Top Texas law enforcement official castigates Uvalde police response to school shooting

Texas' top state law enforcement official on Tuesday called the police response to the Uvalde school massacre an "abject failure." Testifying at a state Senate hearing, Col. Steve McCraw said police could have stopped the gunman within 3 minutes, but put the safety of police before teachers and children. Tony Plohetski, a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, there are more questions and strong criticism today about how law enforcement responded in Uvalde, Texas, to the mass shooting when it happened.

    The Texas Senate held a special hearing today, where new details have emerged about what officers did and did not do in those critical moments.

    Amna Nawaz looks at the latest.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, it took law enforcement one hour, 14 minutes and eight seconds to engage that shooter who was in a classroom.

    Testifying before a state Senate committee today, the director of Texas' Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, offered this scathing assessment of the Uvalde police response:

  • Steven McCraw, Director, Texas Department Of Public Safety:

    There's compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we have learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.

    Three minutes after the subject entered the west building, there were sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject. 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 officers had weapons. The children had none.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tony Plohetski is an investigative reporter for The Austin-American Statesman. He's been covering the Robb Elementary massacre. He joins us now from Austin, Texas.

    Tony, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thanks for being with us.

    You know as well as I do, from the very beginning, we have been getting a very different story from officials, and the details have changed over the days. And, certainly, we have these new details today.

    First, we said the gunman — or they said, rather, the gunman had barricaded himself in. We now know that's not true. They said officers didn't have protective gear. We now know that's not true.

    What else new did we learn from the hearing today?

  • Tony Plohetski, The Austin-American Statesman:

    Well, there was a lot of discussion, frankly, about keys and the extent to which authorities were trying to access the classroom where the gunman had, in fact, barricaded himself.

    But what we now know is that, according to body camera video, authorities who arrived at the scene apparently never even tried to access that classroom. They never tested the door to see if it was locked. And, furthermore, there is now evidence that the classroom door was not even locked.

    So, all of that time spent trying to acquire a master key from a janitor, according to testimony today from Colonel McCraw, that time was apparently wasted. And officials could have been doing other things and taking other steps to try to breach that classroom.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It is incredible to think they never even tried the door.

    Tony, I have to point people to some of your recent reporting. You got a chance to review some of that video surveillance footage from inside the school that captured some of those critical moments during the shooting.

    In some of your reporting, you published this image, in fact. Tell me a little bit about what that surveillance, what this image shows, and what it tells us about what was going on.

  • Tony Plohetski:

    Well, as you mentioned, I was allowed to review a substantial amount of footage from that video camera, that security camera in the hallway.

    This particular photo is particularly noteworthy. It was — the screen grab was taken from the video at 11:52 in the morning. That was 19 minutes after the gunman entered Robb Elementary School. And what is so significant is that you can see two police officers, at least two, were on the scene at that point with high-powered weapons, as well as one of them — and you can see it there in the bottom of your screen — had a protective shield, a ballistic shield.

    And so, according to investigators reviewing all of this information, that was more than enough, according to them, to do what they needed to do, and breach that classroom door to make every effort possible to stop the gunman.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tony, it is such a damning assessment of the response. Have we had any response from the incident commander in this case or Uvalde police, writ large?

  • Tony Plohetski:

    Precious little has been said.

    We know that Pete Arredondo, he is the Uvalde a school district police chief, who really was the incident commander, according to investigators. At least, he assumed incident command. We know that he testified privately today for five hours to a Texas House committee.

    But with regard to any sort of major public statements, he has said precious little about what steps he did and did not take that horrible day.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tony, in just the few moments we have left, I know a lot of talk about the investigations, rightly so.

    But I want to ask you about folks on the ground in Uvalde. I know, just yesterday, there's some signs of normalcy, they were able to hold their little league all-star championship. Six kids, we should note, who should have been there were not because they were killed in their classroom. But the games did go on. Those families were honored there.

    What can you tell me about how people in Uvalde are doing today?

  • Tony Plohetski:

    Well, based on people we have talked to, certainly, there is a range of emotions.

    There are people who are, as you mentioned, trying to get back to some sense of normalcy, if that can ever really happen. But let me also assure you that the pain in that community, that town of 16,000 people, absolutely run deep. And there is a continued thirst to get to the truth and to fully and broadly understand what happened and hopefully stop it from happening in any community across America again.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Tony Plohetski from The Austin-American Statesman. He's been covering that massacre one month ago at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, joining us from Austin tonight.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Tony Plohetski:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment