The classroom doors at Robb Elementary School – which had metal frames and opened outwards – presented an extra obstacle for law enforcement as they responded to the massacre that killed 19 children and two teachers.
The door design is meant to keep an attacker from forcing their way in from the outside. But with 18-year-old shooter Salvador Ramos already inside the Uvalde school on May 24, the design back-fired and officers were not immediately able to get inside and prevent further carnage, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
“An outward-opening door is the worst-case scenario when you’re trying to breach,” Sgt. Scott Banes of the Fort Worth Police Department, who spent 12 years on a special response team that trained for active shooters and similar calls, told the paper.
Breaching such doors can be particularly dangerous when a shooter is on the other side, especially since the authorities reportedly were not armed initially with tactical shields. Without the shields, anyone opening the door would be vulnerable to gunfire, the paper reported.
Another issue was the tactical teams were equipped with heavy, cylinder-shaped battering ram agents that are well-suited for breaking through the deadbolt locks on the doors of residential homes — but posed a problem with the classroom doors, according to a current and a former US Customs and Border Protection official who have been briefed on the shooting.
Marcus “Sandy” Wall, a retired member of the Houston SWAT team, told the outlet that breaching the outward-opening doors with steel frames is not efficient because first responders need to pry them open instead of ram through them.
The task can range in difficulty, based on hardware and whether the frame is attached to studs, Wall said.
But Curtis S. Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, told The Washington Post that authorities do have a way to quickly open the secure doors – which have been added to classrooms across the country.
He insisted that law enforcement should practice those breaches during safety drills – but it is unclear whether that happened in Uvalde.
“It’s mind-boggling to someone with more than 25 years in law enforcement that you’re not entering that room for over an hour,” Lavarello told the paper. “The door opening outward is not a valid excuse for no penetration into that classroom. Saying ‘we can’t get a key’ is foolishness.’”
Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo told The Texas Tribune in an interview that the steel jamb on the classroom door where Ramos opened fire was impossible to kick in.
Arredondo – who spent more than an hour in the hallway of the school – told the Tribune that he requested tactical gear, a sniper and keys to enter the classroom.
He also reported trying dozens of keys that failed to work.
“Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” Arredondo told the paper.
An hour and 17 minutes after the start of the mass shooting, officers finally managed to unlock the door and shoot Ramos, killing him.
Arredondo also told the paper he did not have a radio on him during his response to the shooting – because he believed carrying the communication devices would slow him down.
He also said he was aware that the radios were inoperable in some school buildings.
But the decision meant that Arredondo was not in radio contact with hundreds of law enforcement personnel from other agencies who responded to the mass shooting.
Arredondo has insisted that he didn’t discourage officers from entering the building. He has also said he didn’t consider himself the incident commander and thought another officer had taken control of organizing the different police agencies that responded.
Arredondo’s account of the police response is not supported by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is probing the shooting and how it was handled by law enforcement.
According to DPS, Arredondo wrongly treated the shooting as a barricaded suspect incident, in which law enforcement negotiates with the gunman.
The case should instead have been handled as an active shooter situation, where the number one priority for officers is to stop the shooting by killing the gunman or taking him into custody, according to DPS.
Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez on Saturday raised questions about state authorities placing the blame squarely on Arredondo – saying the police official’s statements are “directly in contrast with what DPS has said.”
“So now you have these two competing narratives, none of which makes sense. DPS has suggested directly they leaked out that this man didn’t have a radio,” Gutierrez said in a CNN interview cited by The Hill.
“[Arredondo] acknowledges he doesn’t have a radio. So then how is he then the incident commander if he can’t communicate commands to other people?”