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Texas officials say Uvalde gunman could have been stopped much sooner

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's been a month since a gunman killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Weeks later, information about what officers did and did not do to stop it is still coming to light. At a state legislative hearing, authorities said there were enough officers with the necessary equipment to stop the gunman just 3 minutes after he entered the school, but it took more than an hour for officers to get inside the classroom where the gunman was killing children and teachers. Texas Public Radio's Camille Phillips reports.

CAMILLE PHILLIPS, BYLINE: After more than three weeks of silence from authorities, the top law enforcement officer in Texas, Steve McCraw, started his comments to lawmakers by saying police failed in Uvalde.

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STEVE MCCRAW: The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers 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. The officers had body armor. The children had none. The officers had training. The subject had none.

PHILLIPS: McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, placed the blame for the wait to confront the shooter on Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo.

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MCCRAW: I appear to be hypercritical of the on-scene commander, and I don't mean to be, but the facts are the facts. Mistakes were made. It should have never happened that way. This set our profession back a decade, is what it did.

PHILLIPS: The official account of what happened during the May 24 shooting has shifted numerous times, and it did again yesterday. Arredondo delayed sending officers into the classroom where the gunman was holed up because he couldn't find a key to unlock the door. But McCraw says evidence now shows it could have been opened at any time because the door was never locked.

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MCCRAW: The subject doesn't just walk in, as I testified before, then shoot the classroom, walk back out of the hallway, then walk back in again seamlessly. OK? And he didn't have a key. And we've gone back and checked in our interviews. And did anybody touch the door and try it at that point? Why not? And, of course, no one had.

PHILLIPS: Even with this update, there are many unanswered questions. Uvalde residents have known enough to know things went badly wrong for weeks. At a school board meeting on Monday, they called for accountability. Jesus Rizo Jr. said he didn't understand why the school district police chief hasn't been suspended until the investigation is completed.

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JESUS RIZO JR: The children that didn't make it - we don't hear their voice anymore. But I promise you one thing. We will speak for them. You will hear their voice through us until accountability takes place.

PHILLIPS: Brett Cross is the uncle of Uziyah Garcia, one of the 19 kids killed in the shooting.

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BRETT CROSS: Innocence doesn't hide. Innocence doesn't change its story. But innocence did die on May 24 at Robb Elementary - not just the victims, but every survivor, every child that heard those shots, every child that ran from the school, every teacher that stood steadfast in front of their children.

PHILLIPS: Cross says it's terrifying someone incapable of making decisions that would have saved lives still works for the district. Lyliana Garcia, the 16-year-old daughter of teacher Irma Garcia, says she and her three siblings are orphans now. Her 12-year-old sister has lost the most, robbed of the chance to dance with her parents at her quinceanera.

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LYLIANA GARCIA: I would like to share a quote of one of my little sister's agonizing cries. She said, my mom died protecting her students, but who was protecting my mom?

PHILLIPS: Lyliana says her little sister's question will always haunt her and should always haunt everyone.

For NPR News, I'm Camille Phillips in San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Camille Phillips covers education for Texas Public Radio.
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