Uvalde, TX – Audio recordings from the day of the Robb Elementary School massacre revealed that a senior officer who responded to the building was aware that children were trapped inside and begging to be rescued, but he failed to take action to save them from the gunman.
Uvalde Police Department (UPD) Lieutenant Mariano Pargas was acting chief of the department when the school shooting took place on May 24.
He was the fifth law enforcement officer to enter the school hallway during the attack, CNN reported.
According to a scathing 77-page report released by a Texas House of Representatives investigative committee in July, 376 law enforcement officers responded to the school as the 18-year-old gunman carried out his attack inside a fourth-grade classroom, the Associated Press reported.
It took police 77 minutes to storm the classroom and fatally shoot the gunman.
Nineteen children and two adults were murdered in the massacre.
The delayed and chaotic law enforcement response to the mass shooting has been blamed on a lack of leadership and communication failures, CNN reported.
Many officers said radio transmissions were not getting through and that they had no idea children were calling 911 from inside the classroom, begging for help.
But a recently-uncovered audio recording and an analysis of newly-obtained video footage has revealed that Lt. Pargas called the UPD dispatch center for more information after dispatchers sent out an alert over the radio that 10-year-old Khloie Torres had called to report she was inside a room “full of victims,” CNN reported.
The recording was reportedly leaked to CNN by sources close to the investigation.
Torres called 911 at approximately 12:10 p.m. and told the dispatcher she was in classroom number 112, the recording revealed.
“Please hurry,” the fourth-grader said. “There’s a lot of dead bodies.”
Torres was still on the line with the dispatcher when the information was relayed to officers over the radio, CNN reported.
Lt. Pargas didn’t bring his radio with him when he showed up at the scene, but one of his detectives relayed the information to him at 12:12 p.m.
“Full of victims, child called 911 saying the room’s full of victims,” the detective said, according to bodycam footage. “The room is full of victims. Child 911, child 911 call.”
The lieutenant took the detective’s radio and headed inside the building to where officers were stationed at the end of the hallway, CNN reported.
“A child just called that they have victims in there,” he said before walking away.
Lt. Pargas called the dispatch center for additional details about six minutes after dispatchers first got on the line with the terrified little girl, CNN reported.
“The calls you got in from the … from one of the students, what did they say?” he asked the dispatcher in the recording.
“OK, Khloie’s going to be, it’s Khloie. She’s in Room 112, Mariano, 112,” the dispatcher responded, according to CNN.
Lt. Pargas then asked how many people were still alive in the classroom.
“Eight to nine are still alive. She’s not too sure … She’s not too sure how many are actually DOA or possibly injured. We’re trying …” the dispatcher told him.
“Okay, okay thanks,” the lieutenant responded before hanging up, according to CNN.
Security footage showed Lt. Pargas walking into the school hallway, where he mentioned the presence of injured victims while talking to a U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) officer at 12:17 p.m., CNN reported.
A Texas Ranger was seen talking to the interim police chief about organizing the flow of information just one minute later, but Lt. Pargas did not say anything to him about the injured children who were in need of rescue, according to the news outlet.
Lt. Pargas was not seen re-entering the hallway outside the classroom where officers were gathering before the room was finally breached about 34 minutes later, CNN reported.
The lieutenant has also been identified as the officer who escorted UCISDPD Officer Ruben Ruiz from the school after the officer repeatedly alerted them that his own wife, 44-year-old Eva Mireles, had contacted him from inside her classroom and told him she had been shot, CNN reported.
Officer Ruiz tried to get to his dying wife during the mass shooting, but was held back and eventually removed from the school building, video footage showed.
Mireles did not survive.
Lt. Pargas was interviewed by a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent and a Texas Ranger two days later, but he did not mention that he had knowledge that there were children inside the classroom with the gunman when the massacre occurred.
Lt. Pargas was interviewed again in June – this time about the 911 calls that were placed from inside the classroom, CNN reported.
“I don’t remember. I really don’t,” he allegedly said. “I know somebody said, and I’m not sure if it was dispatch or somebody, I remember somebody saying that they thought there was a kid calling and calling dispatch that he was inside.”
Investigators asked the lieutenant if he relayed the information about the victims being inside the room with the gunman.
“I’m almost sure I did to the people that were lined up [in the hallway],” he responded, according to CNN.
The acting police chief insisted he did not know with certainty that there were children in the room with the shooter.
“We didn’t know who or what was in there because he was so quiet. We had no idea,” Lt. Pargas said. “The last thing we thought was that he had actually shot the kids. We thought he had shot up in the air, broken the lights. We had no idea what was behind those doors.”
Lt. Pargas said he also didn’t ever consider himself as being in charge of the police response – especially when he saw Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department (UCISDPD) Chief Pete Arredondo at the scene, CNN reported.
“I figured this is school property and we’re here to assist pretty much. That’s normally what we do – when something happens in the school, we pretty much assist the school because it’s their jurisdiction,” the lieutenant told investigators in June.
“I don’t think I stopped to say, ‘well, who’s giving orders or who’s in command?’” he added. “We’re just trying to see what we could do as fast as we could.”
The lieutenant was placed on administrative leave after the investigative committee’s report was released in July, the Associated Press reported.
“This administrative leave is to investigate whether Lt. Pargas was responsible for taking command on May 24th, what specific actions Lt. Pargas took to establish that command, and whether it was even feasible given all the agencies involved and other possible policy violations,” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said in a statement at the time, according to CNN.
Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw has placed blame for the delayed law enforcement response to the massacre squarely on now-former Chief Arredondo, who the director alleged was the “on-scene commander.”
Chief Arredondo has said he believed he was in the role of a front-line responder and that someone else was commanding the larger police response to the situation.
He was ultimately fired over the delayed police response to the massacre.
The entire UCISDPD was placed on an indefinite suspension last month.
Lt. Pargas, who was reelected as an Uvalde County commissioner last week, told CNN on Monday that he could not comment on the situation due to the advice of his attorneys.
“I want to defend myself. I really do,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that I can explain, that I would love to defend myself.”
“And that’s the problem we’re having right now … the victims and everybody’s saying everything they want to say, but we can’t say nothing because we were told not to talk to, you know, we can’t say anything cause we’re still under that, not to talk to any, media or anything,” he added.
Lt. Pargas said he isn’t fearful of the situation or how he handled it.
“It’s not that we’re afraid because there’s nothing to be afraid of,” he told CNN. “We did what we could, but the thing is that we’ve been told that we can’t (speak publicly).”