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

Shooting at a Texas elementary school, in Uvalde
MARCO BELLO/REUTERS
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X07051
Law enforcement officers guard the scene of a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, U.S. May 24, 2022.

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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.

The findings were based on interviews with 35 witnesses, 911 calls, crime scene photos, audio, and video, as well as 39 independent interviews conducted by investigators.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin reacted to the report in a statement on Sunday. "We agree with the Committee’s review of the incident, there was failure of command," he said. "However, we have further questions as to who was responsible for taking command as each agency there had senior level commanders on site... We want to know which agency took what specific actions to take command, and where did the critical breakdown occur."

McLaughlin added that the city is conducting an internal investigation and has placed Lt. Mariano Pargas, Uvalde's acting chief of police on the day of the shooting, on administrative leave.

"This administrative leave is to investigate whether Lt. Pargas was responsible for taking command on May 24th, what specific actions Lt. Pargas took to establish that command, and whether it was even feasible given all the agencies involved and other possible policy violations," he said.

On Sunday, McLaughlin released body camera footage from the point of view of Uvalde city police officers. It shows officers urging action; breaking windows and pulling children out of the school.

However, it also shows a lack of clear direction and confusion that mirrors a 77-minute hallway surveillance video leaked to the Austin American Statesman this past week and made public by the committee Sunday.

That video revealed some 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,” McLaughlin said at a city council meeting on Monday, July 11.

At the meeting, he explained that victims' families planned 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.”

Robb ES May 24, 2022

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.

The report on the response to the shooting was blunt in its findings.

"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.

It explained another reason for law enforcement's "lackadaisical" approach stemmed from a recent rise in "bailouts" in the area.

The term is used to describe high speed car chases between local police and human traffickers that typically end with the trafficker crashing the vehicle and passengers fleeing law enforcement on foot.

"The frequency of these 'bailout'-related alarms—around 50 of them between February and May of 2022—contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts," read the report.

But it’s more than just law enforcement. According to the report, some of the blame falls to Robb Elementary School. Administrators did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder on campus. For example, the school’s five-foot tall exterior fence was inadequate to meaningfully impede an intruder.

It also said school personnel frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks. Sometimes doors were even left unlocked. And it was known that one of the classrooms that the gunman entered had a faulty lock.

Red flags

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," the report said.

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's investigation found that one criticism of law enforcement was false.

A report from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center (ALERRT) at Texas State University claimed a Uvalde Police Department officer had the opportunity to shoot the gunman before he entered the school.

It turned out the person that officers saw was a coach helping children inside. The report said ALERRT staff did not conduct their own investigation and relied entirely on information supplied by DPS.

The committee said it did not find evidence that any law enforcement had the opportunity to confront the shooter on his way into the school.

DPS did not immediately respond to TPR’s request for comment.

The report is almost 80 pages long. Victims' families and community members are just starting to digest its graphic details and stark conclusions, particularly concerning the loss of life.

The report pointed out the attacker fired more than 100 rounds in the three minutes before any law enforcement officers arrived on the scene. Most of the victims probably died immediately from the attacker’s initial barrage of gunfire.

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

While the committee's report was the most detailed account yet of what happened in Uvalde on May 24., it provided little solace to family members who are still angry and just want answers.

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As TPR's news director, Katz leads the organization’s news and journalism efforts, overseeing the newsroom’s day-to-day management and the development of a strategic vision for the news division. He also serves on the organization’s executive leadership team.
Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.