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Uvalde mayor disputes report that police missed opportunity to shoot gunman

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin spoke at a press conference on May 27. Since the shooting at Robb Elementary, the mayor and state officials have been increasingly at odds over the law enforcement response to the shooting.
Evan L'Roy
The Texas Tribune
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin spoke at a press conference on May 27. Since the shooting at Robb Elementary, the mayor and state officials have been increasingly at odds over the law enforcement response to the shooting.

Mayor Don McLaughlin denied a recent report that said a Uvalde officer passed up a chance to shoot the gunman at Robb Elementary. The officer never saw the gunman, he said.

Uvalde’s mayor on Friday denied a recent report that said a city police officer had an opportunity to shoot the 18-year-old gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers inside Robb Elementary School last month before the gunman entered the school building.

In a written statement, Mayor Don McLaughlin said that no Uvalde police officer saw the shooter before he entered the school and “no Uvalde police officers had any opportunity to take a shot at the gunman.”

“A Uvalde Police Department officer saw someone outside but was unsure of who he saw and observed children in the area as well,” McLaughlin said. “Ultimately, it was a coach with children on the playground, not the shooter.”

McLaughlin’s comments come two days after the release of a report analyzing the law enforcement response to the shooting. The report by staff at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University in San Marcos said a Uvalde police officer had the gunman in his crosshairs and asked a supervisor for permission to shoot — but the supervisor did not hear the request or responded too late.

ALERRT, created in 2002 to address the need for active-shooter response training for first responders, based its report on an hourlong briefing on June 1 by an “investigating officer with knowledge of the event and investigative details,” the report said.

The report said that ALERRT staff also reviewed surveillance footage from the school, Google Maps and a brief cellphone video.

The report does not identify which agency the investigator works for. The report does say that the Texas Department of Public Safety reached out to ALERRT soon after the attack “to assess the law enforcement response.”

An official at ALERRT declined to comment Friday. DPS didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Texas Tribune seeking comment.

McLaughlin’s statement is the latest in an ongoing public feud between the city and DPS. Last month, DPS Director Steve McCraw told a state Senate committee that the Uvalde police response to the shooting was an “abject failure” and blamed the indecisiveness of the on-scene commander, who “decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”

Law enforcement officers who responded to the shooting — particularly Uvalde school district police Chief Pete Arredondo, who recently resigned as a City Council member — have faced intense criticism for waiting more than an hour before entering the classrooms and killing the gunman.

McLaughlin, meanwhile, has accused state authorities of selectively releasing information to scapegoat local law enforcement and intentionally leaving out details about the state’s response to the massacre.

“McCraw has continued to, whether you want to call it, lie, leak … mislead or misstate information in order to distance his own troopers and rangers from the response,” McLaughlin said last month after McCraw’s testimony.

The mayor said Friday that dozens of DPS troopers were at the school by the time the gunman entered the classroom where the students and teachers were killed.

“I’ve said it once and will say it again, the premature release of piecemeal information or anything related to the May 24 Department of Public Safety (DPS)/Texas Rangers investigation is a disservice to families who lost children or parents because the true facts need to come out once all investigations/reviews, which the City expects will be thorough and fair, are complete,” the mayor said. “I firmly believe it is imperative the families are provided with complete, unbiased, and comprehensive information about this incident.”

DPS has also said the Texas Rangers are conducting an investigation into the shooting. The FBI and a legislative committee are also conducting their own investigations.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who chairs the legislative committee leading the inquiry, said he requested from DPS a 77-minute video showing police in a hallway outside the classroom where the shooting happened so that it can be made public and part of the committee’s preliminary report.

In response to his request, a DPS official responded that the agency didn’t oppose releasing the video and felt that its release would “assist us in providing as much transparency as possible to the public without interfering with the investigation,” but Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee “has objected to releasing the video and has instructed us not to do so.”

DPS said it was deferring to Busbee’s judgment because she is the person who has authority to determine whether any criminal charges result from the massacre.

Busbee has also been at the center of a dispute over a$5 million fund for the victims’ families. After the shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state would launch the Uvalde Together Resilience Center, then gave control of it to the local district attorney after consulting with local officials.

This week, McLaughlin and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde, asked Abbott in a letter to give control of the fund to the Texas Division of Emergency Management because they believe Busbee’s office isn't adequately helping families that need and request assistance.