This story is part of a KXAN series of reports called “Stop Mass Shootings,” providing context and exploring solutions surrounding gun violence in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans, as well as for lawmakers who are convening a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Explore all “Stop Mass Shootings” stories by clicking here.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Juan Maldonado, a former Texas Department of Public Safety sergeant, was one of the first officers to respond to the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24.
“I can’t emphasize the loss of those families that lost their loved ones,” said Maldonado, who was also close friends with Eva Mireles, one of the teachers killed. “I heard her name shouted out, we grabbed her, took her outside, started first aid.”
Termination papers issued to Maldonado by DPS stated, “on May 24, your performance was ineffective in meeting the Department’s expectation to take appropriate action during your response to the school shooting at Robb Elementary in consideration of your training, tenure, rank and outfitting.”
“I was shocked,” he said. The agency gave him the option to retire in lieu of termination. “That’s not the way I dreamed of my life or leaving a department that I loved.”
“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 went out that there were shots fired at Robb Elementary,” Maldonado said.
That friend was a Uvalde CISD officer. The call came over the CISD officer’s radio, not Maldonado’s.
Maldonado said it was not clear to him who was in charge, and that he did not receive direct commands when he got on campus – but rather, he acted on instinct.
“I was never given a specific role. My role I took upon myself was to save as many kids as I could. Provide medical treatment for the ones that were wounded. I did what my mind told me to do, and I kept myself busy the whole entire time,” he said.
Below is a transcription of a portion of our interview.
Brianna Hollis, Reporter: When you got there were there officers already inside?
Maldonado: When I got to the west end that I recall yes there were officers already in the hallway.
Hollis: Why didn’t you go inside?
Maldonado: I did open the door to go in, but my primary focus now was there are officers already in the hallway, I need to set up a perimeter. Now, if I knew the shooter was still active where I could see him or the officers were gonna go in I would have joined them and gone in. But those weren’t the circumstances.
Hollis: So you didn’t know the shooter was in there with children?
Maldonado: I didn’t even know there was children at that time. I just knew there was a shooter somewhere in that hallway until they said he was in the classroom.
Maldonado said he did not have a reason to believe this was an active shooter scenario.
“So I was thinking, I need to set a perimeter on the outside, I’m not gonna be any good just standing inside,” said Maldonado. “The officers had gotten shot at, now that I can recall, so to me the situation was a barricaded subject.”
If the shooting had been called an active shooter versus a barricaded subject, policy would have required officers to enter the classroom and stop the shooter immediately.
“I took some keys into the hallway to see if there’s a master key, I took it from one of the officers, there’s a master key somewhere so I took it in there,” said Maldonado. “I noticed on the south end, some of the officers were smashing windows and taking kids out. So I started smashing windows on the north end. Broke one of the windows to try to open it, and the look on the faces of those kids jumping out is something I’ll never forget.”
He told KXAN, given the information he had while on scene, “I feel like I did everything I could to the best of my ability, and I felt my training – what my mind was telling me to do that day.”
Maldonado said it’s standard protocol for DPS to assist on scenes in other jurisdictions but not to take over.
Senator Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, pointed to a systemic issue versus individual responsibility regarding the response to Robb Elementary.
“The State of Texas failed Uvalde’s children and teachers on May 24, because of years of neglect that left our community ill-prepared to deal with disaster,” he said in a statement o KXAN.
Maldonado’s termination papers from DPS address violations related to conduct and competence, but do not cite specific examples. We asked DPS what would have been appropriate action for Maldonado to take. We have not yet heard back.