By Reese Oxner, The Texas Tribune
“Eight pivotal moments in the police response to the Uvalde shooting, captured by officers’ body cameras” 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.
The following story, images and video clips contain disturbing material and explicit language. The footage does not include any images of the shooter or gunshot victims. The faces of teachers and students have been blurred out. In some instances, overlapping voices in the videos made exact transcriptions for captions impossible.
Recently released body camera footage from seven Uvalde police officers responding to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School offers a closer look at the actions of the law enforcement officers who entered the building that day.
The footage came days after video from the school’s security cameras was leaked and gave the public a first glimpse into the police response to the shooting. The new material further illustrates the lack of coordination, the confusion over the chain of command and the delays in confronting the shooter.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, lawmakers and law enforcement experts have widely called the police response to the shooting a failure and said that the blunders caused the situation to stretch longer than necessary — possibly costing the lives of injured students and teachers who succumbed to their wounds.
Here are eight pivotal moments and new details from the footage.
Uvalde Police SWAT Cmdr. Eduardo Canales was one of three officers who first approached the two conjoined classrooms where the gunman had holed up. At 11:37 a.m., four minutes after the shooter entered the school and as officers approached, the gunman fired four shots at the door.
The officers fled and Canales asked those around him, “Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?” Later, he touched his head and saw a small amount of blood on his fingers. He said he was bleeding from his ear.
On the other side of the door, 33 students and three teachers were trapped with the gunman. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed.
One of the teachers was Eva Mireles, wife to Uvalde police officer Ruben Ruiz. In the commotion, Ruiz can be heard saying, “That’s my wife’s classroom.”
“We gotta get in there, we need to get in there, he keeps shooting,” Canales told fellow law enforcement officers after he was grazed by a bullet.
But officers wouldn’t enter the classroom for another hour and 13 minutes.
After retreating along with Canales, Uvalde Police Lt. Javier Martinez advanced again toward the hallway, but no other officers followed him, according to a Texas House committee report released Sunday. Several law enforcement officers told the committee that Martinez might have made it to the classrooms and engaged with the shooter if others had followed him and provided backup.
The children and teachers inside the classrooms remained trapped with the shooter. The Texas House committee report says that while most of the victims would have most likely still been shot and killed, “it is plausible that some victims would have survived if they had not had to wait.”
At one point Mireles, one of the teachers who was in the classrooms with the shooter, called her husband Ruiz, the police officer. She had been shot, and she was dying.
About 23 minutes after the shooter first entered the school, the body camera footage shows that fellow officers stopped Ruiz as he walked toward the classroom door with his handgun drawn. One officer put his hand on Ruiz’s shoulder to keep him from getting closer.
“She says she’s shot,” Ruiz told an officer as they ushered him away. Ruiz’s gun was taken from him as well.
When law enforcement finally rushed in about 55 minutes later, killed the gunman and began getting the survivors out of the classrooms, Mireles was alive. She died on the way to the hospital from her injuries.
Previously released footage from the school’s security cameras showed an officer checking his phone during the siege, and many criticized him for appearing apathetic to the shooting. That officer turned out to be Ruiz, who was checking his phone to hear from his dying wife.
Throughout the early stages of the police response, the body camera footage shows that many officers weren’t sure if there were still people in the classrooms with the gunman.
About 25 minutes after the shooter entered the school, an officer asked if any students or school employees had been injured. Uvalde Police Sgt. Daniel Coronado replied, “No, we don’t know anything about that.” This was after Ruiz had already spoken to his wife and told officers she was inside the classrooms and injured.
In Uvalde Police Officer Justin Mendoza’s body camera footage, 37 minutes after police first arrived, a 911 dispatcher is heard saying a student called from inside the classroom and said it was “full of victims.”
Uvalde schools police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was assumed to be the incident commander during the shooting and was placed on administrative leave a month ago, learned that officers had located the correct key to open the locked classroom door but heeded caution before entering.
“If y’all are ready to do it, you do it, but someone should distract them from that other window, brother,” Arredondo is heard saying about an hour and eleven minutes after police first entered the school.
“We need flash-bangs,” Coronado told Arredondo while he was on the phone, implying officers should obtain nonlethal stun grenades before entering.
These last-minute delays that were suggested by Coronado and Arredondo seem to go against best practices when dealing with an active shooter who is still a danger to civilians. Instead of following the active shooter doctrine developed after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which dictates that officers immediately confront active shooters, police at Robb Elementary retreated after coming under fire and then waited for backup.
Arredondo has borne a large share of the criticism for failing to take over command of the scene and appearing to treat the situation as a barricaded shooter situation instead of an active shooter with hostages. But the Texas House committee report also noted that neither state police nor federal agents, who vastly outnumbered Uvalde school and city police (376 officers from different law enforcement agencies responded to the shooting), asked Arredondo if he could cede command authority.
According to the Texas House committee report, at one point during the response to the shooting an unknown officer said over a police radio, “[I]t is critical for everybody to let PD take point on this.” However, none of the law enforcement officers that the House investigators interviewed “indicated any knowledge of this communication or what it meant by ‘PD’ taking ‘point on this,’” the report says.
The report concludes that many officers either assumed Arredondo was in charge or couldn’t tell who was in charge. Several people interviewed by the committee called the scene “chaos” or a “cluster.” The House committee criticized officers and other law enforcement agencies — many of them better trained for this type of situation — for not stepping in and attempting to establish a command post.
The body camera footage doesn’t show Arredondo, who has said he never assumed he was the incident commander, giving many orders to others. Most of the footage shows police officers standing around and, other than trying out keys on a nearby classroom door, no efforts were made to break into the classrooms. The lack of coordination is apparent from snippets of dialogue captured by the body cameras.
“What are we doing here?” Coronado said with a tinge of frustration about 20 minutes after police first entered the school and nearly an hour before the gunman was killed.
As information about the law enforcement’s response has surfaced since the shooting, one detail in particular brought attention to the lack of coordination at the scene: Arredondo said he didn’t bring his radio with him so it wouldn’t get in the way while he was first running to the school.
But that wasn’t the case for other officers. Throughout the seven video clips released last weekend, officers can be seen or heard consistently talking to each other over radios. Coronado was often standing with his radio near Arredondo.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Arredondo said he had previous experience with radios not working in some school buildings, which also factored into his decision to leave his behind. The officers’ radios appeared to be working within the school building throughout the body camera footage.
At about 12:28 p.m., Arredondo said the master keys weren’t working as they tried them on a nearby classroom door.
Over an hour after the gunman entered the classrooms and just a few minutes before law enforcement killed him, Arredondo and Coronado discussed how the students reacted to the threat.
“I’m so proud of these kids, man. They did so well,” Coronado told Arredondo.
“They did. Just that door I bet you it was unlocked,” Arredondo responded, implying that the teachers and students failed to lock the classroom door before the shooter entered. “We tell them, we tell them and we tell them.”
“We’re having a problem getting into the fucking room because it’s locked,” he said at another point.
However, the Texas House committee report said officers had assumed the classroom doors were locked without seeing if that was true. The released body cam footage doesn’t show if officers tested the door where the gunman was located.
The report noted that one of the doors for the two conjoined classrooms where the shooter was holed up “probably was not effectively locked shut.”
Throughout the siege, officers continued to request more equipment such as flash-bang grenades or breaching devices. Officials even considered a sniper takeout at one point.
“I was looking for a sniper but there’s no snipers around here,” Arredondo could be heard saying on the phone to an unknown officer over an hour into the ordeal. “If you can get a sniper on that rooftop they’re trying to breach in a minute, but they gotta get that fucking door open, bro. We need more keys or something.”
Officers repeatedly expressed a need for door-breaching devices to break into the classrooms after failing to find a key for the door.
However, it’s unclear if Arredondo or other officers knew there was a Halligan bar available — an ax-like forcible-entry tool used by firefighters to get through locked doors. It is now known that by noon, officers had rifles, a Halligan bar and at least one ballistic shield — yet made no attempts to enter the classrooms for 50 more minutes.
At one point someone can be heard over the radio asking Coronado, “What other equipment do you need?”
“Whatever we have,” Coronado responded. “We’re definitely going to need flashers if we have any.”
Police departments are trained in active shooter situations to not wait for additional resources or backup but to immediately try to subdue the shooter over all other objectives.
As the standoff continued and law enforcement waited for keys to enter the classrooms, some of the body camera footage shows the hectic rush to remove children and school employees from the building.
One of the cameras shows a student fleeing a bathroom. Another one shows an adult — a possible teacher or staff member — leaving an otherwise empty room.
Outside, officers broke windows to help children exit other classrooms. They instructed the children to run across the schoolyard to safety.
A child shakily says “thank you” to an officer after being helped through the window.
Before entering the classrooms where the gunman was located, officers also made several attempts to reach him in both English and Spanish, the footage shows.
After learning the gunman’s identity, officers called him by name.
“Mr. Ramos, can you hear us? Mr. Ramos?” an unnamed officer said. “Please don’t hurt anyone. These are innocent children. Please put your firearm down. We don’t want anyone else hurt.”
An operator can be heard at one point saying the gunman’s uncle was attempting to reach him by phone to talk him down.
The gunman never appeared to respond to law enforcement’s prompts.
The footage released does not show law enforcement officers entering the classroom with the gunman or the aftermath. The longest video cuts off right before the gunman is killed.
Officials have not indicated whether more footage of the incident could be released.
Todd Wiseman and Justin Dehn contributed to this story.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/22/uvalde-shooting-police-body-camera-video/.
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