Uvalde school district’s police chief didn’t know about 911 calls coming from inside the school, lawmaker says

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, says the Uvalde school district's police chief, who was the commanding officer during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary last week, was not informed at the scene that 911 calls were coming from inside the school. (Evan L'Roy For The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy For The Texas Tribune)

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A Texas lawmaker said Thursday that the school district police chief in charge of the scene at the Uvalde school shooting last week was not informed of the multiple 911 calls made inside the building while the shooter was still inside.

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State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, said during a press conference the Uvalde school district’s police chief, Pete Arredondo, wasn’t made aware of 911 calls that students inside Robb Elementary School made around 30 minutes after the gunman entered, including a student begging for police to take action. The shooter killed 19 students and two teachers during his siege on the school.

Instead, Gutierrez said 911 calls were relayed to the Uvalde Police Department, which operates separately from the school district's police, and Arredondo — who was leading law enforcement’s response on the scene — was left in the dark.

Gutierrez described the lack of coordination as a “system failure.”

Arredondo has been widely criticized by state leaders and safety experts in the days after the shooting for his handling of the situation. It took more than an hour to breach the classroom where the gunman was holed up. The delay was contrary to the way law enforcement is trained based on best practices that were widely adopted after the 1999 school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, which recommend engaging with active shooters as soon as possible.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw condemned Arredondo’s response, saying he treated the situation as a “barricaded suspect” rather than an active shooter situation. McCraw said Arredondo believed no children were in danger, presumably because he did not know any survived inside the classroom.

In modern active shooter tactics, police are trained to immediately take down gunmen instead of waiting for backup or additional resources in order to save as many lives as possible. Instead, law enforcement at the scene of the Uvalde shooting requested “specialty equipment” and body armor and organized a tactical team to reenter the school, taking over an hour to take out the gunman despite having arrived at the scene within minutes after the shooter entered the school.

A key question in the days after the shooting has been whether Arredondo was informed of the multiple calls made by students inside the classrooms. Gutierrez on Thursday claimed he was not.

“There is blame enough to go around,” Gutierrez said during the news conference. “There was human error and there was system error.”

Other recent revelations have raised the question of what law enforcement knew about the situation inside the school while officers were stationed outside. The New York Times reported that Ruben Ruiz, a school district police officer serving under Arredondo, had a heartbreaking conversation with his wife, Eva Mireles, a teacher who was inside Robb Elementary, just a few minutes before she was killed.

And Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said while these events were unfolding, a would-be negotiator sat across the street in a nearby funeral home frantically trying to reach the gunman via cellphone, but they were never able to talk to him, according to The Washington Post.

“We need to know what law enforcement was doing, what radio procedures were followed or not followed, who were the 911 operators and such,” Gutierrez said, emphasizing he doesn’t blame just one individual or entity for the situation.

Zach Despart contributed to this story.

Disclosure: New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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