Desperate 911 calls from inside Uvalde classrooms never got to school police chief, lawmaker says

Desperate 911 calls from inside Uvalde classrooms never got to school police chief, lawmaker says

UVALDE, Texas — Desperate 911 calls from inside the school where 21 people were killed last week went to city police and weren’t shared with the campus law enforcement chief, who opted against an immediate confrontation, a local lawmaker said Thursday.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez cited the Commission on State Emergency Communications for his revelation, which could further complicate a probe into the police response to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

“I was told specifically,” Gutierrez told reporters. “My question specifically was was the (school district) police officer … on duty (told) about the calls? I was specifically told no.”

A week ago Tuesday, 18-year-old Salvador Rolando Ramos injured his grandmother before taking off with her truck and crashing it into a ditch near Robb Elementary, police said.

He then entered the school and opened fire, killing 19 children and two teachers before a federal police tactical squad arrived an hour later and fatally shot him.

The immediate law enforcement response to the attack has been called into question, with the focus on Pete Arredondo, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s police chief.

Policing experts around the country have been critical of Arredondo, who headed operations at the scene, for ordering officers to treat the matter as a barricade situation.

But Gutierrez said Arredondo was not given all the necessary information when the police chief opted against an immediate confrontation with the gunman.

“I have no doubts Arredondo was the so-called incident commander. I have no doubts about that. I’m telling you that he did not have privacy” to those 911 calls, Gutierrez said.

The lawmaker insisted, “I’m not covering him,” but blamed a systemic failure that hampered police communication at a crucial moment.

“Last week we were told the 911 calls were going through the incident commander, that simply is not the case,” Gutierrez said. “System failure.”

Reps for the Uvalde police and Commission on State Emergency Communications could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

Several law enforcement experts said the 911 revelation likely won’t alter critiques of the police response last week.

“This absolutely does not change what should have been done,” said Sean Burke, a recently retired Lawrence, Massachusetts, school resource officer who is president of the School Safety Advocacy Council, which trains districts in how to respond to shootings.

“It does not make his decision any less wrong. When you arrive on the scene and there’s already over 100 rounds fired, you know there are injured and dead children, that’s still an active scene and you have to go in there to eliminate the threat .”

Steve Nottingham, a retired Long Beach, California, police lieutenant who trains tactical units, said he wouldn’t be surprised if 911 calls weren’t passed on to the incident commander, in the confusion of the moment.

“Maybe I’m not getting incident information form 911 which I should be getting,” Nottingham said. “But if there’s an armed barricaded suspect and there are people in there, bleeding out, wounded and dying, then it’s still active — it doesn’t matter.”

Brian Higgins, a former Bergen County, New Jersey, police chief and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, was also skeptical the new information would lessen criticism.

“The 911 calls would only matter if he didn’t know there were wounded people,” Higgins said.

“If he knew there were wounded people in the room, or heard shots being fired, then it wouldn’t matter. Where it’d matter is if he just thought he had a barricade and didn’t know people were in the room. Then yes, not getting those 911 calls would matter.”

With the shooter having been killed and thus no criminal trial on tap, law enforcement has no reason to conceal or slow the flow of information about last week’s response, according to Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde in Austin.

“They need to pull this Band-Aid off and tell this community where the failures happened,” Gutierrez later told NBC News.

“We haven’t gotten a whole lot of transparency here. I shouldn’t have to go about piecing things together on my own, talking about a systemic failure in radio systems in rural Texas.”

The lawmaker choked back emotions, recalling a conversation he had with a little boy who survived the gunfire at Robb Elementary.

“‘There’s just gunshots and they wouldn’t stop,'” he quoted the youngster telling him. “What third graders…should have to deal with that?”

He added: “What the hell is wrong with us? What’s wrong with us?”

Morgan Chesky reported from Uvalde, Texas, and David K. Li from New York.

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