Texas

Former traffic police sergeant spoke about the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde

This story is part of a series of KXAN reports called “Stop Mass Shootings” that provide context and explore solutions to gun violence following the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans as well as legislators who are meeting a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Read all the Stop the Mass Shooting stories by clicking here.

Austin (KXAN) — Juan Maldonado, a former Texas Department of Public Safety sergeant, was one of the first officers involved in the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalda.

The gunman killed 19 students and two teachers.

“I cannot stress the loss of those families who have lost their loved ones,” said Maldonado, who was also a close friend of Eva Mireles, one of the teachers killed. “I heard her name being called out, we grabbed her, took her outside, started first aid.”

Dismissal papers issued to Maldonado by DPS stated, “On May 24, your performance did not meet the Department’s expectations of taking appropriate action during your response to the school shooting at Robb Elementary School, given your training, tenure, rank and equipment.”

“I was shocked,” he said. The agency gave him the option of resigning instead of being fired. “It’s not something I dreamed about in my life or about leaving the department I loved.”

During a podcast with the Texas Municipal Police Association, he opened up about feeling abandoned by the DPS.

Maldonado account

“I was in my office that morning, I told one of my friends to come into my office, I wanted to show him something. That’s when the call came in that Robb’s elementary school had been shot at,” Maldonado said.

Juan Maldonado, a former traffic police sergeant, spoke exclusively to KXAN about his experience in responding to the mass shooting in Uvalda.

This friend was a CISD officer Uvalde. The call came on the CISD officer’s radio, not Maldonado’s.

Maldonado said it was unclear to him who was in charge and that he did not receive direct commands when he entered campus, but rather acted on instinct.

“I was never given a specific role. My role, which I took on, was to save as many children as possible. Provide medical assistance to the wounded. I did what my mind told me and was busy all the time,” he said.

Below is a transcript of part of our interview.

Brianna Hollis, reporter: Were there officers already inside when you got there?
Maldonado: When I got to the West End, I remember that there were already officers in the corridor.
Hollis: Why didn’t you come inside?
Maldonado: I opened the door to enter, but now I’m focused on the fact that the officers are already in the corridor, I need to establish a perimeter. Now, if I knew that the shooter was still active where I could see him, or that the officers were about to come in, I would join them and go inside. But these were not the circumstances.
Hollis: So you didn’t know the shooter was there with the kids?
Maldonado: At the time, I didn’t even know there were children. I just knew there was a shooter in the hallway until they told me he was in class.

Maldonado said he had no reason to believe it was an active shooter scenario.

“So I thought I need to set up a perimeter outside, I won’t be of any use if I just stand inside,” Maldonado said. “Officers were shot at, as far as I remember, so for me the situation was a barricade topic.”

If shooting were called an active shooter against a barricaded subject, the policy would require officers to enter the classroom and stop the shooter immediately.

“I took some keys to the hallway to see if there was a skeleton key, I took it from one of the officers, there is a skeleton key somewhere, so I took it there,” Maldonado said. “I noticed that in the southern part, the police were breaking windows and taking the children out. So I started smashing the windows on the north side. I broke one of the windows trying to open it, and the look on the faces of these children jumping out of it, I will never forget.

He told KXAN, given the information he received at the scene, “I feel like I did the best I could to the best of my ability, and I felt my preparation was what my mind was telling me to do that day.”

Maldonado said the standard protocol for DPS is to help at the scene in other jurisdictions but not take responsibility.

Senator Roland Gutierrez, Democrat of San Antonio, pointed to a systemic problem rather than an individual responsibility regarding the response to Robb Elementary.

“The state of Texas let down Uvalde’s children and teachers on May 24 due to years of neglect that has left our community ill-prepared for natural disasters,” he said in a statement to KXAN.

Maldonado’s DPS dismissal papers address conduct and incapacitation violations, but do not provide specific examples. We asked DPS what action Maldonado could take. We haven’t received a response yet.

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