AUSTIN (KXAN/Nexstar) — Internal records obtained by KXAN show the two highest-ranking Texas Rangers said a suspended Ranger should not face repercussions for his actions after the Robb Elementary mass school shooting in Uvalde — and also provide new details of the widespread misinformation between officials during the response.
The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Texas Rangers, sent a letter to suspended Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell on Jan. 5 stating its intent to terminate him for not “conforming to department standards” during the response to the massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead. DPS Director Steven McCraw signed the termination letter, which was obtained by KXAN.
Additionally, the letter said Kindell “took no steps to influence the law enforcement response toward an active shooter posture,” and that “constitutes a failure to perform your duty competently.” KXAN reached out to Kindell’s attorney who declined to comment on the matter as Kindell’s termination is still pending.
McCraw’s determination went against the recommendations of the chief and assistant chief of the Texas Rangers who found there is a “lack of evidence” to suggest Kindell should have acted differently on May 24, 2022.
The investigation “falls well short of demonstrating that Kindell failed to recognize and make inquiries to determine the situation — to the degree of negligence or incompetence,” Texas Rangers Assistant Chief Corey Lain wrote in a memo obtained by KXAN.
Multiple DPS sources who requested to remain anonymous told KXAN it’s highly unusual for the department to go against its top leaders’ recommendations.
KXAN reached out to DPS and asked why the decision to terminate Kindell was made against his supervisor’s recommendation. DPS told KXAN “the department does not discuss pending personnel matters.”
Kindell’s superiors weren’t the only officials who disagreed with the actions taken by DPS.
Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee appeared to have questioned disciplinary action against Kindell — according to a letter from the DPS Inspector General sent to Busbee, which KXAN also obtained.
“It has come to my attention you have expressed concern with the Department’s administrative suspension of Texas Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell,” Inspector General Phillip Ayala wrote to Busbee. “This investigation does not include any apparent misconduct or matters related to Ranger Kindell’s integrity.”
Calls for accountability have been widespread in the aftermath of the massacre, in which responding officers took more than 77 minutes to breach the classroom and take down the gunman — all the while survivors were inside, some even making several 911 calls begging operators to send in police.
KXAN spoke with Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin about the information KXAN obtained and the actions taken against Kindell and another DPS officer.
“I think they’re just sacrificial lambs, that they were the easiest to pick out and the easiest to let go,” McLaughlin said after learning about Kindell.
McLaughlin said even he is unable to get all the records and information about the response that day, due to the Uvalde DA’s ongoing investigation.
“If I’ve got officers that need to be addressed or let go or disciplined, then it needs to be done,” he said. “Until I can tell what my officers did and I can prove what they did, I can’t hold them accountable.”
According to the Office of Inspector General Report of Investigation, Kindell was never informed by his supervisors nor the chief’s office about “what he did wrong during his response” to the Robb Elementary massacre. He even confided in other Rangers, who “could not offer advice on what he could have done differently … to obtain a different outcome than what occurred.”
“Ranger Kindell explained he was not clear on what misconduct he was being accused of during the administrative investigation,” the report read.
‘I find no fault’ in Kindell’s actions on May 24, 2022
Kindell — a veteran officer with more than 20 years of experience at DPS and no negative information on his file — was working from home on May 24 when he received a phone call from the Uvalde District Attorney’s Office Chief Investigator informing him about a possible active school shooter, according to the OIG report obtained by KXAN.
According to the OIG report, Kindell contacted Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Donald Page who confirmed “there was an unknown individual at Robb Elementary, armed with a rifle, and actively shooting inside the school building,” and requested Kindell’s assistance as well as all DPS assets.
Kindell informed his commanding officer of the developing situation and responded to Robb Elementary.
According to DPS reports, there were more than 50 officers on-scene when Kindell arrived, 41 of whom were in the school, including:
- Three Uvalde CISD officers, including Chief Pete Arredondo
- Seven Uvalde PD officers, including acting Chief Mariano Pargas
- Eight Border Patrol agents
- Four DPS officers
- 19 officers from various other assisting agencies
“Kindell, trusting the assessment of the 50+ officers already involved in the situation before his arrival, believed that the situation was a barricaded subject,” Lain wrote.
Lain went on to say “I find no fault” in Kindell’s actions, citing a component of ALERRT training that highlights the problem of what ALERRT describes as “an overconvergence of first responders and an undercoordinated deployment of these resources.”
“As more [law enforcement] responders arrive on the scene, someone should assume command of the outside of the building,” he wrote.
Lain’s 14-page memo extensively details Kindell’s actions as told by interviews from multiple officers, bodycam footage and call logs. He cites an October investigation from the Texas Office of Inspector General, related to a personnel complaint filed against Kindell.
“Kindell, given the information available at the time of this incredibly chaotic scene, he responded to the scene and did what I would expect any other Ranger would do,” Lain wrote. “Kindell inserted himself into the center of the incident response, identified a critical need in operation, and performed that function.”
One of Lain’s main arguments in the memo is that Kindell’s decisions and actions were centered around one critical and inaccurate assumption — that officers already on scene at Robb Elementary were responding to a barricaded, not active, shooter.
In the Robb Elementary Special House Investigative Committee report, members detail the difference in protocol between an “active shooter” situation and a “barricaded subject.”
“An active shooter scenario differs from a barricaded-subject scenario in that law enforcement officers responding to an active shooter are trained to prioritize the safety of innocent victims over the safety of law enforcement responders,” the July 17 report said. “At first, the first responders did not have ‘reliable evidence’ about whether there were injured victims inside Rooms 111 and 112, although circumstantial evidence strongly suggested that possibility, including the fact that the attacker had fired many rounds inside classrooms at a time when students were in attendance.”
“Due to the lack of effective communication and the existence of conflicting reports, it is easy to see how very few, if any, of the officers arriving at the scene had an accurate understanding of the situation,” Lain wrote. “There is no evidence to suggest that Kindell was negligent in recognizing or following up on clear information that the scene was an active shooter event.”
‘Barricaded subject’ misinformation
By detailing Kindell’s actions that day according to the OIG investigation, Lain’s memo offers direct insight into the miscommunication amongst the 376 officers responding to the tragedy.
In several instances throughout the response that day, officers on-scene communicated faulty information to others that were based on assumptions, according to the memo.
Some of those inaccurate details shared included speculation the gunman had committed suicide and that then-Uvalde CISD chief Pete Arredondo was inside Classroom 111 and 112, negotiating with the suspect.
About 20 minutes after the first teacher called 911 to report a man with a gun, a critical piece of misinformation was communicated to Kindell before he arrived on scene at approximately 12 p.m. According to call logs provided in the memo, a dispatcher from DPS Del Rio Communications told Kindell about a “barricaded subject” at Robb Elementary.
“OK, just a quick little update on what we’ve been given by Border Patrol advising that it is a male subject, unknown description, he is armed with an AR-15 — still shooting — and barricaded in an unknown area,” the dispatcher said at 11:49 a.m.
According to the OIG report, Kindell arrived on scene at approximately 11:57 a.m. In later interviews, Kindell stated “nobody could tell me what was going on. Nobody really knew.”
From that point on, several officers on the scene reiterated the misinformation about it being a barricaded subject.
Kindell told investigators he heard “various radio broadcasts” describing the gunman as “contained, detained, barricaded, barricaded in an office,” and that Arredondo was “in the room” negotiating with the shooter.
“Kindell’s impression that the situation was not an active shooter was further confirmed when he arrived and saw many police officers standing around with no focus, direction or urgency,” Lain wrote in his memo. “The scene was oddly quiet. This was not what Kindell expected to see when he arrived at an ‘active’ scene. No shots were being fired, no one was yelling, and no one was running to a specific area to stop an attacker.”
After Kindell assessed the scene, he met with a Uvalde PD officer to get a “better understanding” of what was transpiring. According to Kindell, the police officer told him there had not been shots fired in more than “10 or 15 minutes” — saying there was a series of gunshots followed by a pause, a single gunshot, and then a lull in gunfire.
The UPD officer then speculated “the suspect might have committed suicide,” according to Kindell’s recollection of their conversation. It is unclear from the memo what time the two conversed and who else received this misinformation.
Additionally, the OIG report details numerous instances in which Kindell attempted to understand who was in command of the scene.
In interviews, Kindell said he questioned police leaders about who was the incident commander. Both Uvalde County Sheriff Reuben Nolasco and then-acting chief of UPD Lt. Mariano Pargas told Kindell that Arredondo was the incident commander.
Despite this, officers on scene appeared confused about who was in charge.
Sgt. Page later told a Texas Ranger investigator that he believed “no one was in command of this incident.”
Kindell’s current employment status
McCraw’s Jan. 5 letter informing Kindell of his preliminary determination to terminate his employment states Kindell has the opportunity to meet with McCraw to respond to the allegations against him and provide information on his behalf as long as Kindell requests the meeting with McCraw’s assistant within five days of receiving this letter.
“The burden is entirely upon you to come forward and present evidence to me,” the letter states.
KXAN confirmed with multiple DPS sources that Kindell requested this meeting over four months ago, and McCraw has yet to provide Kindell the opportunity to defend his career and reputation.
DPS declined to answer KXAN’s question about why McCraw has not met with Kindell.
In the event McCraw ultimately upholds his preliminary determination to terminate, Kindell will have the opportunity to appeal McCraw’s decision to the Public Safety Commission.
Other responding officers who faced disciplinary action
Former Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo was the first law enforcement official to be fired over the “chaotic and uncoordinated” police response that day. Through his attorney, Arredondo has said he did not know he was the designated incident commander for the response, despite the UCISD active shooter policy “directing its police chief to assume command.”
UPD acting chief of police Lt. Mariano Pargas resigned from his position in November, days before the city was set to take a vote on his employment.
Of the 91 DPS officers who responded to Robb Elementary on May 24, seven were put under investigation for their response to the shooting. Actions were taken against two officers, Ranger Ryan Kindell and Sgt. Juan Maldonado. Maldonado was terminated.
A third DPS employee, Trooper Crimson Elizondo, retired and then went to work as a police officer with UCISD. Elizondo was fired from the district in October, after media reports revealed her new employment with UCISD, despite the fact that she had been under investigation by DPS for her response to the shooting.
After terminating Elizondo, UCISD suspended its entire police department and placed two top officials, Lt. Miguel Hernandez and Student Services Director Ken Mueller, on administrative leave. Mueller has since retired.
McCraw told KXAN in February that no additional Rangers will face repercussions for their actions at Robb Elementary.