Unlocked doors were 'first line of defense' at Uvalde school

  • 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.

    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. Associated Press

  • Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw uses photos of doors to present what happened regarding the keys and doors during the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas to the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans during the hearing at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tuesday, June 21, 2022.  (Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

    Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw uses photos of doors to present what happened regarding the keys and doors during the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas to the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans during the hearing at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Associated Press

  • FILE - A back door at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman entered through to get into a classroom in last week's shooting, is seen in the distance in Uvalde, Texas, Monday, May 30, 2022.

    FILE - A back door at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman entered through to get into a classroom in last week's shooting, is seen in the distance in Uvalde, Texas, Monday, May 30, 2022. Associated Press

  • Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw shows how an interior door in Robb Elementary School failed to lock securely to the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans during the hearing at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. The hearing was held to examine the recent school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. (Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

    Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw shows how an interior door in Robb Elementary School failed to lock securely to the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans during the hearing at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. The hearing was held to examine the recent school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. (Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Associated Press

  • Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw shows how an interior door in Robb Elementary School failed to lock securely to the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans during the hearing at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. The hearing was held to examine the recent school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. (Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

    Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw shows how an interior door in Robb Elementary School failed to lock securely to the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans during the hearing at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. The hearing was held to examine the recent school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. (Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Associated Press

  • Photos of doors from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, are used 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.

    Photos of doors from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, are used 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. Associated Press

  • Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw uses maps and graphics to present a timeline of the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, during a hearing , Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed.  (Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

    Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw uses maps and graphics to present a timeline of the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, during a hearing , Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed. (Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Associated Press

  • 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.

    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. Associated Press

  • Police officers and others listen to a hearing at the state capitol relating to last month's mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed.

    Police officers and others listen to a hearing at the state capitol relating to last month's mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed. Associated Press

  • A back door at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman entered through to get into a classroom in last week's shooting, is photographed, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.

    A back door at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman entered through to get into a classroom in last week's shooting, is photographed, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Associated Press

  • A back door at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman entered through to get into a classroom in last week's shooting, is seen, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.

    A back door at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman entered through to get into a classroom in last week's shooting, is seen, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/22/2022 7:19 PM

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, 'œyour 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 'œzero 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.

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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 'œwalked 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 'œastonished" 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.

'œShouldn'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.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

'œThis 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.

'œTo me," Stephens said, 'œthere'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.

'œLocking 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.

'œThat school," he said of Robb Elementary, 'œI 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 'œunacceptable" and urged schools to fix busted doors and retrofit doors that only lock from the outside while students are on summer break.

'œThe 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. 'œThose 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.

'œLock 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 'œabsolutely" 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.

'œWe 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.

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

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