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Police inside Uvalde school not aware of children’s 911 calls, Texas senator says

San Antonio Democrat Roland Gutierrez called the response to the shooting a ‘system failure.’

Democratic State. Sen. Roland Gutierrez
Democratic State. Sen. Roland Gutierrez interrupts Gov. Greg Abbott during a press conference and demands action after the Robb Elementary School shooting at Uvalde High School in Uvalde, Texas, Friday, May 27, 2022. On Thursday, Gutierrez called Abbott’s calls for committees — and not a special session — a “slap in the face.”(Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

By Philip Jankowski

AUSTIN — The narrative surrounding the Uvalde school shooting continued to evolve Thursday with new information emerging that police inside the building were not aware of 911 calls coming from children locked in a classroom with an 18-year-old gunman.

That included Uvalde schools police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the incident commander during the shooting. Previous police accounts said Arredondo was aware of the 911 calls when he made the decision to hold back as many as 19 officers gathered in school hallways from entering the classroom.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, revealed the information during a briefing in the city. He called the response to a shooting that left 19 children and two adults dead, as well as 17 injured, a “system failure.”

It was the latest piece of information that differed from original accounts from Texas top law enforcement officials and Gov. Greg Abbott about the May 24 mass shooting. The near daily revelations have seemingly poured salt in the wounds of a small tight-knit community that continues to reel from one of the worst school shootings in the history of Texas and the U.S.

“We need transparency and that hasn’t happened here,” Gutierrez said. “We’ve had several press conferences from local entity law enforcement, which is DPS, Department of Public Safety. We’ve gotten some answers. And we’ve gotten some bad answers. We’ve gotten information that the next day turns out to be different.”

Gutierrez said he learned about the 911 call misinformation while examining why officers stayed in the hallways of Robb Elementary School for 47 minutes while an 18-year-old gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle remained in a classroom with children.

“What we do know is that the 911 calls were not being communicated to the so-called incident commander officer Arredondo,” Gutierrez said. “They were being communicated to a Uvalde police officer, and the state agency I have spoken to has not told me who that is.”

A message seeking comment from Uvalde police was referred to a Texas Department of Safety officer, who did not respond.

Changing narrative

The incorrect information released in the aftermath of the shooting, as well as questions about why officers did not immediately try to take out the gunman as soon as they arrived — as mass shooting training dictates — have sowed doubts and confusion among a community with strong ties to law enforcement.

At the center is Arredondo, the embattled police chief who was recently elected to the Uvalde City Council. He has almost disappeared from public view since details have emerged that appear to indicate he mismanaged the response.

Texas Department of Public Safety Chief Steven McCraw said Arredondo made “the wrong decision” to not immediately engage the shooter. Abbott at a press briefing on May 27 said he was “misled” after he had previously praised the response to the shooting.

State police have said Arredondo stopped cooperating with investigators following the comments from McCraw and Abbott, but he has disputed those reports.

In the days since the shooting, officials have had to walk back statements about a school security officer initially confronting and exchanging gunfire with the 18-year-old shooter. No security officer or police were at the school when the shooter arrived.

And this week, law enforcement confirmed that the gunman did not enter the school because a teacher left a door propped open. She had shut the door, but the automatic locking mechanism failed, law enforcement officials later confirmed.

The new information about Arredondo not being aware of the 911 calls could change the narrative for him. But Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat, was quick to state that he was not trying to defend the police chief.

“I’m telling you that he did not have privy, and I’m not covering him by the way,” he said at the briefing.

Gutierrez called the briefing one day after Abbott requested the Senate and House each convene special committees to examine the shooting and to look for possible solutions. Abbott, in letters to the heads of each chamber, made no mention of enacting new restrictions on firearms or firearm purchases.

Calls for special session

Texas Democrats and a small number of Republicans have demanded Abbott call the Legislature back into session to enact legislation to address the shootings. Abbott, as he has in past mass shootings, has resisted. And he, along with many other leading Texas Republicans, has said new gun restrictions are not necessary.

Gutierrez called the governor’s committees an attempt to “bamboozle” the public and a “slap in the face to the people of Uvalde.”

“What he did was he decided to do another blue ribbon committee,” Gutierrez said. “We’ve seen where that has got us in the past and I expect that we’ll see much of the same going forward.”

Following the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School and the 2019 shootings at an El Paso Walmart and in the Midland-Odessa area, Abbott organized roundtable discussions with law enforcement, politicians, survivors, teachers and gun control advocates to outline solutions.

Following those discussions, Abbott issued recommendations for new firearm restrictions such as red flag laws and closing loopholes in background checks.

However, subsequent legislative sessions failed to yield any new gun restrictions, and in 2021 Abbott declared Texas a “Second Amendment sanctuary state” after he signed a slew of laws that loosened gun restrictions. Most notably, he made it legal for Texans to carry handguns without a permit.

Gutierrez on Thursday called for “common sense” gun laws, including a red flag law that would allow police to confiscate guns from people who have become unstable or have made violent threats.

He also called for the required age to purchase a rifle to be raised to 21, and in the wake of Wednesday’s mass shooting at a medical facility in Tulsa, Gutierrez called for a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms. Police said the gunman in Tulsa purchased a gun just hours before he shot and killed four people, then turned the gun on himself.

Gutierrez last week directly confronted Abbott during a media briefing, pleading to the governor to call a special session. “You have to do something, man.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the president of the Texas Senate, did not name Gutierrez to the chamber’s special committee. Gutierrez said he has a good relationship with Patrick and spoke to the lieutenant governor for 90 minutes Wednesday.

“There is a concern or at least a contention that I might be politicizing an issue, and I’m going to answer you like this: This issue is political,” Gutierrez said.

Abbott has assured Gutierrez that he will be allowed to attend and ask questions.

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