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Families of Uvalde shooting victims push for accountability as grand jury is empaneled

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta debriefing the DOJ Robb Elementary School shooting critical incident review.
Kayla Padilla
/
TPR
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta debriefing the DOJ Robb Elementary School shooting critical incident review.

A day after the Department of Justice released its criminal incident review into the 2022 Robb Elementary School shooting, a grand jury was empaneled in Uvalde County. The jury will examine whether law enforcement officers should be criminally charged for their failed response to the incident.

On the day of the shooting, it took 376 officers 77 minutes to confront and kill the gunman. The victims' families have been advocating for criminal charges for the past year and a half.

That includes Brett Cross, who lost his 10-year-old son Uziyah.

“Seeing these officers still walking around or holding positions of power, knowing that they were too cowardly to go in there while children were bleeding," he said, "and even too cowardly to show up to the county commissioners meeting ...”

Cross referred to the absence of former acting Uvalde police chief Mariano Pargas at a recent Uvalde County Commissioners meeting. Commissioner Pargas was not present for its first meeting after the report was released.

On the day of the shooting, Pargas was filling in for the chief who was on vacation. The DOJ report said Pargas did not have incident command training and did not demonstrate adequate command leadership that day.

While family members of those killed in the 2022 Robb Elementary School shooting say they’re grateful for the Justice Department’s report, many wish it had done more — like identifying all the officers who responded to the incident.

“He bailed on our kids in a dire situation, so I’m not surprised that he bailed when we’re trying to get answers again. It goes to show that he was a coward that day, and he’s a coward again today,” Cross said.

In bodycam footage from that day, officers are seen walking in and out of crime scenes carelessly and with clear confusion over who was in charge between local officers, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and Border Patrol agents.

Kirk Burkhalter, a professor of law at New York Law School and a former NYPD detective, said the footage of law enforcement’s negligence will have an impact on the grand jury’s examination.

“As it stands — and this is very speculative because none of us know — the charges they’re likely to consider would be manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and abandoning or endangering a child,” he said.

Some of the officers are likely to face indictment from the grand jury, according to Burkhalter.

“Should they be indicted, they’re gonna have to make an argument that their actions were reasonable, or there’s no way they could’ve known of the harm. But it’ll be difficult for me to imagine that the grand jury would not return with some form of charges here,” Burkhalter said.

After the cover-ups, lies and blocking of public records, the Department of Justice critical incident review of the Uvalde massacre response exposes the breakdown of law enforcement. They failed to save lives when confronted by an active shooter. But will there ever be any accountability for the failure at Robb Elementary School?

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez represents Uvalde and has been outspoken about law enforcement’s negligence on the day of the shooting. He said he hoped law enforcement will be charged and convicted.

“You know their defense is gonna be ‘Well, we acted reasonably, or we thought that this was a barricaded subject and that was a reasonable assumption.’ But the fact is, children were calling in at minute 20, sitting on the phone with the operators at the local dispatch for 29 minutes — telling them, giving them a play by play,” he said.

The local District Attorney Christina Mitchell has not revealed details of her investigation into the Robb shooting, and there’s been no indication of who the targets of her investigation are.

The Uvalde grand jury is expected to take six months to examine evidence, which falls around the two-year anniversary of the Robb Elementary School shooting.

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Kayla Padilla produces for The Source and is also a news reporter for Texas Public Radio.