As mass shootings continue to prolificate across the U.S., the misinformation swirling around them, based either on bad information, political persuasion, greed, or policy slant, so many Americans are reeling from the continued violence.
“I’m worried that facts alone may not be enough to combat misinformation,” said Glenwood Springs journalists Peter Baumann, during a Colorado News Collaborative (COLab) discussion among COLab members this week. In the case of this most recent massacre of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Texas, the horror hit us all. But the first explanation by law enforcement was quickly discovered to have some serious flaws in response to an active shooter situation, the timeline, judgement calls, and even the basic facts of who was on campus and what happened, first, second, and third.
Sometimes what at first seems true, isn’t
Here’s the thing, what some might call misinformation, due to the situation, the stress, or the need to get out what is known at the moment, others might call disinformation; purposeful shifting of the facts to create the first framework of an event. It’s standard marketing practice. It’s also what may lie behind the words that often preface a news story; “police said…”
Whichever it is, in this situation, some of what was first reported turns out not to be true, and in fact was tragically wrong,
Fiction: The school resource officer confronted the gunman and shots were fired, but the killer was wearing a bulletproof vest, so the resource officer didn’t aim for that area. Law enforcement was quick to put out their version of events, including they were on-site within minutes, and made an immediate show of force.
Fact: There was no school resource officer (SRO) on site. When the SRO arrived, he drove right by the gunman and instead confronted a teacher, leaving the gunman to enter through a back door.
Second fact: the killer was wearing a military-style protective vest, but not one with the bulletproof Kevlar plates inserted. So if law enforcement had actually fired at his body, rather than his head, they might have hit him and stopped him before he got into the school. They didn’t try.
Fiction: The Uvalde Police Department and Sheriff’s Department arrived within minutes and immediately charged into the school.
Fact: The Uvalde Police Dept. and the Sheriff’s Officers did not immediately charge into the school. The stories of what actually happened — and the timeline associated with this massacre continued to change, and change, and change again. Two police officers arrived after the chase that ended in the 18-year-old killer Salvador Ramos crashing his truck into a ditch outside the school. Then he grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a nearby funeral home who ran away uninjured. The two officers fired at him, and he fired back injuring them both. But this was outside the school. Then some 19 police officers entered the school
Second fact: With little children dialing 9-1-1 from inside classroom 112 begging for help, 19 police officers including the Chief of the School Police who somehow had become the incident commander, even though he lacked the training of the federal officers who were on scene, stood outside that classroom door — and waited. They waited for more than 47 minutes, instead of breaking down the door, they waited for a janitor to arrive with a key under a false assumption that the gunman was barricaded alone — in that classroom, as children called and died.
Fiction: Law enforcement was sensitive to the terror of the parents, and explained they had to wait for a tactical unit to arrive.
Fact: The local police force has a SWAT team, but they weren’t on duty that day. As they waited, parents came from every direction, pleading for officers to go in. Instead of going in, officers outside focused their guns and tasers on keeping the parents of the children from going in to get their children. Reports of how long they waited, have varied from 40 minutes to more than an hour. Law enforcement even took down one of the parents who they deemed a threat while the parents pleaded and cried for them to do something to rescue their children. The video in this Twitter thread shows the incident: https://mobile.twitter.com/paleofuture/status/1529652093354536961. Another parent said she was handcuffed.
Fiction: Law enforcement is now trained to handle school active shooter situations by going in, rather than standing back as happened during the 1999 Columbine shootings here in Colorado. They now go in immediately, aware that lapsed time can mean more deaths.
Fact: The point above is considered 21st-century handling of active shooter situations and theoretically this is what should have happened.
But as reported on Thursday by the Associated Press, law enforcement did not make use of the decades of experience gained since Columbine, and in fact their behavior may have further endangered the children:
“Parents urged police on the scene to follow the shooter into the school after seeing him rush inside with his rifle. When they didn’t, some parents attempted to enter themselves, but the police stopped them. A video from the scene shows one cop pinning a person to the ground while another brandishes a stun gun. One of the children who survived told local news station KENS 5 that an officer instructed them to yell “help” if they needed it — and one of the kids who did was discovered and killed by the shooter.
Fiction: Just adding more law enforcement officers and/or arming teachers will stop school shootings.
Fact: The Uvalde City School District has its own police department — staffed with a chief, five cops, and a security guard and the town police have a SWAT team. According to The Intercept: “Despite the school and the police’s best efforts, an 18-year-old high school student was able to purchase an AR-15 firearm — as soon as he became of age, in a state that does not require a license to carry — and use it to massacre 19 elementary school children and two of their teachers in Uvalde. And although the shooter had crashed his car and been ‘engaged by law enforcement,’ before entering the school, he still made it inside.”
What have we learned in the 23 years since the 1999 Columbine shootings?
We have learned to be shocked by this escalating violence, to grieve time and time again, and to beg for something to be done. But in the end, what we are learning most of all as a society is to normalize this violence in a way that no other nation on earth has done.
The funerals for the dozen people gunned down in a racist-fueled attack on a Buffalo supermarket aren’t even done. On Tuesday, little children and two teachers (both mothers of young children) were massacred in a Texas elementary school. Their bodies were so badly torn apart by weapons-grade assault guns intended for war; weapons intended to shred bodies. Their parents have had to submit DNA tests to be matched with the parts of their children’s bodies. There wasn’t enough left to identify them by their red sweatshirt, their polka-dot shorts, or their pink hair ribbons.
If that description shocks you — good. It should.
Something surely needs to shock this country into action to finally “do something.” But with officials in the sports world, Democrats in and out of the government, and the vast majority of the general population crying out for that “something” — bills have been waiting on it for years, many passed by Democrats in the U.S. House. Nine out of ten Americans want to see background checks for gun purchases. Two thirds of the country want to see gun purchases licensed and training provided. Just renewing the U.S. ban on assault weapon sales, which was allowed to expire, would help.
Featured image: A variety of assault rifles, which are on display at the 2022 NRA convention only a few hundred miles away from the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Image courtesy of the Violence Policy Center.