Nearly two months ago, I wrote an opinion piece on the tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Since very little information was available then, and since much of the available information at the time was contradictory or just speculative, I opined on the tragedy based on my experience working in this field.
Before I get into the heart of this piece, please let me give you all a disclaimer. All of the avid readers and members of SOFREP are undoubtedly familiar with my background, but for those who don’t know it, here it is.
I served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years before leaving the Corps for “greener pastures.” I then went to college, earned my Journalism degree, and became a certified English teacher. I taught English for three years before leaving for my true passion: law enforcement. I was a police officer in a large midwestern city for the bulk of the last decade before being offered a position as a director of security for a school district in St. Louis that I couldn’t pass up. This will be my 4th year in that position.
So, in this piece, I’ll give my thoughts based on my time as a teacher, a police officer, a School Resource Officer, and a school district Director of Security. These thoughts are mine alone and are mainly based on the information available to the public to date and based partly on my experience in this type of work.
I’m giving you my background because I want to ensure you don’t misunderstand any “criticism” it may seem like I’m attributing to one group or another. I will do my absolute best to opine only on the verified facts about Uvalde. If a tone of criticism comes through, I hope it’ll be because of the evidence presented, not just because my opinion has drenched the article.
Now, let’s get into a follow-up on my previous article, based on new information that has come to light about the shooting at Robb Elementary.
The Shooter’s Entry
The most prevalent rumor when I wrote my first piece about Uvalde’s tragedy was that the shooter entered through a door with a “broken” lock. Other rumors were that the door was unlocked or propped with a rock by a teacher. No real distinction was made about which lock or door was the issue, but that information has now come to light.
I stated in that article that if a door lock were “broken,” then a metric ton of school staff and students (and probably even parents) would’ve been aware of it in advance of the shooter’s entry that day. In the school system in which I work, if a lock goes bad, teachers and students alike know it within about an hour and then use it gleefully until maintenance arrives for the fix. By the time maintenance comes (even if same-day), I’d bet that no fewer than 100 students and teachers know that particular door doesn’t work.
It turns out after all that this door rumor was half-right. Why half, right? Well, because there were two-door issues in play.
The most recent information I’ve found came from the Texas House of Representatives Interim Report, which detailed many new facts about the case. That report confirmed that the shooter made entry into Robb Elementary through an unlocked EXTERIOR door (apparently, there were a total of 3 unlocked exterior doors that day), and then he made entry into the CLASSROOM (room 111) through a door that had a “broken” door lock. The reason I put “broken” in quotes is that apparently, it wasn’t broken. Room door 111 could lock, but it took an extra step to ensure it was secured in a practical sense, “un-lockable” in a traumatic, time-sensitive event.
Because of the issue with the lock, the classroom door wouldn’t be easily secure…, and everyone who needed to know that already knew it well before the first shot was fired that day. That’s a significant concern.
Additionally, it turned out that the exterior door (the shooter’s initial entry point) had a keyed locking mechanism that could only be locked from the exterior. Allegedly, a teacher ran and closed that door when the shooter was first seen. What that teacher couldn’t have known at that moment – and wouldn’t have known without going outside and checking whether it was locked – was that someone had forgotten to lock that door (and two others) that day, so her closing the door was in-effect, irrelevant.
An excerpt from the Texas H.O.R. report stated:
“In violation of school policy, no one had locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building of Robb Elementary. As a result, the attacker had unimpeded access to enter.”
The report continued:
“Room 111 could be locked, but an extra effort was required to make sure the latch engaged. Many knew Room 111’s door had a faulty lock, and school district police had specifically warned the teacher about it. The problem with locking the door had been reported to school administration, yet no one placed a written work order for a repair.”
Once the shooter entered through the exterior door, he began attempting to enter individual classrooms. Since most schools train in some variation of RUN, HIDE, FIGHT, most likely, the entire building went into “lockdown.” However, the kids and teachers in room 111 couldn’t perform a proper lockdown since their door wasn’t easily secured. As a result, the souls in that room weren’t given much of a fighting chance.
It has been reported that the principal of Robb Elementary, Mandy Gutierrez, and “other administrators” were some of the individuals who were well aware of the improperly functioning lock in classroom 111 and allegedly hadn’t ensured it was fixed. For her knowledge of and alleged inaction to submitting a work order to provide the lock was fixed, Gutierrez was suspended with pay in July. In a new announcement from the district’s superintendent in August 2022, though, Gutierrez has been transferred to a different department, where she will now work as the district’s assistant director of special education. I think I’ll keep my deeper thoughts about this to myself, but I’ll say that I’m not surprised.
The Police Response
In my last article about this tragedy, I made a big deal about the police response in Uvalde, especially their response once they arrived on campus. I thought – and still believe – that it is ludicrous that officers stood by while people were actively being killed. Maybe it was poor training, maybe poor leadership, perhaps general cowardice, or maybe it was something else altogether. But, no matter what it was, no amount of spin on their part will ever make me think their actions were appropriate.
A point I made in that article is that every police department I know of in the United States trains for active killer events in similar ways; if a killing occurs, officers are headed in that direction. Personal safety be damned. We didn’t see that in Uvalde.
An excerpt from the Texas H.O.R. report states:
“Since the 1999 Columbine tragedy, the law enforcement community has recognized the critical importance of implementing active shooter training for all officers, regardless of specialty. Also, all officers must now acknowledge that stopping the killing of innocent lives is the highest priority in active shooter response, and all officers must be willing to risk their lives without hesitation.
At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety.”
The report continued:
“Despite the immediate presence of local law enforcement leaders, there was an unacceptably long period of time before officers breached the classroom, neutralized the attacker, and began rescue efforts. We do not know at this time whether responders could have saved more lives by shortening that delay. Regardless, law enforcement committed numerous mistakes in violation of current active shooter training, and there are important lessons to be learned from each faulty assumption and poor decision made that day.”
To me and probably to many of you, this fact was evident from the start, but I’m glad the lawmakers came to the same conclusion.
What You See MAY NOT Be What You Get
I’d also like to touch on a piece of the story that got a lot of original media attention. Early news reports (and the comments that followed) were highly critical of police officers who were seen on security footage looking at their cell phones, using hand sanitizer, etc. While some of that behavior was probably inappropriate (and actions like using sanitizer were likely because those officers’ brains were in an OODA loop and subconsciously, for them, sanitizing their hands was an action they could actually control); other behaviors were misinterpreted, and I’d like to clear that up for one officer in particular.
Although I didn’t mention this action specifically, and I definitely didn’t mention his name, I’d like to briefly focus on the actions of Officer Ruben Ruiz.
An article published July 14 by the Texas Tribune stated the following:
“After leaked surveillance of law enforcement responding to the Uvalde shooting was published earlier this week, angry snap judgments and criticisms of individual officers flooded the internet.
Media organizations and social media users were up in arms over an image pulled from the video posted by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV that showed a policeman glancing at his phone as the shooter, in two adjoining classrooms just down the hall, was killing children and teachers with a semiautomatic rifle.
‘This really makes my blood boil,’ Terrance Carroll, a former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, wrote in a tweet. ‘This officer is checking his phone while kids & teachers are literally dying a few doors down.'”
Look, I understand the outrage, and I understand raw emotion. What I don’t like is when either of those two emotions is based on incorrect information or, in this case, on misinterpreted leaked surveillance camera footage.
As it turns out, Officer Ruiz was checking his phone because his wife – Eva Mireles – was in the classroom with the shooter and providing real-time updates to Ruiz. Mireles was doing this as a final act to protect her friends and students because as she was texting Officer Ruiz, she was also lying on the floor of that classroom, dying from a gunshot wound she had sustained.
Officer Ruiz wasn’t being selfish or acting nonchalantly about death happening in his presence; Officer Ruiz was receiving real-time updates from his dying wife. It could be easily argued that few officers on-site that day had more to lose than Officer Ruiz.
In fact, Ruiz was taking one of the BEST investigative actions of the moment; he was gathering information so officers could make a quicker and a (hopefully) better decision. Following the leaked footage that showed Officer Ruiz on his phone, follow-up footage showed Ruiz attempting to push through other officers to get to that room to save his wife and her students. Still, officers gently restrained him, secured his weapon, and escorted him from the area. Unfortunately, many news outlets didn’t bother to show that part of the footage. But, again, I’m not surprised.
Perhaps this is a bit of a soapbox, but we have to do better in all areas of reporting news. We shouldn’t see a video without context and make massive, judgmental claims against people. I’m not just referring to officers, either. I’m talking about video clips that show celebrities (yes, they’re people too), police officers, teachers, office employees, construction workers, pastors, priests, or anyone else who finds themself with an unwanted 15 minutes of fame.
I’ll give you all an example of forced perspective that I’ve told officers I’ve trained and that I’ve discussed with teachers with whom I currently work:
A camera – whether surveillance, dash cam, or body cam – only shows what its lens allows. Rarely is the field of view with a camera the same as the field of view of the person involved. Because Murphy’s law is always in effect in dire situations, I train teachers and officers not to rely on the camera footage to “save” them following a bad situation. For a teacher, this could be following a restraint or after an allegation of misconduct, and for an officer, this most often happens following a Use-Of-Force incident.
A camera is a tool; it isn’t a lifeline. Sure, a camera clearly justifies someone’s action(s) every once in a while, but more often than not, it presents more questions than answers. Honestly, I was saved once by a camera, and I was mildly screwed once by the lack of field of view of my dash cam, so I’m a wash in my personal experience with cameras.
Here is one example of perspective that I use when teaching hundreds of teachers per year. I tell them that what they see with their eyes in this situation is seen in photo 3. I then tell them that the camera they are counting on to save their career probably only caught the view in photos 1 or 2. Cameras aren’t perfect, they’re tools, and sometimes tools fail.
In that same vein, a news station only reports the information they want you to consume. Often, news that doesn’t fit their agenda or that they deem as irrelevant is curbed. Any video or audio clips and/or any verbal context they provide is all forced perspective, meaning they’re forcing you to receive the information in one way, their way. If you don’t quite believe this, watch a Fox News story and then an MSNBC story about the same incident. It usually doesn’t even sound like the same incident. That’s why we all should strive to take everything we see with a grain of salt until we can verify its accuracy. As the old adage goes: “Believe none of what you hear and believe half of what you see.” This concept is even more true when someone’s reputation, livelihood, or life is at stake.
Viewing a specific piece of an incident with no objective context is akin to condemning an officer for shooting a suspect (who was holding a knife) simply because the body cam footage didn’t show the suspect’s hand with a knife in it. A simple lack of information does not equal proof. Missing details don’t inversely equate to coverups, laziness, or lies. Judging Officer Ruiz for looking at his phone without the context that he was actually in contact with someone inside that classroom is improper, and it is wildly unhelpful. I hope former congressman Terrance Carroll has since publicly apologized for his unintelligent remarks about Officer Ruiz.
According to the Texas Tribune, after hearing all of the criticism Ruiz received, Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, stated the following of Officer Ruiz on his Twitter account:
“I couldn’t say nothing seeing this man, who’s lost everything, maligned as if he was indifferent or actively malicious. Context matters. To those who haven’t bothered to read even the news that’s been reported in your rush to judgment, he attempted to engage but was removed from the building and disarmed. We’ll have much to say about the police response, but no criticism of this officer.”
Rep. Moody is spot-on. If we truly want our opinions to be heard, they must be highly formulated, not just highly emotional.
An Ounce of Prevention
The question everyone wants to ask after any school tragedy is how do we prevent another Uvalde, Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Parkland? As I mentioned in my last article, we must ensure that we first learn about what actually happened and then act upon the information we’ve gathered. That action could be in the form of safety training, building hardening, or any other number of things.
We have to continuously remember, though, that at a given time, any business – including schools – is only as strong as its weakest link. If the weakest link is a teacher who doesn’t take safety seriously or whose feelings it hurt when you mention the phrase “active shooter training,” then the teacher/employee could very well be the piece that allows the following incident within your workplace. If the weakest link is a lazy maintenance man or maintenance department, they could be the cause. That doesn’t mean the teacher or maintenance department is “at fault” for the shooting – only the shooter is – but it does mean the teacher/maintenance folks didn’t do everything within their power to help ensure the incident didn’t occur.
Like any well-run organization, all team members must be on the same page regardless of who it is. This would probably be my first step in helping to prevent the next school shooter.
I believe the entire story behind the events that occurred at Robb Elementary has yet to be discovered. We definitely know more now than we did when I wrote the last article on June 16. I’d like for you as readers to take away two points today.
First, pressure your local school district to make items such as doors that won’t be secure or windows that don’t lock an immediate safety priority, regardless of how “busy” maintenance claims to be that day (regardless of their schedule, they will always say they’re too busy). Finally
Secondly, put pressure on your local school board to ensure teachers are properly trained and know what to do in the event of an active killer the same way they know what to do for a fire or a tornado.
Maybe consider presenting it to them in this way, which is how I do when speaking to teachers, parents, and the school board: I’ve found that helping them realize that no death in school is okay, but that in the end, death=death helps keep them grounded to the training and a bit more out of the sensation of it all.
Finally, let’s all be better about not leaping to conclusions each time we see another 7-second video clip or leaked screenshot. You want the benefit of the doubt if you were the subject matter, and so would I, so the next time there is a tragedy reported on the nightly news – and I’m sure it won’t be long -let’s try to look at the big picture and look through the lens of logic. That lens is always more transparent.
Look for part 3 of this story as more information unfolds in the coming weeks.
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