Report details ‘systemic failures,’ ‘egregious’ decisions in Uvalde shooting response

Jamie Landers
The Dallas Morning News (TNS)

For families in Uvalde, Sunday brought with it the weight of the most exhaustive account of their loved one’s final moments yet. In a long-awaited, 77-page report, a Texas House committee told them there is not one person to blame, but instead a long series of “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” that allowed the deadliest school shooting in state history to unfold May 24.

The report, reviewed Sunday by The Dallas Morning News, is the second to examine the law enforcement response in the past two weeks. On July 6, a 26-page report by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University, commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety, detailed three missed opportunities to slow — or even stop — the gunman before he entered Robb Elementary school, killing 19 children and two teachers.

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The three committee members — Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock; Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso; and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman — first shared their findings during a private meeting with Uvalde residents Sunday. The committee said the goal was to create a comprehensive account the Legislature can use to craft policies in hopes of preventing future massacres.

They dedicated the document to the 21 people killed.

“The Committee issues this interim report now, believing the victims, their families, and the entire Uvalde community have already waited too long for answers and transparency,” the report says.

Family members who lost a sibling place flowers outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

376 officers

Law enforcement has been widely criticized for the response in Uvalde. Eighty minutes elapsed between the first call to 911 and police confronting the shooter, who fired at least 142 rounds, according to a timeline from Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw.

In an uncoordinated effort that stretched over an hour, 376 officers responded. Of that, 149 were U.S. Border Patrol, 91 were state police, 25 were Uvalde police officers and 16 were Uvalde sheriff’s deputies. Only five were Uvalde school district officers.

“These local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy,” the report said. “Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police — quickly arrived on the scene.”

The remaining officers were made up of neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. Marshals and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers.

Law enforcement officials across the state have agreed the decision to not confront the shooter sooner cost lives, with most placing the blame on Pete Arredondo, the school district police chief, who said afterward he didn’t believe he was in charge. Yet, as one of the first responding officers, Arrendondo prevented officers from entering the classrooms, even though children and teachers were still in danger.

Police walk near Robb Elementary School following a shooting, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

In interviews conducted or obtained by the committee, police officers said they either assumed Arredondo was in command or did not know who was in charge, with some describing the scene as “chaos.”

Redirecting the blame thus far largely focused on Arrendondo, the report went on to note that no other agency attempted to take the lead, either, until Border Patrol agents decided they would breach the classroom without seeking permission from Arredondo.

“In this crisis, no responder seized the initiative to establish an incident command post,” the committee wrote. “Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde CISD chief of police or anyone else perceived to be in command to point out the lack of and need for a command post, or to offer that specific assistance.”

Against orders, efforts still unsuccessful

The report did note a few officers attempted to go against orders, but were either stopped or didn’t receive adequate support to follow through.

For instance, the report says Uvalde Police Department Lt. Javier Martinez attempted to confront the shooter after gunfire through the classroom door caused them to retreat to both ends of the hallway. As he started back up the hallway, no officers followed him, and he stopped. The report says multiple officers told the committee that they believed if others had followed his lead, he might have made it to the classroom and engaged with the shooter.

A woman cries as she leaves the Uvalde Civic Center, Tuesday May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas An 18-year-old gunman opened fire Tuesday at a Texas elementary school, killing multiple children and a teacher and wounding others, Gov. Greg Abbott said, and the gunman was dead. (William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)

The reports also says DPS Special Agent Luke Williams disregarded a request that he help secure the outside perimeter and instead went inside the school to help clear rooms. He found a student hiding in a boys bathroom stall with his legs up so he couldn’t be seen. The boy refused to come out until Williams proved he was a police officer, which he did by showing his badge beneath the door of the stall.

Every new revelation since May 24 has begged the question if more lives could have been saved. Sunday’s report said most of the 21 victims died quickly, torn apart or even decapitated by a weapon so powerful, one surviving teacher said he never heard a cry or a whimper as the gunfire rang out.

“Given the information known about victims who survived through the time of the breach and who later died on the way to the hospital,” the committee wrote, “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue.”

Complacency in school safety

The report says Robb Elementary School had everything it needed to slow or stop an intruder, but found it too often took shortcuts, prioritizing convenience over safety.

Multiple witnesses said employees often left doors unlocked, even using rocks, wedges and magnets to prop them open, which the report said is due partially due to a shortage of keys.

Kladys Castellón prays during a vigil Tuesday for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

“In fact, the school actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys,” the report said. “Had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, that could have slowed his progress for a few precious minutes — long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors.”

The school is also enclosed by a 5-foot fence, which the gunman was able to scale, and has an emergency management alert system. But the committee found some faculty and staff did not initially take the lockdown seriously because they were desensitized to the alert system, which was often triggered by immigration-related police pursuits.

The alert system is supposed to operate by sending out warnings online to teachers and faculty, but the report said not all teachers received the alert about the gunman immediately due to a poor wireless internet signal and the fact many teachers didn’t have their phones or had them off at the moment they received it.

The report concluded Principal Mandy Gutierrez never attempted to communicate the lockdown over the school’s intercom system.

‘Just tell us the truth’

Gone are the flower arrangements, the balloons, television satellite trucks and crowds at Uvalde’s main square. All that’s left is the anger.

“I’m not pissed that the media put the video out. It’s what I saw in the video that pisses me off,” said Michael Brown, on the edge of the town’s square, holding a sign that read: “Prosecute Pete Arredondo.”

“It’s as though they want us to forget, but we’re not forgetting,” said Brown, a disabled father of four. His youngest was a student at Robb Elementary School at the time of the shooting. His son was in the cafeteria and not inside the classrooms the shooter targeted. But Brown said he feels the need to stand at the corner, despite 100-degree temperatures. In between him stands City Hall and the County Courthouse. Nearby is the local newspaper, The Uvalde News-Leader.

Emergency personnel gather near Robb Elementary School following a shooting, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

“I’m not going to let the hot sun stop me,” he said. “This is about holding officials responsible and I will not be distracted by the video,” Brown said, referring to a leaked video that shows how authorities behaved for some 77 minutes while the gunman remained inside a classroom. “I’m glad it’s out there to show what really happened. Just tell us the truth.”

Next to him were a handful of women, who defied the city and decorated trees with pictures of the victims, their names included.

Martin Garcia, 55, cried by one of those trees with a picture of the victims, including one of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza.

‘She’s my niece,” he said. “She was so gifted and so loving.”

“We need to really stand strong together and fight,” said Naomi Chapa, 33, an educator and aunt of two students who were at Robb Elementary School. Both were unhurt. “We can’t let them silence us.”

“They need to stop the Uvalde cover-up,” added Esmeralda Barrera. “All the agencies need to be held accountable, not just Pete Arredondo. He’s at the top of those responsible, but the state wants to use him as a scapegoat. All those agencies are a disgrace. They should resign because we have no trust in them.”

People gather at a memorial site in the town square of Uvalde set up for those killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, Sunday, May 29, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Overnight, Chapa returned to the square and lit battery-operated tea candles. Some parents showed up with crosses bearing names of their children. By Sunday morning, the crosses were still up.

Chapa said some residents and parents want the square to serve as a memorial over the school “because students and teachers bled out there. The soil is soaked in blood. It’s very difficult to stand there and be reminded of the failure of so many law enforcement, starting with Pete Arredondo.”

As for the report, Chapa pleaded for the committee to “just tell us the truth.”

“That’s all we want,” she said. “That’s where justice begins.”

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