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We Asked A Special Ops Veteran And Law Enforcement Expert To Break Down The Failed Response To The Uvalde Shooting

By Gina Florio··  17 min read
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The Uvalde shooting that took place on May 24 ended in one of the most devastating tragedies our country has ever faced. 19 children and two teachers were killed by 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.

The horrific crime has sparked a national conversation about gun violence, mental health, and the safety of schools. As more information comes out about what took place in Uvalde, there are many questions as to how this situation was handled and what could have been done to prevent so many people from dying. While the common narrative is that gun control is the number one way to prevent these tragedies from taking place, tactical experts and security specialists are firm in saying that creating more gun laws isn't going to stop deranged, evil people from getting their hands on firearms and committing heinous crimes. Besides, there are multiple other factors at play that need to be considered.

I spoke with Trevor Thrasher, a combat veteran U.S. Army Green Beret who trains police officers and teaches firearm safety, hand to hand combat, and special tactics. He served as the primary defensive tactics instructor for the Omaha Police Department and his credentials include law enforcement SWAT, high-risk protective work in non-permissive environments, and counter terrorism. We discussed the sequence of events that took place on May 24 at Robb Elementary School, and he gave me some insight as to what went wrong that day and what we can do in the future to prevent another tragedy from taking place again.

The Associated Press interviewed several of the parents who were on the scene that day and tragically lost a child. There was a general consensus that the police were severely underprepared. There are even videos being circulated online that showed parents being restrained by police officers when they were desperately trying to go into the building to save their children. The shrieks of anguish are truly devastating, and it's heartbreaking to see fathers and mothers held back by officials when they know there's an active shooter in the building with their kids.

Javier Cazares' fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed on Tuesday. He was at the school as soon as he heard there was an active shooter. But he and many other parents were unhappy about how the situation was being handled. They even talked about taking matters into their own hands.

"Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done. They were unprepared."

We'll never know exactly what happened that day, but from the information we can gather, it seems as though there were some mistakes made. Thrasher gave his perspective on what transpired and what we can do better moving forward.

The Events of the Uvalde Shooting

On the morning of May 24, Ramos sent a direct message to a girl he met on Instagram. He told her he had a secret and he wanted her to answer whenever he messaged her later. At 11:21 a.m., he texted her and said, "I just shot my grandma in her head. Ima go shoot up a(n) elementary school rn (right now)."

At 11:28 a.m., Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch just outside the school shortly before he went on a shooting spree. He started by shooting at two people outside the funeral home near the school, but they escaped unharmed. A teacher called 911 at 11:30 a.m. after she saw Ramos across the street. He started shooting at the school from behind a vehicle in the school parking lot. Patrol vehicles began to arrive at the funeral home, and they fired multiple shots at Ramos but were unable to neutralize him. Ramos fired back and injured two police officers. Minutes later, Ramos entered the school, barricades himself inside a classroom, and begins shooting. Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN that he "barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom." Everyone in this classroom died.

Multiple calls were then made to 911, including from a young girl inside the school who identified herself and whispered what she saw on the phone. At 12:15 p.m., Border Patrol's tactical unit, BORTAC, arrived on the scene. This is when the officials realized that everyone was barricaded in, and the team apparently waited and decided not to immediately engage with the shooter.

Reports say that it took 40-60 minutes from Ramos' first gunshot until he was killed by officials. During this time, officers and the tactical team couldn't get through the barricade that Ramos created; a staff member from the school had to open the room with a key.

At 12:21 p.m., Ramos fired his gun again multiple times and more students called 911. It wasn't until 12:50 p.m. that law enforcement used keys from a janitor to breach the locked classroom door. This is when they fatally wounded Ramos.

What's the Standard Protocol for Law Enforcement at School Shootings?

With his many years of expertise that involves training law enforcement and even teachers and civilians on how to respond to dangerous situations like this, I knew Thrasher would be able to offer some insight as to what happened that day, what went wrong, and what could have been done. I started by asking him what the standard protocol is for an incident when you know there is an active shooter in a school.

The main task is simple: "To stop the killing or stop the attacker first."

"Standard protocol one is determine if it is an active killing type of event," he told me. "I like to avoid using the term active shooter because some of the highest body counts have been from using vehicles and of course 3,000 people were killed without firing a single gunshot on 9/11."

The main task is simple: "To stop the killing or stop the attacker first." The initial responders are trained to go straight to the killer and even bypass anyone injured who may need help. The primary drive for law enforcement is to stop the killer.

As soon as there is word that someone is actively killing innocent people, every single officer will go to this location. "Everybody shows up from every jurisdiction," Thrasher said. One of the biggest problems you deal with on site is all the police cars and vehicles makes it almost impossible for anyone to come and go in the area.

"If you're the first officer and you show up, you generally have permission to just go by yourself," he explained. "It's drive to the threat. Do whatever you can to stop their plans and to stop their killing."

"The solution to an active killer situation is not a tactical team."

Thrasher believes "there were massive failures in response" if he hears that a tactical team has been called to the site of the shooting.

"The solution to an active killer situation is not a tactical team," Thrasher told me. "The solution is the first officers that are able to respond. Once a tactical team is involved, that means it has taken a serious length of time and that has allowed for a serious amount of killing to be done."

Minutes are like hours in high-risk situations like this, and there is no time to waste. Not only does fast action prevent more people from dying, but it also prevents injured people from bleeding out and losing their life.

"On average when the killing starts, one person is killed every 15 seconds," he said. It usually takes about 20-40 minutes at least for a tactical team (like a SWAT team) to arrive on the scene, and that's simply too long. "You do not want to wait for a team," Thrasher reiterated. Officials should do everything in their power to ensure that it doesn't get to the point where you have to wait up to an hour for a tactical team to arrive.

What Went Wrong with the Uvalde Shooting?

As a tactics expert—and as a parent—Thrasher can't help but reflect on what went wrong on May 24 at Robb Elementary School. Remember it took 40-60 minutes between when Ramos opened fire to when he was killed. "That's forever," Thrasher told me. So what happened that day?

"On average when the killing starts, one person is killed every 15 seconds."

From the information Thrasher gathered, the "commander on the scene transitioned it into a barricade/hostage situation," and this slows things down significantly. Thrasher teaches this option "with great caution" because he doesn't believe this is the right choice when there is an active killer on the loose.

"I think that the general response should be to never let these situations turn into a barricade or hostage situation, to treat them like an active killing situation from start to finish," he said. "It's wrong to let them turn into these types of situations."

Thrasher referred to the Orlando nightclub shooting as another example in which time was of the essence, and officials' delay resulted in many deaths. On June 12, 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub, and opened fire. He killed 49 people and wounded 53 more.

"When the casualty count gets this high, there's almost always a delay in getting to the suspect, and it's unfortunate," Thrasher told me. "That was hours long, people laying around wounded bleeding, while the cops are trying to come up with a tactical plan. You're never going to have a perfect plan for this."

Then Thrasher said something brutally honest: "You have to risk officers' safety to save lives. You don't have to risk it stupidly or in a meaningless way, but you certainly have to risk officers' lives to the maximum you're willing to risk them to avoid these situations."

Unfortunately, it seems as though few of the officers in Uvalde were willing to put themselves in harm's way in order to stop the active killer in his tracks.

"You have to risk officers' safety to save lives."

One of the pieces of information that kept coming up when I was reviewing the events of May 24 was the barricaded door. Even as a civilian, I had a tough time understanding why a barricaded door was presenting so much trouble for law enforcement—and why it took a janitor's key to get past the barricade. I asked Thrasher what is usually done with this type of hurdle.

"Most doors can be kicked in," he responded. "They can be hit in with a sledge hammer or you can use a ram. A well equipped police department will have their supervisor's car prepared with equipment for situations like this." Even a shotgun is "very effective" in breaching the door. All of these options present risk, though, but this risk is necessary to save lives.

Thrasher shared a motto he uses in his training with law enforcement: "A failed breach is a failed mission." He explained further, "If you can't through the front door, you're failing to accomplish your mission."

But even with the barricaded door, I couldn't help but wonder about the other entrances to the school building. "There are other openings," Thrasher confirmed. There was a "line of windows" and at least two doors into the school. "I'm not saying it's easy to do, but with two doors and windows, there's some way to take the guy's attention away or take him by surprise or take him by brute force," Thrasher explained. "Desperate times call for desperate measures. You've got to be able to take a maximum amount of risk."

Even if it means getting injured by glass from the windows or perhaps even taking a bullet, officials have to be ready to do whatever it takes to get inside and neutralize the shooter.

"The police profession is the most poorly trained profession I know of."

I asked him outright if the police officers who showed up to the Uvalde shooting were inadequately trained.

"In general, as someone who has trained police for 20+ years at this point, the police profession is the most poorly trained profession I know of," Thrasher told me. "In general, officers may get training, but they almost never get enough training to actually be competent when these high risk type incidents unfold. They just do not."

One of the biggest reasons is people are unwilling to fund that training. It takes time, money, experts, and resources. "It's tough," he admitted. "We need a different breed of officer to be able to accept and excel in these types of environments."

How Do You Handle Parents in a Situation Like This?

Another devastating layer of this tragedy is the parents' feelings of helplessness as they stood outside the school waiting for the shooter to be taken down. Videos have been circulating online showing how police officers were actually restraining some parents on the ground because they were so desperately trying to get past the officials and into the school. Many of these parents told the press later that they felt the cops could have done much more on the scene that day.

I asked Thrasher what the normal protocol is to handle distraught parents like this, especially considering the fact that the police officers were just sitting outside the school and seemingly doing nothing to stop this maniacal killer.

"There are probably a lot of officers who questioned whether they were brave enough."

"I see that from both ends also as a parent and as a cop," Thrasher admitted. He spoke to law enforcement friends about this particular factor of the Uvalde shooting, and they all agreed that it would be "very hard to stop us" if they were the parents standing outside the school.

"If I thought my kid was in the classroom and the cops are sitting out there, I'm going to be as big a threat to those cops as anything they've ever experienced," Thrasher told me frankly. "It's going to be hard to stop me."

Then again, he said you can't just let people run uncontrolled into the scene. Not only does it put their lives in danger, but it makes the police officers' jobs much harder. "The problem is that it evolved into that," Thrasher said. "It should not have taken that much time."

This was another failure on the part of the officials on the scene. If they had acted sooner and done everything in their power to get inside that school, the parents wouldn't be gathered outside waiting in agony to find out what happened to their children.

A common response to the parents is that officials didn't have enough information on what transpired with the shooter, and that's what prevented them from acting sooner.

"What I do know as someone who has been in incidents like this and trains people in incidents like this, I can tell you that every time I've heard the debriefing, it is clear that they are leaving important information out that they know on purpose," Thrasher told me. "They keep saying that they don't know the exact timeline. Bullsh*t."

There are cameras and radios and all sorts of timestamps to understand what happened that day. Thrasher says it's not difficult to figure out when the killer arrived on the scene, when he started firing shots, when he engaged with police officers, etc. Law enforcement has all the tools they need to figure out these important details and respond accordingly.

"There are probably a lot of officers who questioned whether they were brave enough," Thrasher added. "That being said, there will certainly be true acts of bravery from some of the responders that day. I am nothing but grateful for the men and women who may have taken extraordinary risk to resolve this terrible incident."

How Can We Prevent Something Like This from Happening Again?

The most common answer to this question is gun control, gun control, gun control. But people with experience in these types of situations know that restricting people's access to guns isn't going to stop criminals from getting their hands on weapons and attempting to hurt people.

Thrasher said you can certainly have armed guards at more schools and it's a viable option, but that's not necessarily going to stop incidents like this. "I wouldn't arm every teacher," he said. "That's a terrible argument." But it's not a bad idea to arm the teachers who are trained and ready to be armed.

"It's up to you and your family to be the first true responder."

"You have to train teachers how to respond to these situations better," he added. "How is this guy allowed to be outside, wreck a car, shoot people, and be allowed inside the school?" There needs to be cameras, radios, and a communication system that allows for educators to keep track of these situations.

Thrasher wondered aloud how much money we have set aside for coronavirus in schools—and how much of that money is left unspent. Why can't we use some of that funding to build a better defense system in schools?

"It's up to you and your family to be the first true responder," he said. "You are the first person at the scene." Every kid, past a certain age, should know how to stop bleeding because we need to understand that there are dangerous people out there who want to hurt us.

"Finally, we have to deal with what creates these monsters," Thrasher offered. "And that's the deep soul-searching. All the other things are mechanical, but you have to really search your soul and ask how we really stop these monsters."

"There are failures from top down—school systems, parents, community, police."

"There are failures from top down—school systems, parents, community, police," he continued. "There's no one person to blame for this. Of course, as an adult we have to blame most of the responsibility on the shooter. But we can't ignore the other responsibilities."

Thrasher listed out many of the cultural issues that drive sick people to commit these crimes, including bad parenting, the breakdown of family, the failure of communities to care for kids in need. He also posed a question that many are afraid to approach: "Why is there this big need for mental health with kids? That wasn't in the past. Sure, there were kids who had mental health issues but why is that now such a big issue?" Perhaps we need to get to the root of the cause of mental health problems and figure out why so many kids are struggling mentally and emotionally.

"Gun control is the most ludicrous argument," Thrasher reminded me. "When I was a kid and when my father was a kid, they brought guns to schools. There was no lack of guns in schools. They taught shooting in schools. Kids had access to guns back then. So that's just a dumb feel-good thing that's not going to prevent a lot."

A much better use of our time would be to address the cultural issues that are causing teenagers and young adults to go on killing rampages.

Closing Thoughts

As parents, we are our children's first line of defense. Thrasher made it clear that the first step to protecting our children is to make sure we can defend them ourselves, followed by placing them in buildings and environments that are well-protected. While there's no one person to blame for how the Uvalde tragedy was handled, there were certainly many mistakes along the way that we can learn from.

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