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Senate committee hearing on Uvalde response reveals ‘utter meltdown of command,’ lawmaker says

Gabriel C. Pérez

On Tuesday, a Texas Senate select committee heard public testimony from Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath about law enforcement and school response to the mass shooting in Uvalde. McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” and laid much of the blame for law enforcement’s hesitation to storm the classrooms and confront the gunman on Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo, the incident commander on scene.

Republican state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a member of the committee, said he’s never seen the fact record change so dramatically from one hearing or press conference to the next.

“What we heard yesterday was basically summarized into two things,” he said. “One, there was no door that was in operation that was not unlocked. So, the shooter walked straight in through the exterior door and egress/ingress through the interior door more than once and walked between classrooms. And all those doors were either set to be open or broken or not in a condition to even be locked. That was the sad and tragic alone.

“But what was really, in my mind, the worst part of yesterday’s testimony was actually seeing a timeline about the incident and about the just complete, utter meltdown of command and control by Chief Arredondo as the incident commander. It’s beyond infuriating.”

» RELATED: Surveillance footage shows police never tried to open Uvalde classroom door during massacre

» RELATED: Why was Uvalde’s school district police chief in charge of response to mass shooting?

Bettencourt said additional witnesses cited a failure of leadership at the scene.

“The real protocol that was broken was they should have immediately engaged the shooter,” he said. “They should have continued to engage until they took him down. And that was repeated by law enforcement officers over and over again for the rest of the day.”

On Tuesday, mayors from across the state released a letter urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session on gun reform, mental health and school safety. But Bettencourt says he doesn’t think the Legislature should call a special session to address the state’s response to the shooting, especially as new details continue to come to light.

“Bad facts make bad law. And that’s the problem,” he said. “Even as late as yesterday and today, we’re garnering new facts of what really happened. It’s almost a whirling dervish of facts that we’ve been dealing with, where you can’t start down the road of any type of legislative solution. So the purpose of the committee was to get the facts; the facts are completely different than what we started with.”

Abbott has instead charged the Texas House and Senate to create committees during the interim that would study school safety, mental health, social media, police training and firearm safety. Tuesday was the first meeting of the Senate committee.

“We also have to find out if we’re going to be hardening schools even further than the bills we passed after Santa Fe,” Bettencourt said. “The Texas education commissioner was talking about the need to look at 340,000 external doors and nearly 9,000 campuses in the state. So we’re going to be spending some money, and it’s not going to be a small amount.”

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