Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced late Sunday that he had released body camera footage from officers inside Robb Elementary School during the massacre there in May, despite the local district attorney’s order not to do so.
McLaughlin said that he made the decision, given the leak of school security footage from the hallway outside two adjoining classrooms where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 fourth graders and their two teachers on May 24.
“The families have suffered more than anybody already with the loss of their children. And they have been slapped in the face at every turn. Enough’s enough,” McLaughlin told CNN.
“We’ve asked for transparency. We’ve asked for it from the investigation. I don’t think we’re still getting it, but at least whatever we have, we’re going to release and we’re going to be transparent.”
The families of the shooting victims had the opportunity to view the videos before their release, McLaughlin said. Publicly, the city released more than three hours of edited footage from seven officers, KHOU reported.
According to CNN, which has viewed hours of footage from officers’ body cameras, the videos show officers rushing into a school hallway, filled with smoke from the initial shooting. The videos show moments of calm and moments of chaos. “Chief is in there, Chief’s in charge right now,” one officer is heard saying.
Officers run to outside windows to begin evacuating children in other classrooms.
Early on — minutes after the shooting starts — Sgt Eduardo Canales’s body camera captures him saying “we got to get in there,” KXAN reported.
“We need to get in there, he keeps shooting,” Canales says. “We gotta get in there.”
Despite the sergeant’s urgency, no one breached the classroom for 77 minutes.
At about 10 minutes past noon, an officer calls out to the shooter to surrender, speaking in Spanish and English. At about the same time, another body camera picks up a dispatcher saying a child from classroom 112 is on the line talking about a “roomful of victims.” Someone passes that information on to Lt. Mariano Pargas, the acting chief of Uvalde police. He makes no comment.
At one point, school district chief Pete Arredondo is seen fumbling with keys trying to open a door down the hallway. Another officer tries the keys, and someone tries to pry the door open, unsuccessfully.
The videos don’t show the breach of the classroom door or the victims in side. Children’s faces seen earlier in the footage are blurred.
The release came just hours after a Texas legislative committee issued a damning report, casting blame for the tragedy up and down the chain of command and across several agencies, as CrimeOnline previously reported. As a result of that report, McLaughlin said the city had put Pargas on administrative leave.
“The City of Uvalde will be conducting an internal investigation regarding our police department’s actions and our policies and procedures,” McLaughlin said in a statement, according to KPRK. “I have told you this would happen since day one. We are currently waiting on DPS to release UPD officers’ official statements, taken immediately after the incident, as these are critical to our own internal investigation. The City has selected Jesse Prado, an expert in the field, to conduct the internal investigation. As soon as DPS releases the reports we have requested, Mr. Prado will begin his review and assessment. That will also include a specific review of Lt. Pargas’ actions as Acting Chief of Police that Day.”
Pete Arredondo, the embattled chief of the Uvalde school district’s police, has already been put on leave. State officials said that Arredondo was the incident commander — as the district’s active shooter policy, co-written by Arredondo — prescribed. But Arredondo has said he didn’t consider himself the incident commander. The policy says that the district chief would “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene,” the Texas Tribune reported.
The special state House committee that investigated the response to the shooting noted there were multiple agencies with multiple commanders — and 376 officers — on the scene and yet no one set up an incident command center or appeared to take charge.
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[Featured image: Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo, left, on the phone inside Robb Elementary/City of Uvalde via KHOU]