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(WABNEWS) — A Texas State Police captain tried to delay a law enforcement team from entering classrooms to end the Robb Elementary School massacre and is now among those under investigation after a account from someone at the scene that he ordered his officers to stay out of the school in the initial response to the shooting, sources tell WABNEWS. WABNEWS has obtained a new audio recording of Capt. Joel Betancourt orders a strike team to wait, more than 70 minutes after the attack. Betancourt says that he thought a more capable team was on the way. Separately, police memos highlight criticism of Betancourt, a 15-year veteran of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Memos written just two days after the May 24 massacre and reviewed by WABNEWS detail some of DPS’s involvement in law enforcement’s hesitant but chaotic response to the shooting in Uvalde, Texas. No action was taken against the attacker, or to help those trapped with him for 77 minutes, apart from a first approach that was aborted when he started firing. Nineteen children and two teachers lost their lives in the massacre.RELATED
“I heard someone yell, Capt. Betancourt said all DPS personnel have to be on the perimeter, not go into the building,” a DPS lieutenant stated, after writing how he had driven from about 40 miles away at speeds up to 200 km/h to reach the scene.
A DPS sergeant added in his note: “Since this was clearly against established training, we both decided to enter the building where the attacker was located.”
DPS Director Col. Steven McCraw told WABNEWS, “Yes, absolutely,” when asked if Betancourt was under investigation for telling officers not to enter the hallway. “The IG is looking into that,” McCraw said during an impromptu interview before a meeting last month.
Betancourt was interviewed multiple times immediately after the event and has since become one of seven current and former DPS officers referred for further investigation by the DPS inspector general, WABNEWS has learned from sources close to the events. they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The official told investigators he arrived at Robb Elementary School around 12:45 p.m., a few minutes before the teen assailant was killed, sources said.
“Hello, I am Captain Betancourt of the DPS. The team that is going to break in needs to be on standby. The team that is going to enter has to be prepared,” he ordered at 12:48 p.m. on May 24, as heard on the audio of a police radio transmission captured by the body cameras of several officers.
In the course of the investigation, Betancourt told investigators he had no first-hand knowledge of what was going on, including that a specialized Border Patrol tactical unit, BORTAC, was engaging the shooter, according to sources familiar with the investigation. . Betancourt said he ordered the team to stand by because he thought a more advanced unit was on the way, the sources said.
The official told agents that no one responded or followed his order, the sources said.
The memos reviewed by WABNEWS and the audio offer evidence that contradicts the official DPS narrative that its agents were never in control or issuing substantive orders. DPS Director McCraw has repeatedly criticized then-school district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo for directing the “abject failure” of the response. Arredondo has said that he did not see himself as the incident commander.
WABNEWS left messages for Betancourt by phone, email and text, but he has not responded.
Betancourt remains on active duty with DPS.
DPS declined to comment on this story.
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Two officers have reported the initial response to the shooting in which they were told not to enter the school. The officials did not say in their notes when they received that message. Betancourt told investigators he remembers telling DPS officials to stay out and form a perimeter, but says that was after he arrived and was told by Uvalde Sheriff Ruben Nolasco that there were too many people inside, according to sources. Nolasco has not responded to WABNEWS requests for comment.
The names of the DPS agents investigated have not been released. Betancourt’s involvement has been confirmed to WABNEWS by McCraw and other sources. Another of the seven, Crimson Elizondo, left DPS to work in the Uvalde school district this summer and was fired after WABNEWS revealed what she said and did on the day of the massacre.
First alerted to the shooting
Betancourt, the highest-ranking official known to be under investigation for the botched law enforcement response, told investigators he had little to do with the operation at Robb Elementary School until after the shooter was killed. sources close to the investigation told WABNEWS.
The interviews in the days immediately following the event, described to WABNEWS by various sources, offer the first direct testimony of the agents who are now being examined by the inspector general.
Betancourt told investigators he had a clear memory of being in Eagle Pass, Texas, with other officers when the first call of a shooting came in around 11:50 a.m., he said, but it was unclear how important the situation was. When the details became known, they left, Betancourt driving alone the 60 miles to Uvalde and stopping for gas, he said.
Betancourt told agents that he did not have a body camera or a driving camera recording him, according to the sources. He said he spoke with Nolasco, the Uvalde sheriff, on the phone while he was driving and that he heard a gunman was barricaded in the school with “an AK47,” the sources said.
Betancourt told investigators that he arrived around 12:45 p.m. and first assumed Nolasco was the commander on the scene, since he was there outside the school.
Later, when he saw school district police chief Arredondo inside after the shooter was killed and talked to him, he told investigators he then thought Arredondo was in charge.
Arredondo was fired by the Uvalde school board in August, and has argued that he should be reinstated.
Betancourt was asked if he had spoken to anyone about why classrooms were not being entered and said he had not, sources told WABNEWS, recalling only that there was talk of negotiating with the assailant.
The official told investigators he issued the “standby” order based on information from Nolasco and thinking a better SWAT team was on its way to the school, the sources said.
After the teen shooter was killed by the BORTAC team, Betancourt said he focused on clearing the crime scene and setting up a command post. He told investigators that he used FaceTime to show his superiors the status of the school after the massacre, the sources familiar with the interviews said.
In a follow-up interview, he said he didn’t know there were children in the building until after the break-in, WABNEWS was told.
Betancourt’s first messages about the attack
At least two officers said it was Betancourt who tipped them off to the ongoing attack at Robb Elementary School, sources familiar with the investigation told WABNEWS.
A sergeant said he had received a text message about an “active shooting” incident from Betancourt around 11:37 a.m., raising questions about Betancourt’s claim that he only became involved later.
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And Víctor Escalón, the DPS regional director for the South Texas region that includes Uvalde, said Betancourt had sent him a text message at 12:09 p.m. That text said: “Initial information of a person, possibly a teacher, with a shot in the head, an agent wounded by a bullet, the boy has an AK 47, the CNU [equipo negociador especializado] has been activated, the suspect is barricaded. Police officers who are doctors have been deployed. The drone team is on its way,” the sources said.
McCraw and other DPS leaders have refused to discuss the internal investigations or release information until the investigations are complete at the request of local prosecutor Christina Mitchell Busbee. Her criminal investigation may take years and she has said she will charge anyone who has committed a crime at Robb Elementary School, including law enforcement officers.
WABNEWS is part of a coalition of news organizations that have sued DPS over records related to the investigation, including the radio broadcasts and body camera footage mentioned in this story, which have been withheld from the media and to the public.