What did the police know as the Uvalde school shooting unfolded?


As investigators dig deeper into law enforcement’s response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a host of troubling questions remain about what officers at the scene knew as the deadly attack unfolded.

As investigators dig deeper into law enforcement’s response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a host of troubling questions remain about what officers at the scene knew as the deadly attack unfolded.

Did any of them know that children were trapped in a classroom with the shooter? Has this potentially critical information been passed to the Incident Commander at the scene? And did the officers challenge the commander’s decision not to storm the classroom quickly?

Authorities did not release audio of the 911 calls or radio communications, but confirmed that dispatchers received panicked 911 calls from students trapped in the locked classroom with the shooter while officers waited. in a hallway outside.

In an apparent communications blackout, the commander overseeing police at the scene, School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo, was never notified of children calling 911 from inside the school, said Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez on Thursday.

Gutierrez told The Associated Press on Friday that the state agency investigating the shooting determined that Arredondo was not carrying a police radio at the time of the massacre.

Arredondo was also criticized for not ordering officers to immediately enter the classroom and shoot the shooter. Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Arredondo believed the active shootout escalated into a hostage situation and that the chief made the “wrong decision.”

Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in last week’s attack at Robb Elementary, the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade. Seventeen others were injured. The funeral began this week.

Arredondo did not respond to repeated interview requests from the AP, and phone messages left at school police headquarters were not returned.

There have been other instances in which officers at a crime scene have not been relayed to a police dispatcher, often because the dispatcher was not following protocols, said Dave Warner, a police officer at retired and expert at the International Academies of Emergency. Dispatch.

He cited a 2009 domestic disturbance call in Pittsburgh in which a woman told a 911 operator that her son was armed. This information was never passed on to the officers who responded. When they arrived, the man opened fire, ultimately killing three officers and seriously wounding two.

“It’s an old story, but it’s still very relevant today,” Warner said.

Protocols for 911 dispatchers handling calls in active shooter situations also specifically caution against altering a law enforcement response based solely on time since the last shot. , Warner said.

Warner said these protocols were developed in part following the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people.

In this case, the shooter first killed two people in a dormitory. Police and school officials believed the shooter had fled campus and the danger had passed. But he instead moved to another part of campus hours later and continued his murderous rampage.

Warner said the protocols insist that dispatchers should not think a shooting is over “just because that caller can no longer see the shooter or hear the gunshots.”

The protocols also outline key questions 911 dispatchers should ask callers in active shooter cases, including the types of weapons involved, the number and location of suspects, and whether the caller can evacuate the building. completely safe.

Uvalde shooter Salvador Ramos, 18, spent around 80 minutes inside the school before law enforcement killed him, according to an official timeline.

Since the shooting, law enforcement and state officials have struggled to present an accurate account of the police response, sometimes providing conflicting information or retracting certain statements hours later.

Many of those details will likely become clearer after reviewing police 911 calls and radio communications, said Fritz Reber, a 27-year veteran and former police department captain from Chula Vista, Calif., who has studied 911 dispatch systems.

Operators at a 911 center typically relay caller information in writing to a dispatcher, who then relays it to agents in the field by radio.

At major event sites, a specific radio channel is usually established so that all local, state and federal agencies can communicate with each other, Reber said. It is not clear if this was done at Uvalde.

Reber said one of the reasons information may not be passed from dispatchers to officers in the field is because dispatchers don’t want to overload the channel with details they assume the police on the scene know. already.

“The assumption is that the officers are there and will know more about what’s going on than the people calling 911,” he said.

Thor Eells, former commander of a 16-member SWAT team in Colorado Springs, Colo., and director of the National Tactical Officers Association, said another key question was how many people worked at the 911 call center covering Uvalde.

“Many 911 calls have been made and in my experience this can lead to information overload,” he said. “When the 911 call center is overwhelmed, it’s extremely difficult to ensure you have a timely flow of information.”

There have been communication blackouts in other mass shootings in Texas, and experts say smaller regional dispatch centers are often inundated with calls during a major emergency.

Police communications posed a problem in 2019 when a gunman shot and killed seven people and injured more than two dozen during a rampage in Odessa, Texas.

Authorities said the 36-year-old shooter, Seth Aaron Ator, called 911 before and after the shooting, but a communication breakdown between the agencies — they weren’t all operating on the same radio channel — slowed the process. answer. Ator was able to cover about 10 miles before officers shot and killed him.


Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting


Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg contributed to this report from Dallas.

Sean Murphy, The Associated Press


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