Report on Uvalde school shooting finds ‘systemic failures’ by law enforcement

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The Guardian

There were “systemic failures and egregious poor decisionmaking” involved in the deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, a committee of state lawmakers investigating the massacre has found.

The 77-page report from the Texas legislature – released Sunday – details glaring failures in the years leading up to and during the 24 May shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead, along with 17 others wounded.

The Texas Tribune was the first to describe the details of the report.

Nearly 400 law enforcement officers from myriad agencies went to the school after the killings started, but they were stymied by a lack of coordination, according to the report.

Law enforcement officers told investigators they assumed Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo was in charge at the scene, but Arredondo has said publicly he did not believe himself to be in charge. Law enforcement waited more than an hour before eventually confronting and killing the shooter.

The report details how an officer with the state department of public safety at one point confronted officers who were clustered together in the hall and heard another officer asking if there were kids in the classroom. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there,” he said. Another officer responded “whoever was in charge would figure that out”.

While Arredondo has resigned a city council seat and been placed on leave from his chief’s job amid heavy scrutiny for the inadequate law enforcement response, the report also faults other law enforcement agencies for not stepping up to fill the void.

Having a clear commander outside the schools, investigators concluded, could have helped end the deadly incident faster by figuring out a better way to communicate and charting a path for law enforcement to breach the classroom where the shooter was. For decades, police have been trained to confront so-called active shooters as quickly as possible, with officers expected to organize themselves for that fight regardless of the agency employing them if there’s even a remote chance to save some lives.

“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 [school district] 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.”

It’s unclear how many lives a better law enforcement response would have saved, according to the report. The gunman fired around 100 rounds within minutes of entering the school.

Nonetheless, parents have long felt that an earlier confrontation by police with the shooter may have cleared the way for medical responders to possibly save the lives of victims who had initially survived the wounds inflicted on them.

There were warning signs about the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, well ahead of the attack, the report found. He was so violent on online platforms, he earned the nickname “school shooter”, the report found. He was an outcast who became interested in gore and violent sex online, who believed the killing would bring him fame, the report concluded.

Despite the critical findings against law enforcement, the report also rebuts a claim that a police officer had a chance to shoot the gunman before he entered the building. Investigators concluded that the person the officer saw was a coach escorting students inside the school – not the shooter.

The report also faulted school employees for not locking doors in the building, saying they could have slowed the shooter’s progress if they had done so. “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 report said.

Not all school employees received an emergency alert about the gunman because of poor wireless internet signal, according to the report. The school’s principal also failed to communicate the threat over the school’s intercom.

Texas officials also undermined trust by providing inconsistent and inaccurate information about the attack in its immediate aftermath, the report found. The Uvalde police department official charged with briefing Texas governor Greg Abbott on events fainted just ahead of the briefing, according to the report, and another official took his place. In his initial press conference, Abbott provided inaccurate details about the attack and has since said he is “livid” about being misled.

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

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.

“My hurt hasn’t stopped, and it won’t stop until the day I die,” Salazar said. “It’s a joke. Texas failed the students.”

He said he wouldn’t be attending any meeting with the committee because of what he sees as systemic failures that allowed the gunman inside the school and allowed the shooting to continue for more than an hour.

Leaving the civic center with his copy of the report, he said he’d take it home to read it and then decide what to do, or who to blame.

“I’ll tell you right now, it’s not the truth,” Salazar said. “All I see is somebody covering up someone else.”

At the same time the report is being released, a series of murals honoring the 21 victims are being painted around Uvalde. The father and step-mother of 10-year-old Uziyah Sergio Garcia, who died at the school, live in San Angelo, Texas, and were in town to see his mural.

When they heard about the report, they drove to the civic center. Uziyah’s step-mother, Crystal Garcia, hoped it would provide some kind of clarity into what happened.

“I hope it does, I hope it does,” Garcia said. “It’s difficult, not having the answers you want, the answers you need.”

Uziyah’s great-aunt, Grace Valencia, pulled out her phone and began to flip through photos of the young boy.

“This is my hijo,” she said, using the Spanish word for son. “We were supposed to go to vacation at Schlitterbahn this weekend.”

The trip to one of Central Texas’s biggest waterparks was an annual tradition for the family, one Uziyah loved. Instead, the family will spend the weekend reading the state’s on how he died.

July 18, 2022 at 01:39AM Sam Levine in New York and Charles Scudder in Uvalde, Texas

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