New audio obtained by CNN shows that Texas’ top law enforcement agency knew children were trapped inside Robb Elementary more than 30 minutes before someone shot and rescued the gunman.
Less than two minutes after Acting Uvalde Police Chief Lt. Mariano Pargas received information that children were alive among the slain classmates in the classroom, he shared the same information with someone from the state Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Pargas, 65, resigned Thursday, two days before a “special meeting” called by the city of Uvalde to decide his fate. The rare Saturday evening meeting was scheduled after CNN revealed a girl was calling from a classroom saying eight or nine children were still alive.
It is not clear how DPS’ internal investigation looks at the communication failures. The department announced it is reviewing the actions of 91 DPS officers who arrived at Robb Elementary on May 24, killing 19 children and two teachers after a 77-minute stint in classrooms.
Those failures include what happened at headquarters in Austin and how information was shared via phone, text messages and radio.
New audio obtained by CNN reveals that a woman from “DPS in Austin” called Uvalde police dispatchers to get more information so that specialist DPS teams, including SWAT, could be dispatched to help.
The caller was shocked to learn that the murder had taken place at an elementary school.
“Rob Elementary? Oh my God,” she says.
When the dispatcher tells her, “We have several DOAs (deaths),” she interrupts: “Are you kidding me?”
“Not me,” replies the sender.
“Oh my god,” sighed the DPS employee. “OK.”
Before hanging up on the call at about 12:20 p.m., she gets the shooter’s details.
CNN does not know the caller’s rank within DPS, or where she reported the information within her agency.
DPS did not respond to CNN’s questions about the call and what happened after it was made.
But it’s clear that the information provided in the phone call between Uvalde and Austin — that children were at school with the shooter and that people had already been killed — was not shared enough.
Statewide DPS assists local law enforcement agencies in major incidents and has specialized equipment and teams that smaller city and county forces do not have.
Several teams were sent to Uvalde, but they were not given the critical information they needed to survive the response and focus on stopping the killer and rescuing the victims.
While Pargas can change the dynamics of a stalled operation, so can DPS chiefs, as do other leaders in the field.
But the need for help from children and teachers appears to be reduced to a communication disability.
Capt. John Miller, DPS SWAT commander, deployed his entire team on May 24 when he was notified of the active shooter, even though he was about 175 miles away. via CNN
But once they hit the road, they received no new information, he said. “It was initially said there was a shooter with a barricade, but he was shooting at law enforcement officers at a school,” he said. There was no word later on whether there were hostages.
He spent several minutes trying to figure out what was going on, so he could come up with an appropriate plan, critically considering the innocent people with the shooter.
“For the next 40 minutes, it was all phone calls and text messages from me trying to find it,” he told the Inquirer.
Only one member of Miller’s team arrived at Robb Elementary when law enforcement officers breached the classroom and killed the shooter at 12:50 p.m.
His first task was to try to find out if the children were trapped.
“I spoke with the highway patrol sergeant and asked her if there were any children still inside the building where the shooter was,” Staff Sgt. Lucas Patterson told the Texas Rangers seeking comment, according to documents obtained by CNN. “She wasn’t positive from the information, she was just trying to confirm.”
The failed information flow didn’t just affect the DPS SWAT team referenced in the 12:18 pm call to Uvalde dispatch.
DPS Capt. Joel Betancourt told investigators: “It was only reported that it was a barricade subject. No more bullets fired later. As of now, we are not aware of any injuries or children in the building. At that point, it was just one person in a room.
However, as CNN previously reported, Betancourt gave a radio order to the breaching team to halt their advance into the classroom, believing a better team was coming. No one answered his call.
The gunman was stopped more than 30 minutes after giving details of the trapped children to Pargas and DPS.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin told CNN again this week that he believed DPS’ actions at the time, and how they were tasked with investigating the response, came shortly after senior leaders gave conflicting accounts of what happened. It was a cover. DPS Director Steven McCraw rejected that suggestion.
376 law enforcement officers from 23 agencies responded to the Rob massacre, including 91 men and women from DPS.
Along with personnel, an arsenal of specialist equipment was deployed, much of it DPS, apparently without a clear plan as to whether it would be needed.
“Two DPS helicopters, one with an AUF package – an aerial shooter – that will take about 25-30 minutes,” an official told Uvalde shortly after 12:30 p.m. after requesting a “live update.” Confirming the location is Rob Elementary, he added: “I’m trying not to be a pest, but we’re trying to coordinate.”