UVALDE, Texas (AP) – The commander at the scene of an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texaswas not notified of panicked 911 calls from students trapped inside the building as the massacre unfolded, a Texas state senator said Thursday.
Senator Roland Gutierrez said calls for help from people inside Robb Elementary School l on May 24 failed to surrender to School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo. The Democratic senator called it a “system failure” that calls went to city police but were not communicated to Arredondo.
“I want to know specifically who was receiving the 911 calls,” Gutierrez told a news conference, adding that no one person or entity was entirely responsible for the massacre.
However, he said, Republican Gov. Greg Abbot should accept much of the blame for the failures of the police response.
“There were mistakes at all levels, including at the legislative level. Greg Abbott has a lot of blame in all of this,” Gutierrez said.
Nineteen children and two teachers died in the attack at Robb Elementary School, the deadliest shooting in nearly a decade. seventeen more have been hurt. Funerals for those killed started this week.
Abbott this week ordered the state to conduct in-person safety audits of school districts and asked key lawmakers to convene a legislative committee to make recommendations on school and gun safety, mental health and other issues.
Texas’ next legislative session is scheduled for January 2023. Gutierrez is among several lawmakers who have urged Abbott, who is running for re-election, to call a special session in response to the shooting.
The shooter, Salvador Ramos, 18, spent around 80 minutes inside the school, and more than an hour passed between the time the first officers followed him into the building and the time he was killed by law enforcement.
Since the shooting, law enforcement and state officials have struggled to come up with an accurate timeline and details about the event. and how the police reacted, sometimes providing conflicting information or withdrawing certain statements hours later. State police said some accounts were preliminary and could change as more witnesses are interviewed.
Much of the attention has turned to Arredondo. Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Arredondo believed the situation had escalated into a hostage situation and made the ‘bad decision’ of not ordering officers to attempt to break in in the classroom while 911 calls were made outside.
Gutierrez said it was unclear if details of the 911 calls were shared with law enforcement officers from multiple agencies at the scene.
“Uvalde PD was the one to receive 911 calls for 45 minutes while officers sat in a hallway, while 19 officers sat in a hallway for 45 minutes,” Gutierrez said. “We don’t know if it was communicated to these people or not.”
But, the senator said, the state Emergency Communications Commission told him the school district police chief didn’t know.
“He’s the incident commander. He didn’t get (the) 911 calls,” Gutierrez said.
Arredondo has not responded to interview requests from The Associated Press since the attack. A phone message left at school police headquarters on Thursday was not immediately returned.
Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez and a department spokesman did not respond to AP phone messages and emails seeking comment Thursday.
Police communications were also an issue in 2019 when a gunman shot and killed seven people and injured more than two dozen in a shootout in Odessa, Texas. Authorities said at the time that Seth Aaron Ator, 36, 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 down the 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
Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas contributed to this report.