‘Why didn’t they engage?’: Looming question in Uvalde shooting, Clay County Schools police chief says

Retired SWAT officer agrees with chief, says ‘they didn’t do what they were supposed to do’

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Surveillance footage captured the gunman in the Uvalde school shooting enter the building with an AR-15 style rifle and later shows officers in body armor milling in the hallway outside the fourth-grade classrooms where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

The video published Tuesday by the Austin American-Statesman shows parts of the hour and 14 minutes that passed between the time he entered the school and was killed by law enforcement.

News4JAX spoke with the chief of the Clay County District Schools Police Department, Kenneth Wagner, about the video, which shows the gunman casually stroll inside Robb Elementary School.

“It appeared that he was a person that was on a mission to wreak havoc upon that school,” Wagner said.

The shooter picks a classroom and walks in. Gunshots ring out.

After approximately three minutes, officers arrive and lean up against a wall. Wagner says that’s a sign of tactics training.

More shots are heard while they’re in the hallway and they back up for cover.

“It’s a looming question of why didn’t they engage, you know it? That is still what’s stuck in my mind,” Wagner said.

We asked the police chief when, if his units were called to a school and heard gunshots in a classroom, they would engage.

“Immediately engage,” he said. “Our training consists of a very simple concept: Stop the killing and then stop the dying because you can’t do anything, you can’t stop it unless you go in and engage it.”

Wagner said the first person on scene owns the situation and decides what responding officers will do.

More than 25 minutes go by in the video before we see officers setup and point guns down the hallway behind ballistic shields, wearing vests and helmets.

Wagner says they appeared to be equipped to engage, but didn’t.

“I’ll never be able to articulate why they made the decision not to engage. And I don’t want to condemn them because I don’t know all the facts right now,” Wagner said. “You know, to speculate only, I think that maybe those officers were looking for direction. I firmly believe they knew what they needed to do. But I don’t think the conversation happened that, you’re first on the scene, make the decision.”

Since seeing the video, Wagner says he wants to equip his officers a bit more with ballistic shields.

He also pointed out how the gunman was able to walk right into the classroom, but the district policy in Clay County is to have doors locked during instruction time as a part of prevention..

Retired Jacksonville SWAT officer says ‘disappointment’ was initial reaction

A former officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office who was also on the SWAT team for 17 years spoke about surveillance footage showing officers milling in the hallway outside the fourth-grade classrooms where 19 children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, Texas.

Jared Reston, a retired Jacksonville SWAT officer, has been on manhunts for murder suspects. He now trains law enforcement in tactics and safety.

We spoke with him about the video from inside the school. He told us those officers simply didn’t do what they were trained to do.

Marilyn Parker: “What was your initial reaction?”

“Disappointment. I mean that’s, they didn’t do what they were supposed to do, what they, you know, signed up to do,” Reston said.

“There are people bleeding inside that room and you have to get in there to save their lives, right?” Reston added. “I mean, they’re bleeding out, so their life is leaving their body, so you’re on that time schedule where you’ve got to push and they didn’t push.”

Marilyn Parker: “When is the time to engage?”

“Then. And they didn’t. They put their life over the lives of children,” Reston said. “And, you know, it’s said that they did that. Not everybody’s created the same, and it took, you know, some guys with probably more training and more experience of doing stuff to push in there and actually go do the job.

“There’s parts of the video when, like, a guy goes to the hand sanitizer and washes his hands because he’s just in code black. He is stressed way above his limits and he doesn’t know what the heck’s going on, and I bet you could probably ask him and he doesn’t even remember doing that.”

Marilyn Parker: “How can a community be reassured that this won’t happen again?”

“There is no reassurance that it will never happen again because it’s just, it’s sometimes just a roll of the dice who shows up there that day because their training didn’t tell them to run away,” Reston said. “That’s the truth.”

About the Author:

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad