Thursday, April 18

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin describes attempts to phone gunman during school massacre

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UVALDE, Tex. — As a massacre unfolded inside an elementary school here last week, a would-be negotiator deployed in a funeral home across the street tried frantically to reach the gunman via cellphone, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said Wednesday.

In an interview with The Washington Post, McLaughlin (R) said he rushed to Hillcrest Funeral Home about 15 minutes after “the first call” reporting that 18-year-old Salvador Ramos had crashed his pickup truck nearby. He found himself standing near an official he identified only as “the negotiator,” while frightened parents gathered outside the school and police waited well over an hour to storm the classroom.

“His main goal was to try to get this person on the phone,” McLaughlin said in the interview, which was also conducted by Telemundo San Antonio. “They tried every number they could find,” but the gunman did not pick up the phone.

McLaughlin offered few other new details of the police response to the mass shooting, which is under investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety and which state officials have described in contradictory ways over the last 10 days.

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He said he doesn’t believe the negotiator was aware there were children calling 911 and asking police to save them while the gunman was in the classroom. The mayor said he was not aware of those calls, nor did he hear shots fired from inside the school, across the street.

The gunman was killed by a phalanx of law enforcement officers that included three Border Patrol Tactical Unit agents, a Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue agent and at least one sheriff’s deputy, The Post has previously reported. McLaughlin said he has been told that the group also included at least one officer from the Uvalde Police Department and one from the six-officer school system police force.

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McLaughlin said he has not been in touch with Pete Arredondo, the embattled head of the Uvalde school district’s police department, who served as the incident commander during the shooting and has been criticized for not sending officers in sooner.

Arredondo has not spoken publicly about the incident, telling CNN on Wednesday that he would do so after more time has passed and the victims of the massacre are buried.

Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland victims’ families spoke to The Post about their shared grief, trauma and hope for action following the Texas school shooting. (Video: Joshua Carroll, Joy Yi, Leila Barghouty/The Washington Post, Photo: Eric Gay/AP/The Washington Post)

Pete Arredondo spent years preparing for a mass school shooting. Then it happened.

McLaughlin, who uses a walker or a cane and has called himself a “small potato” in politics has not been shy about speaking out against higher-profile Texas politicians in either party.

In the recent Texas primary for governor, I have opted not to endorse the Republican incumbent, Gov. Greg Abbott, labeling him a “fraud” over his approach to the border and immigration. And he has appeared on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” multiple times to lambaste the Border Patrol’s release of migrants into the streets of Uvalde and lament that he cannot get a call back from the state’s two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

Last week, in the wake of the shooting, he called Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke a “sick son of a b—-” for confronting Abbott about gun control during a news conference.

During the interview on Wednesday, however, McLaughlin took a much more conciliatory tone, urging compromise between Republicans and Democrats to find a set of laws that “work for everyone.”

“Both [parties] have an attitude of ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ ” he said. “And that’s not what we elected them for. We elected them to go up there and represent the American people, and that means you sit at a table and you sit down and you negotiate.”

One example of compromise? Background checks for gun purchases, he said.

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“Why should any of us be afraid of expanding background checks? There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t have anything to hide,” said McLaughlin, who has also long pushed to build a psychiatric hospital in Uvalde.

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Tension has been building between local and state law enforcement in Uvalde, as questions mount over the shifting public accounts of what happened last Tuesday and who bears the responsibility for the law enforcement response.

Last week, Abbott said he was “misled” by law enforcement authorities about the series of events that took place.

“The information I was given turned out, in part, to be inaccurate, and I am absolutely livid about that,” he said, sitting next to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and McLaughlin.

But McLaughlin rebutted such comments on Monday, saying in a statement that local law enforcement did not “mislead anyone.” He reiterated that point in the interview, saying “local authorities have not lied to anyone.”

“The briefing that the governor and the lieutenant governor and everybody else in that room [had] … was given by the DPS, not local law enforcement,” McLaughlin said.

“They’ve had three press conferences,” he added. “In all three press conferences, something has changed.”

McLaughlin said he hasn’t “lost trust” in the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers. Relatives of the 21 people who were killed “need answers,” he said. “And we want to make sure they get those answers.”

On Wednesday, Abbott asked state lawmakers to agree to a pair of “special legislative committees” to address the issues of school safety and mass violence. During remarks last week to the National Rifle Association, the governor ruled out new gun restrictions in response to the massacre.

In his letter to Patrick, who presides over the Senate, and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R), Abbott asked that both chambers form committees to explore five issues: school safety; mental health; social media; police training; and firearm safety.

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“As leaders, we must come together at this time to provide solutions to protect all Texans,” Abbott said in his letter.

Patrick late Wednesday announced the formation of the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, which will hold a hearing on or after June 23. He named eight Republicans and three Democrats to the committee. Noticeably absent from the list was Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde and who has been outspoken about the need for gun restrictions.

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Abbott also announced new instructions for the Texas School Safety Center, a research center focused on campus safety and security that is statutorily responsible for auditing schools for safety processes and establishing best practices.

According to a letter Abbott sent to education officials, the governor said the San Marcos-based safety center should start conducting “random intruder detection audits,” designed to find weaknesses in campus security systems.

Uvalde school officials said Wednesday that they are working to identify safety improvements that may be needed on school campuses in the city. In addition, officials said the Robb campus would not reopen in the wake of the tragedy. Students will be enrolled elsewhere.

McLaughlin said he could not imagine the school returning to normal operations.

“I hope we tear it down to the ground,” he said. “I would never expect a teacher, a student, anyone to go walk back in that building.”

John Wagner in Washington and Eva Ruth Moravec in Austin contributed to this report.

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