Uvalde: would you have taken the shot?

Here’s an excerpt from the Uvalde shooting interim report about one of the first officers on the scene at the Uvalde shooting. Based on the timeline, I’d guess that the event described below occurred around 11:32 AM, just after the suspect fired shots outside of the school, but before he entered the school.

One of those officers testified to the Committee that, based on the sound of echoes, he believed the shooter had fired in their direction. That officer saw children dressed in bright colors in the playground, all running away. Then, at a distance exceeding 100 yards, he saw a person dressed in black, also running away. Thinking that the person dressed in black was the attacker, he raised his rifle and asked Sgt. Coronado for permission to shoot. Sgt. Coronado testified he heard the request, and he hesitated. He knew there were children present. He considered the risk of shooting a child, and he quickly recalled his training that officers are responsible for every round that goes downrange.

Interim report, p42

Should the officer have fired? Here’s the ALERRT report’s assessment (emphasis mine)

Third, a Uvalde PD officer reported that he was at the crash site and observed the suspect carrying a rifle prior to the suspect entering the west hall exterior door. The UPD officer was armed with a rifle and sighted in to shoot the attacker; however, he asked his supervisor for permission to shoot. The UPD officer did not hear a response and turned to get confirmation from his supervisor. When he turned back to address the suspect, the suspect had already entered the west hall exterior door at 11:33:00. The officer was justified in using deadly force to stop the attacker. Texas Penal Code § 9.32, DEADLY FORCE IN DEFENSE OF PERSON states, an individual is justified in using deadly force when the individual reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent the commission of murder (amongst other crimes). In this instance, the UPD officer would have heard gunshots and/or reports of gunshots and observed an individual approaching the school building armed with a rifle. A reasonable officer would conclude in this case, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that use of deadly force was warranted. Furthermore, the UPD officer was approximately 148 yards from the west hall exterior door. One-hundred and forty-eight yards is well within the effective range of an AR-15 platform. The officer did comment that he was concerned that if he missed his shot, the rounds could have penetrated the school and injured students. We also note that current State of Texas standards for patrol rifle qualifications do not require officers to fire their rifles from more than 100 yards away from the target. It is, therefore, possible that the officer had never fired his rifle at a target that was that far away. Ultimately, the decision to use deadly force always lies with the officer who will use the force. If the officer was not confident that he could both hit his target and of his backdrop if he missed, he should not have fired.

had the UPD officer engaged the suspect with his rifle, he may have been able to neutralize, or at least distract, the suspect preventing him from entering the building.

ALERRT report, pp13–14

In hindsight, it sounds like that officer made the wrong call. If he had acted, perhaps he could have stopped the attacker from entering the school and slaughtering children.

If you’re thinking “if it was me in place of that officer, I would have taken the shot”, then, congratulations, you would have killed an innocent man (emphasis mine):

The officers testified to the Committee that it turned out that the person they had seen dressed in black was not the attacker, but instead it was Robb Elementary Coach Abraham Gonzales.

In a subsequent DPS interview, the officer in question described the person he saw not as “the shooter” but as “a person in black toward the back of the school, but kids were behind that individual.” DPS interview (June 13, 2022). These DPS interview reports do not include or support the detail suggested in the ALERRT report that a Uvalde police officer “observed the suspect carrying a rifle outside the west hall entry.” Based on its review of evidence to date, this Committee concludes that it is more likely that the officer saw Coach Gonzales dressed in black near a group of schoolchildren than that there was an actual opportunity to shoot the attacker from over 100 yards away, as assumed by ALERRT’s partial report.

Interim report, p43

This is yet another reminder that incident responders are faced with making time-pressured risk trade-offs under uncertainty. There are risks associated with both action and inaction, you don’t have enough information to make a fully informed decision, and you can’t take an arbitrary amount of time to make a decision, because the situation can change rapidly.

If you want to make sense of how responders behave in a situation like Uvalde, you need to understand what it an incident looks like from the inside.

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