“He has a battle rifle”: Police feared Uvalde gunman’s AR-15

“He has a battle rifle”: Police feared Uvalde gunman’s AR-15

The video is compiled from audio and video footage from officers who responded to Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24, 2022. The video does not include images of the shooter or victims. Credit: Todd Wiseman and Jinitzail Hernández / The Texas Tribune

Having trouble viewing? Watch this video on texastribune.org.

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Editor’s note: This story includes graphic descriptions of injuries, and one graphic image taken from inside a classroom. We are not publishing images of injured or deceased victims.

UVALDE — Once they saw a torrent of bullets tear through a classroom wall and metal door, the first police officers in the hallway of Robb Elementary School concluded they were outgunned. And that they could die.

The gunman had an AR-15, a rifle design used by U.S. soldiers in every conflict since Vietnam. Its bullets flew toward the officers at three times the speed of sound and could have pierced their body armor like a hole punch through paper. They grazed two officers in the head, and the group retreated.

Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Daniel Coronado stepped outside, breathing heavily, and got on his radio to warn the others.

“I have a male subject with an AR,” Coronado said.

The dispatch crackled on the radio of another officer on the opposite side of the building.

“Fuck,” that officer said.

“AR,” another exclaimed, alerting others nearby.

Almost a year after Texas’ deadliest school shooting killed 19 children and two teachers, there is still confusion among investigators, law enforcement leaders and politicians over how nearly 400 law enforcement officers could have performed so poorly. People have blamed cowardice or poor leadership or a lack of sufficient training for why police waited more than an hour to breach the classroom and subdue an amateur 18-year-old adversary.

But in their own words, during and after their botched response, the officers pointed to another reason: They were unwilling to confront the rifle on the other side of the door.

A Texas Tribune investigation, based on police body cameras, emergency communications and interviews with investigators that have not been made public, found officers had concluded that immediately confronting the gunman would be too dangerous. Even though some officers were armed with the same rifle, they opted to wait for the arrival of a Border Patrol SWAT team, with more protective body armor, stronger shields and more tactical training — even though the unit was based more than 60 miles away.

“You knew that it was definitely an AR,” Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Donald Page said in an interview with investigators after the school shooting. “There was no way of going in. … We had no choice but to wait and try to get something that had better coverage where we could actually stand up to him.”

“We weren’t equipped to make entry into that room without several casualties,” Uvalde Police Department Detective Louis Landry said in a separate investigative interview. He added, “Once we found out it was a rifle he was using, it was a different game plan we would have had to come up with. It wasn’t just going in guns blazing, the Old West style, and take him out.”

Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was fired in August after state officials cast him as the incident commander and blamed him for the delay in confronting the gunman, told investigators the day after the shooting he chose to focus on evacuating the school over breaching the classroom because of the type of firearm the gunman used.

“We’re gonna get scrutinized (for) why we didn’t go in there,” Arredondo said. “I know the firepower he had, based on what shells I saw, the holes in the wall in the room next to his. … The preservation of life, everything around (the gunman), was a priority.”

None of the officers quoted in this story agreed to be interviewed by the Tribune.

The gunman’s AR-15 style rifle lays in a supply closet of Room 111 at Robb Elementary School. Credit: Law enforcement photo

That hesitation to confront the gun allowed the gunman to terrorize students and teachers in two classrooms for more than an hour without interference from police. It delayed medical care for more than two dozen gunshot victims, including three who were still alive when the Border Patrol team finally ended the shooting but who later died.

Mass shooting protocols adopted by law enforcement nationwide call on officers to stop the attacker as soon as possible. But police in other mass shootings — including at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida — also hesitated to confront gunmen armed with AR-15-style rifles.

Even if the law enforcement response had been flawless and police had immediately stopped the gunman, the death toll in Uvalde still would have been significant. Investigators concluded most victims were killed in the minutes before police arrived.

But in the aftermath of the shooting, there has been little grappling with the role the gun played. Texas Republicans, who control every lever of state government, have talked about school safety, mental health and police training — but not gun control.

A comprehensive and scathing report of law enforcement’s response to the shooting, released by a Texas House investigative committee chaired by Republican Rep. Dustin Burrows in July, made no mention of the comments by law enforcement officers in interviews that illustrated trepidation about the AR-15.

Other lawmakers have taken the position that the kind of weapon used in the attack made no difference.

“This man had enough time to do it with his hands or a baseball bat, and so it’s not the gun. It’s the person,” Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said in a hearing a month after the shooting.

Republican state and legislative leaders, who are in the midst of the first legislative session since the shooting, are resisting calls for gun restrictions, like raising the age to purchase semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has suggested such a law would be unconstitutional, while House Speaker Dade Phelan said he doubts his chamber would support it.

Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and four Republican members of the Legislature — Phelan, Hall, Burrows and Rep. Ryan Guillen, chair of the House committee that will hear all gun-related proposals, declined to discuss the findings of this story or did not respond. Two gun advocacy groups, Texas Gun Rights and the Texas State Rifle Association, also did not respond.

Limiting access to these kinds of rifles may not decrease the frequency of mass shootings, which plagued the country before the rifle became popular among gun owners. During the decade that the federal assault weapons ban was in place, beginning in 1994, the number of mass shootings was roughly the same as in the decade prior, according to a mass shooting database maintained by Mother Jones. It also would not address the root causes that motivate mass shooters, merely limit the lethality of the tools at their disposal.

Relatives of Uvalde victims, like Jesse Rizo, whose 9-year-old niece Jackie Cazares was killed in the shooting,  » …
Read More

0 I like it
0 I don't like it