The cop in charge during the Uvalde, Texas school massacre knew there were people alive but injured locked inside classrooms with the gunman but waited to go in over fears cops could be killed, a new report said.
The report published Thursday by the New York Times, offered the first confirmation that Uvalde school district police Chief Pete Arredondo was aware that people needed urgent medical attention as cops waited more than an hour from the start of the shooting to breach a classroom door and take out the gunman.
Three children died in the hospital and one wounded teacher died in an ambulance after she was transported from the classroom after the lengthy standoff at Robb Elementary School on May 24, the report said.
Gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, killed 19 kids and two teachers in total with an AR-15 style rifle he tried to modify with a “hellfire” trigger device that was supposed to make the semiautomatic shoot like an automatic weapon, the report reveled for the first time. The device didn’t appear to have been used but was found in a classroom, the report said.
Arredondo, who is chief of a department of six men, is under mounting scrutiny for how he handled the response to the shooting with questions of if lives could’ve been saved had cops breached the door to the two interlocking classrooms where Ramos was holed up. He showed up with no police radio and had to use a cellphone and it’s still not clear if he was told of 911 calls from terrified students in the classroom.
The Uvalde Police Department, separate from the school force, is led by Chief Daniel Rodriguez, who was on vacation during the response, according to investigative documents.
Ramos walked into the building at 11:33 a.m. but cops didn’t breach the door and fatally shoot him until 12:50 p.m. even as responding officers grew restless and parents gathered outside demanding action. Minutes after Ramos went into rooms 111 and 112 and opened fire, officers followed – but when two cops suffered bullet graze wounds from the shooter cops retreated and ducked for cover.
No one went back to the door for 40 minutes, the Times said.
“People are going to ask why we’re taking so long,” a man believed to be Arredondo is heard saying in body cam footage, according to a transcript obtained by the Times. “We’re trying to preserve the rest of the life.”
“We think there are some injuries in there,” the man believed to be Arredondo says at another point. “And so you know what we did, we cleared off the rest of the building so we wouldn’t have any more, besides what’s already in there, obviously.”
Arredondo was told of the shooter’s identity and unsuccessfully tried to speak to him through the doors, saying, “Can you hear us, Mr. Ramos? Please respond,” the Times reported.
The decision had cops at the scene riled up.
“If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there,” one officer says in video footage, according to the Times.
“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” another responds.
There were more than 12 people out of 33 inside the classroom still alive during the standoff, the report said. By the end there were allegedly 60 cops on the scene.
“We’re ready to breach, but that door is locked,” Arredondo said at around 12:30 p.m., according to the transcript.
The tactical unit that finally took out Ramos believed it was going against orders to stand down, but the Times report revealed for the first time that Arredondo had finally agreed to breach the doors minutes earlier after protective shields were brought to the school. It’s the latest detail to be revised or retracted as the official story and timeline has changed multiple times in the days since the response.
Ramos had spent more than $6,000 on two rifles and ammo, the Times reported. The report offered new details to the setup inside the classrooms where the carnage unfolded. There were 18 students and two teachers Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles in Room 112, and 15 others in Room 111 including teacher Arnuflo Reyes who was shot but survived.
Mireles was alive after being shot and called her husband Ruben Ruiz, who worked under Arredondo in the school district police force. Ruiz told other cops his wife was wounded and inside during the response, the report said. After Ramos was dead, emergency workers rushed Mireles out in extreme pain, but she died before an ambulance could get her to a hospital.
A grieving granddad of one of the kids who died in the hospital blamed the slow response in comments to the Times.
“The police did not go in for more than an hour. He bled out,” said Leonard Sandoval, grandfather of Xavier Lopez, 10.