Unlocked doors were ‘first line of defense’ at Uvalde school

Jun 21, 2022, 5:18 AM | Updated: Jun 22, 2022, 5:20 pm
A section of a classroom door from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is seen as Texas Depart...

A section of a classroom door from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is seen as Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw testifies at a Texas Senate hearing at the state capitol, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed in last month's mass shooting in Uvalde. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Uvalde massacre began after the 18-year-old gunman entered the school through a door that could only be locked from the outside then got inside a classroom that had a busted lock, experts testified Tuesday.

Securing doors has long been a focus of school safety drills, and the inability to do so during the May 24 attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead is raising alarms among experts and politicians.

When doors are not secure, “your first step, your first line of defense has now been eliminated,” said Ken Trump, the president of the National School Safety and Security Services.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt said unlockable doors make lockdowns and shooter training worthless, adding that there was “zero obstacle to the shooter.”

Questions about how the shooter entered Robb Elementary and what happened at multiple doors have been a big part of the changing information about the attack.

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE GUNMAN REACHED THE OUTSIDE DOOR?

State police initially said the gunman entered the school through an exterior door that had been propped open by a teacher.

Days later, state police retracted that statement to make it clear that the teacher closed the door. But somehow it didn’t lock.

Nearly a month after the rampage, Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, further amended what his agency’s investigation shows: The teacher did close the door, but unbeknownst to her, it could be locked only from the outside.

The gunman “walked straight through,” McCraw said Tuesday in blistering testimony at a state Senate hearing in Austin.

Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, said he was “astonished” that the exterior door could only be locked from the outside. He likened it to a house that could only be locked from the outside.

“Shouldn’t the security of the school be as safe as the security of your home?” he asked.

Experts did not explain during the hearing why the school’s exterior door locked from outside. Robb Elementary is an older building, constructed in 1955.

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE GUNMAN REACHED THE CLASSROOM DOOR?

Once inside the school, the shooter then entered a classroom though a door that was designed to be locked from the outside, according to McCraw, who also said a teacher reported before the shooting that the lock was broken.

“This is ridiculous and it’s inexcusable,” McCraw said of the fact that the classroom door could not be locked from inside.

Stephens and Trump also raised alarms about the fact that the door was broken, describing it as a maintenance issue.

McCraw also disclosed Tuesday that despite the door being unlocked, there was no indication officers tried to open it during the standoff. He said police instead waited for more than an hour for a key.

“To me,” Stephens said, “there’s just a whole cascade of apparent failures that took place in this particular situation.”

WHY DID THE DOORS LOCK FROM THE OUTSIDE?

Many schools designed in the 20th century featured classroom doors that locked from the outside, allowing the teacher or administrator to lock up as they left for the day, Todd Ferking explained in an email. Ferking is a design leader for DLR Group, an architecture firm that specializes in school design.

“Locking from inside the classroom may not have been a popular option out of concern that students could lock the teacher out,” he said.

The Columbine tragedy led to an evolution in school construction, he said, with most new classrooms designed to provide locking from inside via a key or thumb turn.

Today, it also is general practice that all exterior doors are locked during school hours, except during drop-off and pick-up, he said.

HAVE THERE BEEN PROBLEMS BEFORE?

At Sandy Hook Elementary School, the doors of the two classrooms where all 20 children were killed in the 2012 massacre, along with their teachers, could only be locked from the hallway with a key.

Some victims’ families have said lives could have been saved if teachers had been able to lock classroom doors from the inside, and they questioned whether two teachers who were killed in the shooting, Victoria Soto and Lauren Rousseau, even had access to keys.

Another teacher who could not get a classroom door locked told investigators that she looked into the hallway, saw a janitor who yelled at the gunman to leave and motioned to the janitor to lock her door.

Sandy Hook Elementary was built around the same time as Robb Elementary, in 1956.

Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, spoke publicly about the importance of being able to secure doors after Sandy Hook. He lamented that it was still an issue a decade later.

“That school,” he said of Robb Elementary, “I can promise you, is not the only one in this country that you can’t lock the doors from the inside.”

Such doors, he said, occasionally are spotted during assessments of buildings, particularly older ones. He described it as “unacceptable” and urged schools to fix busted doors and retrofit doors that only lock from the outside while students are on summer break.

“The basics are so important, and if your school district does not have doors that will allow the teachers to secure those in a lockdown, that’s a priority,” he said. “Those things really can and do save lives.”

WHAT STEPS ARE RECOMMENDED?

State and federal panels charged with reviewing individual mass shootings have repeatedly advised schools to limit access by locking exterior doors, as well as forcing visitors to enter through a secure door and requiring teachers to lock classrooms while classes are in session.

Teachers and students drill for how to respond.

“Lock the door, turn off the light. Get the kids and staff into a hard corner, meaning not in the direct line of sight of the window where somebody can shoot through, and be quiet,” Trump said.

He said those actions can “absolutely” save lives.

Uvalde in March had retained PBK, a design, architecture, engineering and planning firm that focuses on schools, to conduct a review of its buildings as it considered a potential bond issue, said Ian Powell, who heads safety and security for the firm.

Powell said part of that review involved ensuring that the school’s safety protocols met the standards of the Texas Education Agency. The review also included everything from evaluating cooling systems to windows.

He said more schools are opting for so-called door lock indicators, which make it easier for teachers to see whether their door is locked while inside their classrooms. Texas doesn’t require such locks. Powell said he doesn’t know any jurisdiction that does, although the firm recommends them.

But before that review got underway in earnest, the shooting happened. Since then, Powell said, the district has asked the firm to expand the scope of its security review. Other districts also have been calling seeking security reviews.

“We would all have wished that something would have been implemented and would have had the time to be implemented before they had the exposure to this type of a situation,” he said.

___

Find more AP coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Drought emergency declared for northern Italy, frees up aid

ROME (AP) — The Italian government on Monday declared a state of emergency for much of the rain-parched north amid a drought, freeing up 36.5 million euros (about $38 million) in funds for the heavily agricultural regions. The aid was approved at a late evening Cabinet meeting. The Po River, whose waters help irrigate rice […]
13 hours ago
FILE - Reggie Daniels pays his respects at a memorial at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, o...
Associated Press

A list of recent high-profile shootings in the US

The latest high-profile shooting in the United States happened on July Fourth, when a gunman opened fire on parade-goers in a Chicago suburb. Other notable episodes of gun violence in recent weeks: VESTAVIA HILLS, ALABAMA At least two people died and another was hospitalized on June 16 after a shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church […]
13 hours ago
Police tape hangs at corner of Central Avenue and Green Bay Rd., in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb...
Associated Press

6 dead, 24 wounded in shooting at Chicago-area July 4 parade

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — At least six people died and 24 were wounded in a shooting at a July Fourth parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, and officers are searching for a suspect who likely fired on the festivities from a rooftop, police said Monday. Highland Park Police Commander Chris O’Neill, the […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Judge in Italy ends detention for Haggis in sex abuse case

ROME (AP) — A judge in southern Italy on Monday ordered film director Paul Haggis released from detention at his hotel while prosecutors decide whether to pursue their investigation of whether he allegedly had sex with a woman without her consent over two days, his lawyer said. Michele Laforgia told The Associated Press that his […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Nicaragua government takes over five opposition-held towns

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Four months before scheduled municipal elections, Nicaraguan riot police have taken over the city halls of five municipalities that had been in the hands of an opposition party. Kitty Monterrey, president of Citizens for Freedom, a political party disallowed by the Nicaraguan government before presidential elections last year, confirmed the police […]
2 days ago
This booking photo provided by Pike County, Kentucky, jail shows Lance Storz. Two officers were kil...
Associated Press

Flags to be lowered in Kentucky after 3 officers killed

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Flags at Kentucky state buildings will be lowered to half-staff Tuesday morning in honor of three officers who were killed when a man with a rifle opened fire on police attempting to serve a warrant, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday. Flags will remain at half-staff until sunset Thursday in remembrance of […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Unlocked doors were ‘first line of defense’ at Uvalde school