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Narratives, and blame, shift again as dysfunction engulfs shooting probe

Narratives, and blame, shift again as dysfunction engulfs shooting probe” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The official response to the mass shooting at an Uvalde elementary school — a response already marred by shifting narratives, finger-pointing and a general lack of timely and accurate information — took a further turn toward dysfunction on Tuesday.

The Uvalde school district’s police chief — who made the decision to wait for more resources rather than confront the gunman sooner — has stopped cooperating with state investigators and had not responded to requests for information for over two days, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

And the agency walked back an assertion that a teacher at Robb Elementary School propped open a back door prior to the shooting, allowing the gunman to enter and kill 19 students and two teachers. Earlier Tuesday the teacher’s lawyer had pushed back on the state’s account.

Texas Rangers investigating the response to the shooting want to continue talking to Pete Arredondo, chief of police at Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District. But he hasn’t answered a request made two days ago for a follow-up interview, according to two DPS spokespeople.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s police department and the Uvalde Police Department have otherwise been cooperating with the Rangers’ investigation, DPS spokesperson Travis Considine said.

Arredondo did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

Amid the turmoil, Texas’ largest police union — the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT — urged its members Tuesday in a statement to “cooperate fully” with investigations into the police response to the Uvalde massacre — though they didn’t name Arredondo.

Both the police chief and the school teacher had been implicated by DPS officials as, in effect, having failed at their jobs. The change in narrative is likely to deepen the mistrust surrounding the investigation. Already, as in other mass shootings, conspiracy theories and misinformation have begun to proliferate online.

While the U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to review the response to the mass shooting, the ultimate responsibility for carrying out a credible, thorough and transparent investigation rests with the state — and so far, state officials have not offered much confidence in their abilities to carry out such a probe.

In the school teacher’s case, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said Friday that the unnamed teacher had propped open the door through which the gunman entered the school. DPS now says a teacher shut that door but its automatic lock malfunctioned. Considine said DPS is investigating why the lock didn’t work.

The reversal came hours after a lawyer representing the teacher told the San Antonio Express-News that the teacher closed the door before the shooter entered the building.

“She remembers pulling the door closed while telling 911 that he was shooting,” Don Flanary, the teacher’s lawyer, told the Express-News. “She thought the door would lock because that door is always supposed to be locked.”

Flanary did not return requests for comment from The Texas Tribune on Tuesday.

The revelation was the latest addition to what has become an almost daily need to clean up past statements by state leaders. DPS officials and Gov. Greg Abbott have walked back several of their initial statements about the shooting and the authorities’ response to the call after contradictory information came to light.

For example, Abbott and McCraw said the gunman encountered a police officer before he entered the school. McCraw later said the shooter went inside unopposed. When asked about the discrepancy, Abbott said he was “livid” to have been “misled” in some of his earliest briefings on the massacre.

CLEAT, the police union, blamed state officials Tuesday for “a great deal of false and misleading information in the aftermath of this tragedy,” some of which “came from the very highest levels of government and law enforcement.”

“Sources that Texans once saw as iron-clad and completely reliable have now been proven false,” the union said in a statement.

Police officers who responded to the shooting at Robb Elementary have faced heated criticism from parents who said officers did not act quickly enough to stop the 18-year-old gunman.

That criticism reached a new level on Friday when McCraw told reporters that officers did not try to stop the shooter sooner because the district’s police chief wanted to wait for backup and equipment before confronting the gunman — even though 911 calls confirmed that students were still trapped inside with the shooter.

McCraw said Arredondo, whom he identified by position but did not name, treated the gunman as a “barricaded suspect” rather than an active shooter and believed children were no longer at risk — which McCraw called a mistake.

A tactical unit made up of U.S. Border Patrol agents eventually breached the classroom and killed the gunman — more than an hour after the gunman first arrived on campus.

The news about Arredondo came on the same day he was sworn in as a member of the Uvalde City Council. A public ceremony had been scheduled for Tuesday after the chief won election on May 7, but the event was postponed. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said in a press release that nothing in city law prevented him from taking his seat. Later in the day, McLaughlin said he was sworn in “as per the city charter.”

“Out of respect for the families who buried their children today, and who are planning to bury their children in the next few days, no ceremony was held,” the mayor said.

Arredondo’s law enforcement career spans nearly three decades, including 15 years at the Uvalde Police Department. He completed an active shooter response training in December, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records.

The first funeral for one of the victims of the attack was held Tuesday, for Amerie Jo Garza. She was 10.

The mayor also walked back his previous criticism of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who previously had said state officials “were not told the truth” about the timeline of the shooting. The mayor responded to Patrick’s comments saying investigators had not misled anyone. In Tuesday night’s statement, the mayor said he “misunderstood statements I thought he said.”

“Our parents deserve answers and I trust the Texas Department of Public Safety/Texas Rangers will leave no stone unturned,” the mayor said. “Our emotions are raw, and hearts are broken, and words are sometimes exchanged because of those emotions.”

In a tweet, Patrick responded to McLaughlin saying he appreciates the mayor’s “statement setting the record straight.”

Disclosure: CLEAT 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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