DPS “as an institution” failed.
Cross also questioned why DPS Capt. Joel Betancourt is still on active duty, after reports surfaced that he ordered officers to not enter the school 70 minutes into the response. The 15-year DPS veteran said he believed a more highly-skilled team was coming, CNN reported.
Watch: Uncles of Uvalde victim Jacklyn Cazares victim speak at Public Safety Commission meeting
Manuel Rizo, the uncle of student Jackie Gutierrez, said that so far, families have been hearing updates from media outlets, not officials.
Earlier this month, KSAT reported that Crimson Elizondo, who was one of the first DPS troopers to arrive at the scene of the massacre, left DPS and was hired as a police officer by UCISD.
She mainly remained outside and was later captured on body camera footage saying, “If my son had been in there, I would not have been outside. I promise you that,” CNN reported. Following the outrage, the UCISD fired Elizondo and suspended the entire district police department.
On Monday, Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell, who was under review for his response to the shooting, was suspended.
Sources told CNN that he was suspended because he failed to take action, and he had no discussions about options to breach the classroom, as a person in his position would have been expected to do, sources said.
CNN reported that Kindell gave his supervisors updates on the mass shooting.
Last week, DPS fired Sgt. Juan Maldonado, one of the first DPS troopers to arrive at the scene.
Elizondo, Kindell and Maldonado are among the seven DPS officers under investigation for their alleged inaction during the shooting.
Lives Robbed response
After the Robb Elementary massacre, several of the victims’ families formed the nonprofit organization “Lives Robbed” to bring attention to gun violence and advocate for tougher gun laws.
After Thursday’s hearing, the group issued the following statement:
“Today, The Department of Public Safety promised an update into their investigation of the Robb Elementary School shooting. That did not happen. Instead, in a bait and switch, they hosted a glorified press conference and once again refused to accept responsibility for their failures.
“To be clear, the Department’s failures on that day are not up for debate. Our children are dead.
“The Department’s actions today were incredibly insulting and disrespectful to grieving families who traveled hours to Austin to hear this promised update.
“Our families have already been victims of one of the worst mass shootings in Texas history, and should not have to further suffer as a result of the Department’s broken promises.
“We will not allow the Department to co-opt our grief, and the death of our children. We call upon the Department of Public Safety and the Commission to provide a real update of their investigation, and for it to be hosted in the community impacted by this tragic event -Uvalde, TX.”