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Door design, human error allowed shooter to walk into Robb Elementary, DPS says

Officials say the gunman entered Robb through an unlocked exterior door, then entered Classroom 111 through a door that could not properly lock.

UVALDE, Texas — A series of structural flaws allowed a gunman easy access to two Robb Elementary classrooms on May 24, law enforcement officials and experts told lawmakers.

The shooter murdered 21 people with an AR-15-style rifle he'd purchased just days after he turned 18. 

On Tuesday, Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw said the school's door lock system "makes no sense at all." Lawmakers expressed concern that thousands of Texas campuses may feature the same, problematic design. 

Credit: KENS
An example of classroom doors inside Robb Elementary. Note: These are not the classrooms where the shooting occurred.

After spotting the armed 18-year-old outside the school on May 24, a teacher raced inside and slammed shut an exterior door. Her attorney told the San Antonio Express-News she assumed the door would lock when it closed. 

A faculty member should've adjusted the door to lock upon closure earlier in the day, McCraw said, but no one set the automatic lock on May 24. 

"Someone consciously made a decision that it was okay to have that as a non-locking door that day?" Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, asked.

"Yessir," McCraw answered. 

Teachers told investigators that same exterior door and one other frequently remained unlocked, McCraw added.

"We forget safety and security is inconvenient," Texas School Safety Center director Kathy Martinez-Prather testified. "It's common practice at school districts to do things like that."

Credit: KENS 5
The entrance the gunman used to go inside Robb Elementary on May 24.

But doors at Robb Elementary only lock from the outside, meaning teachers could not tell whether those entrances were secured without going outside and trying to enter themselves. 

"What is the logic behind having a door like that?" Perry asked. 

"I can't explain it," McCraw said. "This is ridiculous and inexcusable."

The building's classroom doors work in the same manner. Teachers could not lock an intruder out. Instead, someone outside the room would have to lock in teachers and students. 

But Room 111, where the shooter opened fire, didn't have a working locking mechanism at all. The lock's bolt did not fit the strike plate attached to the door frame. 

McCraw said a teacher told investigators he'd reported the problem to school administrators prior to the shooting. 

Credit: KENS 5
The entrance the gunman used to go inside Robb Elementary on May 24.

The shooter attended fourth-grade classes in one of the rooms he opened fire on. Rooms 111 and 112 are connected via a Jack-and-Jill-style door. 

"When the school went into lockdown... in reality, it's a myth," said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. "There is no school lockdown at Robb Elementary because the doors can't be locked from the inside and the external doors are open."

Martinez-Prather told lawmakers that "many" campuses use similar door designs. Perry worried the mechanism is the "lock of choice" in older schools. 

"To have it where a teacher cannot secure it from the inside is unconscionable," the  senator added.

McCraw noted that, had the doors been locked, the gunman could've shot out glass windows next to the exterior door and inside the classroom doors, reached his hand inside, and popped the doors open. 

Neither set of window panes were reinforced. 

Lawmakers focused their questions on door-lock design. Texas Education Agency head Mike Morath could not say whether the interior-locking design is mandated for new schools. 

He also told lawmakers the state's newly-amended minimum facility guidelines only apply to buildings under construction or renovation. 

"We are in a process of internally drafting something... which would apply to every single school facility in the state, whether leased or owned - whether it was built in 1900 or 2022," he said. 

He estimated there are 340,000 exterior doors leading into schools across Texas.

"We are moving with a great deal of speed on this," he said.

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