What does scathing Uvalde school shooting investigation say about police, others’ response?
Systemic failures included not following active shooter training, lax door locking, confusion about who was in charge, among others
The Texas House of Representatives on Sunday released its interim report on what it called the “massacre” on May 24 of 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The scathing outline of failures across multiple agencies, including the school and the school system, law enforcement and others, was provided Sunday morning to the families of those killed before its afternoon release to the public.
“Throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, families trickled into Uvalde’s civic center, where they received an advance print copy of the committee’s report. Many wore shirts with the faces of the children they lost. Vincent Salazar wore a button with a photo of his 11-year-old granddaughter, Layla, who was killed at Robb Elementary,” The Guardian reported.
Salazar said, “My hurt hasn’t stopped, and it won’t stop until the day I die. It’s a joke. Texas failed the students.”
The report seems to agree, outlining an active shooter scene where the police response was “chaos.”
The report was based on interviews with family members, witnesses, school officials, committee testimony and data recovered from the killer’s cellphone.
The document, the most comprehensive so far on the attack on Robb Elementary School, is an interim report because the investigation is ongoing, its authors wrote. “A safer environment for all Texas children is one of the ways we can honor the memory of the students and teachers murdered in Uvalde.”
It also noted that while educators and officers alike “sometimes fail at crucial moments,” it doesn’t diminish the overall good of those professions. And the report said that despite failures, the attacker was the only “villain.”
Unusual in a report of this type was a tender dedication: “The Committee submits this report with great humility and the deepest respect for the victims and their families. It is the Committee’s sincere hope that this brings some clarity for them as to the facts that happened. This report is meant to honor them. You will notice the name of the attacker is not mentioned. We also will not use his image, so as not to glorify him.”
The report also listed those killed, with a sweet description of each one of them.
The interim report includes more than a dozen conclusions about problems that, had they not existed, could have impacted the outcome. Among the findings:
- “At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety,” the report said.
“The void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon,” it noted.
- Border control efforts nearby that resulted in lockdown or security warnings had become so common that a lot of warnings were perhaps not taken seriously by school staff. And nothing in the alarm system differentiated between those “bailouts” — where someone crossing the border runs from authorities — and other possible dangers.
- Although 376 members of law enforcement were on the scene quickly, no external command center was created, no one really took charge inside and they spent roughly 73 minutes in the hallway, outside the classrooms where some victims were injured but not initially dead, before engaging the attacker.
- Communication between law enforcement inside and outside of the building was terrible, according to the report. “Notably, nobody ensured that responders making key decisions inside the building received information that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in rooms 111 and 112, and had called out for help,” the report said.
The report did note that the attacker fired at least 100 of the 142 rounds used before responders ever entered the building. It is likely, the committee said, that most of those killed died in the initial moments after he entered their classroom, so it is unclear whether breaching the classroom sooner would have saved lives. But the report said the delays were horrendous and denied any of those injured the help they needed.
“Correcting this error should have sparked greater urgency to immediately breach the classroom by any possible means, to subdue the attacker, and to deliver immediate aid to surviving victims,” the committee wrote.
- Poor internet service, lousy cellular area coverage and different ways school personnel used their phones led to some receiving the lockdown notice and others not. Many relied on word of mouth. “If the alert had reached more teachers sooner, it is likely that more could have been done to protect them and their students,” the report said.
- The school itself is 67 years old, so it lacks some of the design features that can help in an active shooter situation — which was unheard of when schools in Uvalde were originally built.
- Nobody asked the principal or the head custodian for a key to the classrooms, which may even have been unlocked. Both had the keys and both were on-site.
- Doors were left unlocked to the outside on the day of the shooting. That was part of the school culture, because of the hassle of finding someone with a key. And the door to one of the classrooms was broken; everyone knew it took extra effort to lock, but no repair order was made.
- No one took seriously the “clues” — some very direct — that the killer shared online, including the date he was planning something big. That, coupled with his known obsession with school shootings, could have alerted someone, but didn’t.
“Prior to the shooting, the attacker had no criminal history and had never been arrested. He is not known to have espoused any ideology or political views of any kind. Private individuals alone knew the many warning signals,” the report said.
Law enforcement response
The school district’s own police department, established in 2018, was nominally in charge. But Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who resigned after the massacre, said he didn’t believe he was in charge.
According to The Guardian, “Within hours of the report’s release, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced that he had placed the city police department’s acting chief, Mariano Pargas, on paid leave. McLaughlin said the city had also hired a national expert to conduct an investigation.”
While the report said there was no officer routinely assigned to be in the school, they typically visited a few times a week, walking the hallways and grounds for 15 to 45 minutes, sometimes rattling doors to see if they were locked. Teachers and staff were warned repeatedly to do so.
The report noted that responding law enforcement included 149 responders from the U.S. Border Patrol, 91 from the Texas Department of Public Safety, 25 from the Uvalde Police Department, 16 from the San Antonio Police Department (SWAT), 16 from the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office, 14 from the Department of Homeland Security, 13 from the United States Marshals Service and eight from the Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as a few each from many other agencies and nearby sheriff’s departments.
“If there’s only one thing that I can tell you is, there were multiple systemic failures,” state Rep. Dustin Burrows, who spearheaded the investigation, said at a news conference, according to The New York Times. “Several officers in the hallway or in that building knew or should have known there was dying in that classroom, and they should have done more, acted with urgency.”
Burrows said the individual agencies would have to hold their officers accountable, the Times reported. “The goal of the committee, he said, was to provide relatives of the victims and the public with information.”