January 29, 2023

In the hours after the May 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School, US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz was quick to praise the actions of his agents. write on twitter that they “place themselves between the shooter and children to divert the shooter’s attention from potential victims and save lives”.

Ortiz’s tweet echoed the broader narrative of the day – that an elite federal SWAT team arrived on the scene and made a quick effort to break the siege and neutralize the gunman. Meanwhile, the blame for the botched law enforcement response has been largely pinned on local and state police departments for not acting as confidently.

But investigative records reviewed by ABC News indicate that members of this U.S. Border Patrol tactical team called BORTAC appear to have been hampered by the same kind of decision-making paralysis, groupthink and miscommunication that crippled the broader response of the more than 300 law enforcement officers who died on May 24 arrived at Robb Elementary School.

Uvalde:365 is an ongoing ABC News series reporting from Uvalde, focusing on the Texan community and how it moves forward in the shadow of tragedy.

John Cohen, an ABC News contributor and a former senior official in the Department of Homeland Security, said federal agencies have limited powers when assisting local law enforcement activities — and because of the initial failure to establish an incident command structure, BORTAC’s presence and capabilities were reduced largely wasted.

“No matter how well-trained and well-equipped the BORTAC team was, their response still succumbed to the same chaos that resulted from the lack of incident command,” said Cohen, also a longtime former highway cop and renowned expert on police training and investigative tactics.

Often called as a first responder

While BORTAC agents ultimately acted to end the 77-minute siege that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers, evidence reviewed by ABC News suggests that within 20 minutes of the 18-year-old suspect arrived. and tried to act decisively.

Uvalde is less than 80 miles from Mexico, and Border Patrol agents are often called in as first responders in South Texas and other areas near the border. Nearly 150 of her agents responded to the Robb shooting, more than any other law enforcement agency.

Border Patrol Agents in Donna, Texas, May 2, 2019.

Eric Gay/AP, FILE

The first seven Border Patrol agents entered Robb Elementary at 11:51 am with ballistic shields and other equipment, investigative documents obtained by ABC News show. Paul Guerrero, the team’s acting commander, arrived at the scene at 12:09 p.m. – more than 30 minutes before the gunfight ended with gunfire, when police eventually launched a counterattack.

At 12:13 p.m. investigative records show that Lt. Mariano Pargas, Uvalde’s acting chief of police, briefed Guerrero on the situation in the classroom and told him, “We have victims there.”

More BORTAC agents arrived on the scene shortly after Guerrero, and by 12:15 p.m. – 25 minutes before the end of the incident – a full tactical team had gathered outside the school, records show.

Meanwhile, confusion about BORTAC’s presence at the scene spread among other law enforcement officials at the scene.

At 12:11 p.m., according to records verified by ABC News, a voice was heard on a police body camera telling an unidentified person that BORTAC was 45 minutes away — although several agents, including their commander, were ahead place were. with others just moments away.

No more “active shooter”.

Throughout the episode, the gunman stayed in two classrooms, occasionally firing shots from the large stash of ammo he had brought with him. Outside the rooms, police gathered in the hallway and took up positions, although no one moved for more than an hour to attack the gunman or stop the rampage.

Senior law enforcement officials later explained their inaction as a result of the ruling that the siege was no longer an “active shooter” situation, but a “barricaded subject” incident, which would allow law enforcement to slowly attempt to bring the episode to a close , possibly through negotiations.

At 12:21 p.m., when the gunman opened fire in the classroom for what is believed to be the last time before confronting police, records show that a full team of BORTAC agents were on the scene with ballistic shields, tactical weapons and breaching equipment; her commanding officer was present and informed; and, perhaps most importantly, they knew the suspect remained an “active shooter.”

Police doctrine dictates that officers who are called into an active shooting environment immediately pursue the shooter without regard to their own safety, Cohen said. Federal authorities were therefore in a difficult position when they arrived on the scene and learned that the shooter remained in the classroom and fired indiscriminately, but the incident was treated as a “barricaded gunman” situation and officers had not attempted to enter the classroom classroom.

At 12:30 p.m., school district police chief Pete Arredondo was overheard via a colleague’s police camera stating, “We’ve cleaned out everything except this room … but um, we’re ready to break in except that door is locked.” “

PHOTO: A memorial to the 19 children and two teachers killed in the May shooting is located in front of Robb Elementary on October 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas.

A memorial to the 19 children and two teachers killed in the May shooting is located outside of Robb Elementary School on October 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas.

Acacia Coronado/AP

Ten minutes later, Arredondo was again seen on body-worn camera footage telling someone on the phone that the BORTAC team was ready to attempt a break-in, but not until they had secured a key to open the classroom door.

A July 2022 report released by a special committee of the Texas legislature found that Guerrero at one point went to his car to retrieve a prying tool and returned to the hallway outside the classroom, but found that using the tool was too long and dangerous would expose an officer to gunfire from the classroom. Eventually, Guerrero organized a batch of BORTAC agents and entered Classroom 111 at 12:50 p.m. and killed the suspect. Guerrero declined to comment on this story.

During an interview with ABC News, Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw said Arredondo’s failure to act decisively as commander on the ground contributed to the passive response from other agencies.

“Officials from different agencies, border guards, everyone thought about it based on the information [Arredondo] McCraw said. “It’s very difficult to imagine this still being an active shooter with people waiting nearby.”

A “comprehensive review”

An investigation into law enforcement’s response, conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety, has been turned over to District Attorney Christina Mitchell, who is now considering the charges. Mitchell has indicated that charges decisions will take time, possibly until the one-year anniversary of the shooting in late May.

Arredondo ended in Uvalde. (He has repeatedly defended his actions, telling investigators he did not believe the gunman was an active gunman when he and others arrived.) Pargas, then-acting Uvalde Police Chief, resigned after officials announced they were killing him to fire. A responding state police officer was fired for his actions that day, another has resigned and a third is appealing his firing.

Nearly eight months after the shooting, an agency spokesman said a “full review” of BORTAC’s operations that day was still ongoing and the results of the review would be released to the public “if appropriate.”

“[Border Patrol] We will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to answer the tough questions of what went wrong and how we can improve our answers,” the spokesman said. “We owe it to the Uvalde community and the nation.”

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