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Almost everything Texas police initially said about the Uvalde shooting was false
They tried to portray themselves as brave heroes. The truth is the opposite.
Thanks for checking out this edition of Public Notice. I’m on a bit of a baby break following the birth of my son Owen, and this is the first of two newsletters this week. I’ll be back with the second Thursday. Cheers — Aaron
The official narrative of last week’s elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, has changed so dramatically that it’s worth looking at which statements changed, and when.
The facts are these: Late in the morning on Tuesday, May 24, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos walked into Robb Elementary and shot 38 people, most of them second-, third-, and fourth-graders. Nineteen children died; two teachers died trying to save them. Heavily armed police stood outside the building, where they tazed, pepper-sprayed, and handcuffed parents trying to rescue their children; some of the police did, however, run in to save their own kids, as did at least one mother, who escaped them. Ramos went into a classroom, where children immediately began calling 911. Yet more police officers waited in the hallway for 50 minutes, listening to gunfire from the classroom where Ramos was, before a Border Patrol tactical unit went in and killed him.
I’d like to call your attention to this excellent piece by the Washington Post’s Mark Berman, which tracks several important falsehoods and how they shifted, but the official story has continued to change in the five days since its publication, as you can see below. The Post was rigorous enough to amend and correct officials who had told its reporters lies, and to name those officials in a follow-up piece shaming them. Not everyone did that.
The most enthusiastic dupe for these lies, spread primarily by the Texas Department of Public Safety, was Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who on Wednesday told press that “[t]he reality is as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives.” Abbott’s incentives are much different from a newspaper’s, and he was more than happy to throw the DPS spokespeople under the bus.
Because in fact, “the reality” he and the DPS peddled was pure fantasy. No one confronted Ramos, who stood outside blasting away, completely unmolested, for a few minutes before even entering the school.
Let’s unpack, one by one, the falsehoods initially pushed by Texas police in an effort to portray the response to the Uvalde shooting as something quite different from the abject failure it was. (This list is by no means exhaustive. For instance, shortly after this newsletter was published, news broke that the gunman did not in fact enter the school through a door that had been propped open by a teacher, a revelation contradicting a claim made by DPS last week.)
The imaginary — but very brave — school resource officer(s?)
Per the Post piece linked above, Travis Considine, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, initially spun a tale of tragic heroism for the newspaper, and his colleague Erick Estrada did the same on CNN.
Ramos, they said, had crashed his truck, prompting the initial 911 call (this one thing is true), but on his way into the school, he encountered a heroic police officer who engaged in a gun battle with him before being overpowered.
“They exchange gunfire,” Considine told the Post. “[Ramos] shoots the officer, wounds him, goes into the school.”
In a separate interview with the Post, another DPS spokesman confirmed Considine’s account, saying that Ramos had wounded an unnamed school police officer. The director of DPS, Steven C. McCraw, echoed his spokesmen’s account of the gunfight down to a school police officer who “engaged” the shooter. This was also not true.
Days later, Victor Escalon, a regional director of the DPS, admitted that the whole thing was a complete fabrication, but implied it was the Post’s fabrication, not his department’s own.
“It was reported that a school district police officer confronted the suspect that was making entry,” he said. “Not accurate. He walked in unobstructed.”
…and the heroic, mythical lone Border Patrol agent
Along similar lines, sources speaking to the Associated Press fabricated an initial account of a Border Patrol agent “rush[ing] into the school” to take out Ramos.
One Border Patrol agent who was working nearby when the shooting began rushed into the school without waiting for backup and shot and killed the gunman, who was behind a barricade, according to a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about it.
The Bortac squad showed up eventually, but they were forty miles away; the local cops kept them from entering the school for about half an hour. They attacked Ramos in the classroom as a unit after 19 kids were dead.
The vanishing body armor
This also was not true; Ramos was wearing a plate carrier vest with no armor inside. (As someone who has worn plate armor and done extensive hostile environment training, I feel obligated to add here that this is also an absurd excuse that doesn’t pass the laugh test. A single gunshot makes armor plating useless and even if the plate is only hit by that first bullet, a bullet from a 9mm Glock 22 still hits you going 850 miles an hour, at which point you fall down and reconsider some of the choices you’ve made.)
The children who weren’t dead yet
On May 27, NPR reported that McCraw had said the police thought all the children in the classroom were dead while they waited outside in a hallway.
“The on-scene commander considered a barricaded subject and that there was time and there were no more children at risk,” he said. “Obviously, you know, based upon the information we have, there were children in that classroom that were at risk. And it was, in fact, still an active shooter situation and not a barricaded subject.”
In fact, a dispatcher told officers on the scene that a child was calling 911 from inside the classroom while armed police waited outside. No one thought there were no more children in the room. Nineteen police officers were standing in the hallway, one for each of the murdered kids.
Don’t take what cops say at face value
The lesson here, as my friend Alexandria Neason wrote better than I can, is that police departments lie, primarily to make themselves look like necessary servants of an endangered public. Allowing them to self-justify off the record is, at this point, inexcusable.
We have decades of evidence of bias, brutality, misconduct, and cowardice. The Post’s instinct to return to the people who misled its influential reporters is a good one; may it do more of this, and may others follow its lead.