AUSTIN — A joint committee in the Texas House of Representatives heard hours of testimony from law enforcement officials Thursday with expert insight into the mistakes made in responding to the Uvalde school shooting, and a law enforcement official said that “the police officers should have been shot and not the children.”
The police response to the shooting has come under fire with several police leaders in Texas stating publicly that the Uvalde Schools Police Chief’s decision to prevent police from confronting the shooter cost lives.
The testimony from the police chiefs and sheriffs comes amid a week of hearings on Capitol Hill on the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
“That day in Uvalde, the police community failed them,” said North Richland Hills Police Chief Jimmy Perdue, president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association. “We must do better. I am sorry that our failure caused the incident to occur the way it did.”
Uvalde Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was later deemed to be the officer in charge of the police response to the shooting. Arredondo was one of the first officers on the scene, entering Robb Elementary School three minutes after the shooter entered the school’s west entrance.
Perdue and other police chiefs, including San Marcos Police Chief Stan Standridge, an instructor at the active shooter training center. ALERRT at Texas State Universityhe described the fluid nature of command in an active threat situation.
They said scene command is usually headed by the first officer on scene, with deference given to local jurisdiction. Arredondo was one of 11 officers at the school in the early stages of the attack and was the highest-ranking officer. Upon entering the school, the focus should have been to isolate, distract and neutralize the threat, Standridge said.
“At some point, someone has to hit the brakes outside and say, ‘Headquarters, I’m taking forward command. I need fire and EMS and I need the superintendent now,'” Standridge said. “That didn’t happen.”
Uvalde Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell placed Arredondo on administrative leave Wednesday. Arredondo has been under pressure to resign from the school district police department and resign from the Uvalde City Council, to which he was elected on May 7.
Police chiefs and sheriffs testifying before a joint committee meeting of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety and the Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety acknowledged the collapse in the command’s response to the school shooting. Uvalde.
“The bottom line is that there is no question that the Sheriff’s Association believes that the police officers should have taken the bullets and not the children,” he said. Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthornelegislative president of the Texas Sheriffs Association. “There is a failure in what happened.”
House Speaker Dade Phelan directed the joint committee to look into the shooting at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott. Phelan also convened a three-person panel to investigate the shooting behind closed doors.
The hearing opened with testimony from Jasmine Cazares, who will be a senior at Uvalde High School next year. hunting sister Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares9, and cousin of Annabel Guadalupe Rodriguez10, were killed in the May 24 shooting.
“There should be no reason why this killer would have had access to a firearm,” Cazares said. “Days after his 18th birthday, he bought an AR-15, hundreds of rounds of ammunition.”
Cazares said more background checks are needed to protect communities like Uvalde and prevent another massacre.
“I am here to honor Jackie, her friends, their families, my family and my community,” he said. “You can also honor them by passing gun safety legislation.”
Cazares’s testimony was contrasted by Susanna Hupp, a former member of the Texas House of Representatives whose parents were killed in the 1991 mass shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen. Hupp told the committee that the Legislature should eliminate gun-free zones.
“Get rid of gun-free zones,” he said. “Teachers protect themselves.”
Hupp was instrumental in passing laws allowing concealed carry in Texas and remains a supporter of the Second Amendment.
In Texas, unauthorized persons can be charged with a crime for carrying a firearm on a K-12 school campus. Other places where it is a crime to carry a firearm include bars, prisons, hospitals, and most sporting events.
There are also federal restrictions on firearms in schools.
Democrats have been leading calls for new gun restrictions in the wake of the Uvalde massacre. On Thursday, the House Democratic Caucus sent a letter to Abbott demanding that the governor call a special session.
“The people of Texas want action and they want it now,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “Gov. Abbott is the only person who has the power to comply with immediate action.
Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said the governor took immediate action through executive orders, directives to the Texas Education Agency and disaster declarations. Eze said the legislature is working through special committees to find solutions.
“These House Democrats should be working with their colleagues, rather than holding press conferences to promote themselves,” Eze said in an emailed statement.
Democrats have called for Texas to raise the purchase age for semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 used in the shooting from 18 to 21. Democrats have also called for red flag laws, something the governor considered after the Santa Fe high school shooting in 2018.
However, most of the Republican emphasis has been on better policing and strengthening schools.
Writer Corbett Smith contributed to this report from Dallas.