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Monday, December 09, 2019

By Kanishka Singh and Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) -The law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers was "an abject failure" in which a commander put the lives of officers over those of the children, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw said on Tuesday.

The onsite commander made "terrible decisions" and officers at the scene lacked sufficient training, costing valuable time during which lives may have been saved, McCraw told lawmakers during a Texas Senate hearing into the May 24 mass shooting.

"There is compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we've learned," McCraw said.

Many parents and relatives of the schoolchildren and staff have expressed deep anger over police actions after the gunman entered Robb Elementary School and began shooting.

One delay McCraw discussed was the search for a key to the classroom where the shooting occurred. He noted that the door was not locked and there was no evidence officers tried to see if it was secured while others searched for a key.

"There's no way ... for the subject to lock the door from the inside," McCraw said.

Days after the shooting, the Texas DPS said as many as 19 officers waited over an hour in a hallway outside classrooms 111 and 112 before a U.S. Border Patrol-led tactical team finally made entry. McCraw reiterated that in the hearing on Tuesday.

"The officers had weapons, the children had none. The officers had body armor, the children had none. The officers had training, the subject had none. One hour, 14 minutes, and eight seconds - that is how long the children waited, and the teachers waited, in Room 111 to be rescued," the DPS director said.

"Three minutes after the subject entered the west building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject," McCraw added.

"The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering Room 111, and 112, was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children," the director said in the hearing.

McCraw said the scene commander, Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo, "waited for radio and rifles, and he waited for shields and he waited for SWAT. Lastly, he waited for a key that was never needed."

The Uvalde district attorney has asked the city not to release records related to the DA's probe into the school shooting, Mayor Don McLaughlin said in a statement. He added that to date the DA and the Department of Public Safety have not provided the city with any information on their probes.

Greg Abbott, Texas's Republican governor, said in a statement he wants all facts regarding the shooting released to the victims' families and the public as quickly as possible.

Later on Tuesday, the Uvalde City Council will consider imposing a leave of absence on Arredondo, according to the agenda for a council meeting scheduled in the evening.

Earlier this month, Arredondo said he never considered himself incident commander at the scene of the shooting, and that he did not order police to hold back on breaching the building.

Arredondo told the Texas Tribune he left his two radios outside the school because he wanted his hands free to hold his gun. He had said he called for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside, holding back from the doors for 40 minutes to avoid provoking sprays of gunfire.

Community members along with parents of the victims urged Arredondo to resign during an impassioned school board meeting on Monday, ABC News reported.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington and Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles. Editing by Doina Chiacu, Paul Thomasch, Mark Porter, David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)

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