The Hows and Whys of the Uvalde Tragedy

Photo of student with assault rifle in school classroom.

By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent

As we remember the 21 victims killed in the Uvalde shooting, we are pressed more than ever to address the roots of gun violence in schools. In dissecting this tragedy, we have discerned several disappointing facts about the actions of law enforcement as well as inconsistencies announced by Texas officials.

Law enforcement is under rightful scrutiny for the approximate 80 minutes that elapsed between the gunman’s first shots fired inside the school and the moment Border Patrol entered the classroom and stopped him. Within two minutes of the shooter entering the fourth-grade classroom, three police officers entered the building through the same back door as the shooter. Within thirty minutes of the shooter entering the classroom, nineteen officers had taken position in a hallway outside the classroom. In the meantime, several 911 calls were made by students and teachers relaying that there was an active shooter in their classroom, yet the on-scene commander considered the gunman to be a “barricaded subject” rather than an active shooter during this time.

So…
  1. Why did it take 80 minutes for someone to stop the gunman?
  2. Why did officers need to rely on Border Patrol tactical agents to receive a key from the janitor and breach the room to kill the suspect?
  3. Where was the communication breakdown between the 911 calls and the commander?
Not only were procedural errors a cornerstone of this tragedy, but the volume of misinformation relayed by law enforcement and other government officials is astounding.
  1. Retracted: Teacher left the rear door to the school propped open.
    Fact: Teacher closed the door upon seeing the gunman approaching, but the door failed to automatically lock.
  2. Retracted: School resource officer confronted the gunman before he entered the school.
    Fact: School resource officer was NOT on campus when the gunman entered the school.
  3. Retracted: Gunman was wearing body armor.
    Fact: Gunman was wearing a plate carrier vest with no ballistic plates.
  4. Retracted: The gunman was outside the school for 12 minutes before entering.
    Fact: The gunman entered the school within 5 minutes of crashing his car outside.
  5. Retracted: The first responders on scene engaged immediately with the shooter and did contain him in the classrooms.
    Fact: Two of the first three police officers to arrive had been wounded after approaching one of the classroom doors, and the gunman was already locked inside the classrooms actively shooting.

Misinformation like this leads to even stronger mistrust of our law enforcement and government officials. It causes nothing but confusion, misplaced blame and myths surrounding mass shootings.

SO, HOW DO WE PREVENT FUTURE TRAGEDY IN OUR SCHOOLS?

We can start by applying the following protective measures…

  1. Secure the perimeter of your school.
    Continually ensure that all doors are locked around the building, and limit points of entry to one while school is in session.
  2. Assign an armed and highly trained officer to be on campus DURING ALL SCHOOL HOURS.
    Officer should be at the single point of entry to check IDs, use a metal detector, and conduct a bag search prior to permitting anyone inside the facility.
  3. Schools need to develop a plan and practice, practice, practice…
    Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. Lockdown drills and training should be implemented quarterly; all teachers and school staff in each county should attend seminars RUN BY law enforcement officials; all teachers should be tested on this training annually.
  4. Local law enforcement agencies need to develop a plan and practice, practice, practice…
    Law enforcement needs to drill for these scenarios just as school faculty do. They cannot rely on the Border Patrol tactical agents to arrive and take a key from the janitor 80 minutes after a shooter opens fire. Master keys for every door in every school need to be easily accessible by law enforcement in an active shooter situation. Every kink in communication and logistics needs to be straightened in drills, not when there’s an active emergency.
WE MUST ALSO CONSIDER THE ROOT OF THESE ISSUES… POLICY & PSYCHOLOGY

We can start by applying the following protective measures…

  1. Act on warnings with Extreme Risk laws.
    Only 17 states have enacted a variation of “Extreme Risk” or “Red Flag” laws. These laws create a legal process through which a party may petition the court to prevent a person from accessing firearms if there is evidence that they are at risk of harming themselves or others. It is common for school shooters to display warnings on social media and other platforms. However, traditionally, if they do not have a violent criminal history, there is no legal measure to prevent him or her from purchasing a firearm. These laws bridge that gap, and we need to see the statistics rise from seventeen states to fifty before more innocent lives are lost.
  2. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
    When the 1994 law barring the manufacture, transfer and possession of 118 firearm models and all magazines holding more than 10 rounds expired in 2004, there was a dramatic incline in mass shooting deaths. Legislation needs to change. There is no reason teenagers should be buying assault weapons unless they fantasize about mass destruction.
  3. Monitor students’ mental health every semester.
    Mental health assessments should be a priority from elementary school on. This will undoubtedly raise red flags in certain troubled individuals from a young age and could potentially save our society from further devastation. These assessments would also serve as supporting evidence in states where extreme risk laws are implemented.
About The Authors

Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/ or by calling 860-356-0122.

Stephanie Kent graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. During her undergraduate Yale career, she received high honors in various journalism seminars taught by renowned authors and journalists such as Steven Brill and Bruce Shapiro. Among her favorite Yale courses was Forensic Anthropology, where she led facial reconstruction and postmortem identification tasks. Stephanie gained valuable field experience as a criminal intelligence analyst with an agency in Oklahoma. She is also proud to travel the world as a professional tennis player on the WTA circuit.

One Response to “The Hows and Whys of the Uvalde Tragedy”

  1. Lisa Mackler says:

    Excellent article Bill. I am forwarding it to both the districts superintendent and Brianna’s school Principal!