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Uvalde city officials tried to paint officers as heroes despite criticism of school shooting response

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Guillermo Contreras

San Antonio Express-News

Days after officers waited for more than an hour to confront a gunman who had massacred 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, Uvalde city officials tried to convince state leaders to go along with a narrative painting the police response as heroic. Uvalde officials presented the proposed narrative to Col. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee at a meeting at Uvalde City Hall on June 2. Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff, Luis Saenz, was on hand, too.

The narrative would have blunted criticism of authorities’ handling of the rampage, leveled by both McCraw and Abbott in a separate news conference on May 27, three days after the shooting.

“The total number of persons saved by the heroes that are local law enforcement and the other assisting agencies is over 500 per (the Uvalde Consolidated ISD),” city officials claimed in the document. “40 minutes were not wasted but each minute was used to save lives of children and teachers. But for ( Uvalde Police Department) and UCISD being on scene IMMEDIATELY, that shooter would have had free range on the school.”

A surveillance video leaked last week to the news media shows police gathering in the hallway outside classrooms 111 and 112, scene of the killings, but failing to confront the gunman — Salvador Ramos, 18, of Uvalde — for more than an hour.

Ramos sporadically fired his assault-style rifle while officers waited in the hallway.

Uvalde City Attorney Paul Tarski distributed the narrative during the June 2 meeting.

“My recollection is that ( Uvalde Mayor Donald McLaughlin Jr.) was upset with the way that DPS had conducted the press conferences, and they had prepared that narrative and they were going to release it,” Busbee said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News. “And then I objected to it because … the investigation had just begun so we did not know if that was a true assessment of what transpired. There was no way for us to tell or assess whether or not that narrative was accurate.”

Busbee’s office is investigating the school shooting and how officers on the scene responded.

Uvalde County Judge Bill Mitchell, County Attorney John Dodson, Uvalde Assistant City Manager Joe Cardenas also attended the meeting, as well as Victor Escalon, director of DPS’ South Texas Region, and Freeman Martin, DPS’ deputy director of Homeland Security Operations.

Ultimately, the narrative was not released to the public.

“I still don’t know whether that narrative is correct because we’re still (early) in the investigation,” Busbee said. “If you are going to release something to the public that is further going to create confusion and may be misleading, you would have to walk it back.”

By early June, state officials had already reversed course once. A day after the May 24 shooting, Abbott claimed during a news conference in Uvalde that officers had responded heroically.

But then investigators obtained the hallway surveillance video.

“At my directive, the scope of the investigation broadened,” said Busbee, who’d reviewed the video. The probe would include a close examination of the responding officers’ action.

At his May 27 news conference, Abbott said he was furious that he had been “misled.”

By June 2, Mayor McLaughlin had become increasingly irate over McCraw’s briefings with reporters and lawmakers. McCraw appeared to cast blame on local officers — in particular the on-scene commander, Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo — for holding back instead of quickly confronting and shooting the killer.

After some of those briefings, McLaughlin complained to reporters that DPS was not highlighting the actions of its own officers or those from other agencies that responded to the shooting.

The city on Saturday released the narrative, but declined to answer questions.

Excerpts from the narrative:

“Within 5 minutes of receiving a report of an accident at approximately 11:30 a.m. on May 24, Patrol Officers (Jesus) Mendoza and (Juan) Saucedo and their Patrol Sargent, Daniel Coronado, were on scene taking fire. They immediately pursued the suspect as he ran to Robb School.”

“Officers Pete Arredondo, Donald Page, Daniel Coronado and Adrian Gonzalez followed the sound of gun fire and entered the west end of Robb School while officers Javy Martinez and Eddie Canales entered the east end of Robb School, also following the sound of gunfire. There was zero hesitation on any of these officers’ part, they moved directly towards the gunfire.”

“They immediately approached the door and were fired upon by the suspect with an AR rifle approximately four times, with Eddie Canales taking shrapnel to his ear and Javi Martinez being grazed by a bullet to the head. With both officers bleeding, they took cover a few yards down the hall to avoid fire and called for backup.'”

“US Marshals arrived with the shields. NO ONE ELSE, not UPD, not UCISD, not Border Patrol, not DPS, not Homeland security and not any other agency had shields available. Bortac insisted that all the rooms be cleared, i.e. all the children and teachers be removed, PRIOR to use of the shields and the breach of Room 112.”

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