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Police waited an hour to be reinforced during the Uvalde shooting.  It’s an outdated tactic, experts say.


UVALDE, Texas — Most “active shooter” attacks in America end within five minutes. The attack on the schoolchildren of Uvalde lasted an hour.

That’s how long police waited for reinforcements on Tuesday instead of going after the gunman, who sprayed bullets into classrooms, killing 19 children and two teachers.

The revelation, which a Texas law enforcement official provided on Thursday, infuriated parents who wondered if a quicker response could have saved lives.

It has also baffled experts who say the delay deviates from standard police practice, which says officers should do everything they can, as quickly as possible, to stop a shooter’s assault.

“Waiting an hour is disgusting,” said Sean Burke, a recently retired Lawrence, Mass., school resource officer who is president of the School Safety Advocacy Council, which trains districts to respond to fire. “If that turns out to be true, then that’s a disgusting fact.”

Authorities have given confused, fragmentary and contradictory accounts of the attack. Their latest version, presented at a press conference on Thursday, described the officers retreating and calling for help – bulletproof vests, snipers, negotiators – while the shooter held them back with gunfire from inside the classroom.

Victor Escalon, South Texas regional director for the state Department of Public Safety, said the 18-year-old shooter walked unimpeded into Robb Elementary School Tuesday morning 12 minutes after running over the pick- up from his grandmother and fired shots at people near and outside the school. City and school district police arrived four minutes later but retreated after the shooter fired on them, Escalon said. The shooter then entered a classroom and opened fire on children and teachers while shooting at police.

“They don’t come in initially because of the gunfire they get,” Escalon said of the officers. “But we have officers asking for additional resources, everyone in the region, tactical teams: we need equipment, we need specialized equipment, we need body armor, we need precision riflemen, negotiators.”

While they waited for reinforcements, police helped evacuate children from elsewhere in the school, he said.

Uvalde Police Chief Daniel Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday that his officers “responded within minutes” and that one officer was injured by the shooter. “I understand that questions are arising regarding the details of what happened. I know the answers will not come quickly enough during this difficult time, but rest assured that with the completion of the full investigation, I will be able to answer any questions we can,” Rodriguez wrote.

Members of the school district police department did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Burke and other experts said the decision to wait for help reflected long-dated thinking about how to respond to mass shootings.

Waiting for specialized tactical units was common practice to respond to shooters. That changed after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, when police waited nearly an hour for a SWAT team to enter the building – in which 12 students and a teacher were killed .

To save time and lives, the police started sending the first four or five officers to arrive. This standard has changed again in recent years to emphasize that officers should do everything possible to interrupt shooters, even if they are alone and without backup.

With mass shootings, time is precious. An FBI study of 160 “active shooter” incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2013 found that the majority of shootings whose duration could be determined ended in five minutes or less, half of them lasting no longer. no more than two minutes.

Dr Ronald Stewart, senior trauma surgeon at San Antonio University Hospital who coordinated the hospital’s treatment of four Uvalde victims, said acting quickly to stop the bleeding can make the difference to survival of a victim. Uncontrolled bleeding is the leading cause of preventable shooting death, and it can happen in as little as five minutes, he said.

“You can’t wait for patients to come to a trauma center,” he said. “We have to act quickly. »

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter in Parkland, Florida, went on a rampage in February 2018 for about six minutes before escaping and being arrested an hour later. The Santa Fe High School shooter in Santa Fe, Texas, was arrested 30 minutes after his assault in May 2018.

“If you believe someone is actively engaged in evil or trying to hurt people, your obligation as a police officer is to immediately arrest that person and neutralize that threat,” said Don Alwes, former instructor of the National Tactical Association of Officers. “We don’t expect the police to kill themselves doing this. But it is expected that if someone is about to harm someone, especially children, you should take immediate action to stop it.

Experts have pointed out that there are still many unknowns about what happened at the school and why the officers felt the need to call for help instead of finding another way to help. stop the shooter. Escalon did not answer these questions. He said most of the shooting in the classroom happened at the start of the siege, then subsided as officers called in reinforcements. The shooter did not respond to officers’ attempts to negotiate, Escalon said.

Some public officials have cautioned against judging the police response without knowing exactly what happened.

Robert Mac Donald, Uvalde’s police chief from 2010 to 2013, said investigators will need to determine what contributed to law enforcement’s inability to arrest the gunman once he was on the scene. classroom interior.

He said he understands why state investigators may not want to rush to provide a timeline of events if they are still corroborating what happened among the multiple law enforcement agencies that responded.

“The important thing is that these guys get together and release the information,” Mac Donald said. “If mistakes were made, you need to investigate it and let people know what’s going on so it doesn’t happen again.”

U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales, a Republican whose district includes Uvalde, said in an interview ahead of Thursday’s press conference that authorities told him the attack was at a “lull” when officers outside began to ask for help.

“So they think, ‘OK, we’ve contained it,’ and they say, ‘How can we get all the kids out?’ And that’s when the rest of the school is evacuated. So they kind of feel like he’s not shooting, and they’re just waiting to get out, waiting for backup” , Gonzales said.

The first officers on the scene may have been overwhelmed, due to a lack of training or proper equipment, said Steve Nottingham, a retired police lieutenant from Long Beach, Calif., who trains tactical units . But in this situation, he said, officers must find ways to distract a shooter from victims — perhaps by breaking a classroom window.

“You have to start thinking outside the box with something like this,” Nottingham said. “If you don’t interfere with the shooter, you just get more casualties.”

Police should have already developed a plan for what to do in such situations – so they can mobilize quickly – said Randy Braverman, an emergency preparedness specialist who teaches school safety in Illinois.

“They’re going to have to explain why it took an hour. Why didn’t you come in right away? What took so long to get into this? Braverman said. “They may have a good explanation, but it seems like a long wait to get in.

“If he kills people, you have to come in,” he added. “So a question is: When were these children shot?”

Escalon’s account contradicts previous descriptions of the shooter’s approach to the school, in which authorities said he was “engaged” by a school resource officer. Escalon said that didn’t happen. “He wasn’t confronted by anyone,” Escalon said.

Law enforcement officials previously said the gunman locked the door to the classroom where the massacre took place and police were unable to open it until a law enforcement official the school provides them with a master key. Escalon did not mention that Thursday, saying only that the siege ended after an hour when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection tactical unit arrived and shot the gunman.

Law enforcement officials told NBC News that officers and agents stormed the classroom behind a shield, killing the shooter. A Border Patrol agent was shot and injured.

The long siege angered the schoolchildren’s parents, some of whom clashed with police outside the school.

Javier Cazares, the father of a deceased fourth grader, recalls rushing to school after hearing about the attack and joining other parents gathered outside, where they heard fire. Feeling the need to do something, Cazares and several other parents wondered if they should go into themselves and save the young students. Other officers arrived and pushed the parents away from the school.

“From what I saw, they didn’t come in as quickly as they should have,” Cazares said. “Once they heard those gunshots, they should have been there quickly.”

Frustration and anger over the response spilled over into the city.

Minerva Castro, 59, a mother of a high school student who has lived in Uvalde for decades, visited a memorial for the dead children on Thursday.

“If they had acted quickly, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

Jon Schuppe and Erik Ortiz reported from New York. Deon J. Hampton and Suzanne Gamboa reported from Uvalde.

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