School shooting

Texas House report blames local, state and federal officers for ‘systemic failure’ in Uvalde

After weeks of changes in the official narrative about the response, the committee report was the clearest, most-detailed picture yet of what happened that day, during which local, state, and federal law enforcement waited for more than an hour to confront the gunman.

MARCO BELLO/REUTERS

A report released Sunday by the Texas House Committee investigating the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde outlined "systemic failures and egregious poor decision making" among local, state, and federal officers during the incident, which left 21 children and adults dead.

After weeks of changes in the official narrative about the response, the committee report was the clearest, most-detailed picture yet of what happened that day, during which local, state, and federal law enforcement waited for more than an hour to confront the gunman.

The report explained there were 376 law enforcement officers on the scene, including 150 U.S. Border Patrol Agents, 91 DPS troopers, 25 Uvalde police officers, 16 sheriff's deputies, and five Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District officers.

Steve McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, had blamed Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo for the response. But this report outlined a clear failure beyond local police.

Arredondo, who is on administrative leave and resigned from the city council seat he won prior to the shooting, has claimed he did not know he was the incident commander.

The report said officers of various agencies took a "lackadaisical approach" in their response. Investigators said many of the officers were unsure who was in charge. The report added that radio communications were ineffective amongst the various agencies.

Many Uvalde residents believe Arredondo has been scapegoated, and they hoped the report would shed some light on a total failure of law enforcement on a number of levels.

“Ninety-one state troopers that were on scene, and 8 other agencies in that hallway. We need to know what kind of systemic failure happened here," said State Sen. Roland Guiterrez, who represents Uvalde.

A 77-minute video leaked to the Austin American Statesman also showed clear confusion and questionable actions among officers, including an officer smiling, another two fist bumping, and another officer stopping to sanitize his hands.

But the video itself still does not show the full picture.

For example, thousands of people on Twitter criticized one officer who appeared to be looking at his phone with a background image of Punisher, the Marvel comics vigilante.

But that officer turned out to be the husband of Eva Mireles, one of the teachers who was shot that day. He was checking his phone to get an update from his dying wife.

All of these developments continue to weigh on the Uvalde community.

"There's no reason for the families to have to see that (video). They were going to see the video but they didn’t have to see the gunman coming in and hear the gunshots. They've been through enough," said Mayor Don McLaughlin at a city council meeting on Monday, July 11.

At the meeting, he explained that victims’ families were going to view the footage on Sunday during the House committee's presentation of its report to the community, and he condemned the Statesman for publishing the video beforehand.

"And that was the most chicken way to put that video out — whether it was released by DPS or whoever did it,” McLaughlin said. “In my opinion, it’s very unprofessional, which I believe the investigation has been from Day One."

For the most part, community members have been hesitant to criticize their own officers publicly. But some have been outspoken over the past few weeks — looking for answers so they can begin to heal. They've also been critical of DPS for placing the blame squarely on local officials when there were so many state troopers at the scene.

Some victims’ relatives were in Washington D.C. for a gun control rally when the Statesman published the video.

The report presented to the victim's families also found that school officials failed to follow procedures in locking down the school and securing several doors that should have been locked.

Warning signs

Family members of the shooter were also singled out in the report. The shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, openly showed violent tendencies, and family members were aware that he had purchased firearms.

The report said he began his plan in early 2022 after a fallout with his mother.

“A blowout argument between them was livestreamed on Instagram, and several members of their family viewed it,” the report explained. “Although sheriff 's deputies responded to a call, they made no arrests.

Soon afterwards, the attacker left home and moved in with his grandmother, just blocks away from Robb Elementary School,” the report added.

“His relationship with his mother never improved. He retained similar antipathy toward his father, who last saw him about a month before the shooting,” said the report.

The massacre took place in the shooter’s fourth grade classroom, and he discussed bad memories of fourth grade with an acquaintance weeks beforehand.

“The attacker's fourth grade teacher testified before the Committee. Not only did she know the attacker from having been his teacher, but she was also in Robb Elementary's fourth grade building, in a different classroom, at the time of the attack. This teacher told the Committee she knew the attacker needed extra help in her class because he claimed to be a victim of bullying,” the report said.

Grim conclusions

The committee’s report criticized DPS officials for misleading the public on information related to the shooting — beginning with Gov. Greg Abbott's press conference on May 24, during which he praised law enforcement's quick response.

"A complete and thorough investigation can take months or even years to confirm every detail, especially when this many law enforcement officers are involved," read the report. "However, one would expect law enforcement during a briefing would be very careful to state what facts are verifiable, and which ones are not."

The committee concluded that it was unknown whether the death toll would have been lower had police breached the classroom and confronted the gunman earlier — but a faster response could have made an impact.

The report is almost 80 pages long. Victims’ families and community members are just starting to digest what's in it.

But in its final conclusion, the report pointed out the attacker fired more than 100 rounds in the three minutes before authorities ever arrived on scene. Most of the victims probably died immediately from the attacker's initial barrage of gunfire.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin did not immediately respond to TPR's requests for comment.

Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

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