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Special Texas House investigative committee releases Uvalde school shooting report – Austin American-Statesman

UVALDE — The first in-depth report on the Uvalde school shooting, released to the public and victims’ families Sunday, determined that top-to-bottom failures combined to turn the May 24 attack into the worst school shooting in Texas history.

“Systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” included school officials who failed to follow established safety plans and responding law officers who failed to follow their training for active-shooter situations and delayed confronting the gunman for more than an hour, the 77-page report by a specially created Texas House committee concluded.

“They failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety,” the report said of law officers.

After a closed-door meeting with family members of the victims where they viewed an edited video of the police response to the shooting, the committee met publicly and laid out the details of the report.

During an hourlong question-and-answer session with reporters, members declined to address policy questions such as whether lawmakers should restrict access to assault-style weapons and who, if anyone, should be held accountable for what the committee found was a catastrophic and systematic breakdown.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock and chairman of the special committee, also said that no community should assume it is safe or immune from the violence and death that visited Uvalde on May 24.

“I think some of the same systems that we found here that failed that day are (in place) across the entire state and country,” Burrows said. “I do not want to say because of one thing or one person (at Robb Elementary), it could not happen elsewhere. I think that’s a disservice and not the respectful thing to do.”

Members of the panel, Burrow said, “have strong opinions about changes to policy that needs to be done.”

“Today is not the day we’re going to share our our strong feelings and convictions about that,” he said.

The lack of specificity about what steps are needed to better defend Texans from mass gun violence left many of the people inside the Uvalde civic center frustrated. Several shouted insults, including “cowards,” and asked “what about guns?” as the committee members filed out.

“You are a bunch of cowards,” shouted Ruben Mata, who said his great-granddaughters was among the children who were killed. “We already knew what was in the report,” he told reporters a short time later.”

Vicente Salazar, whose granddaughter Layla was among the 21 killed in the attack, made no effort to mask his anger after picking up a copy of the report just after noon at the Uvalde community center.

Vicente Salazar, grandfather of Layla Salazar, a victim of the Uvalde mass shooting, holds up a copy of a preliminary report from the special House investigative commitee on the massacre at Robb Elementary in May. Families were allowed to pick up copies of the report Sunday at the Uvalde Civic Center.

“It’s a solid cover-up. It’s a joke,” he said. “Texas failed the students. Law enforcement failed the students.”

The report by the three-member House Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting compiled details gleaned from interviews with 33 witnesses, all conducted in private during eight hearings in Uvalde and at the Capitol, and 39 other informal interviews. Its release was a milestone in efforts to understand events that grew muddled as the official version of the shooting — relayed by political leaders and law enforcement — shifted radically in the chaotic days after the attack that left 19 fourth-graders and two teachers dead.

The committee report focused primarily on actions taken by school employees before the shooting and law enforcement during the attack, finding significant deficiencies in both.

The committee also released an edited version of the hallway video footage previously published by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV. The committee’s video did not include sound or images of the gunman walking into the school and firing his military-style assault rifle. Neither video showed children, teachers or the gunman being shot.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, said the report confirms many of the shortcomings and procedural breakdowns he’s been pointing out since the earliest days after the shooting.

“It’s clear from the report that no one was in control,” said the lawmaker, who was unable to attend Sunday’s briefing because of an illness. “There were experienced law enforcement officers on the scene, but they didn’t take charge. It was a complete and total breakdown.”

Also Sunday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced that the city was releasing bodycam footage from Uvalde police officers related to the Robb Elementary shooting. 

The city held off releasing the footage at the district attorney’s direction, he said, adding: “However, with the release of the school district’s hallway video, we believe these body camera videos provide further, necessary context.”

The audio and video was edited to protect the victims, and the families of the shooting victims were given the opportunity to review the video, McLaughlin said.

More:Why the Austin American-Statesman chose to publish video from inside Robb Elementary

‘Regrettable culture of noncompliance’

Robb Elementary did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder, the committee’s report said.

A 5-foot-tall exterior fence was inadequate to impede an intruder, and “there was a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel,” who frequently ignored security procedures by propping doors open and deliberately circumventing locks, the report said.

Administrators and police were aware of the situation but did not treat the infractions as serious. “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.

The door to Room 111, where the gunman entered and was killed more than 70 minutes later, had a faulty lock that needed extra effort to ensure that it was engaged, but nobody ordered a repair, the report said.

And although school policy required that outside doors be locked, none of the three doors into the school’s west building were locked, giving the gunman unimpeded access.

Uvalde school shooting:Special Texas House committee releases first in-depth report

The committee acknowledged that locking the doors might not have been enough. “But 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; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker,” the report said.

The first police officers entered the school only minutes after the gunman, and any delay for the gunman could have saved lives, the committee said.

“The attacker fired most of his shots and likely murdered most of his innocent victims before any responder set foot in the building. Of the approximately 142 rounds the attacker fired inside the building, it is almost certain that he rapidly fired over 100 of those rounds before any officer entered,” the report said.

‘Void of leadership’ in police response

The committee outlined what it identified as faulty assumptions and poor decisions by responding law officers, including a failure in leadership.

Trouble began when law enforcement leaders — including Pete Arredondo, chief of the school district’s police department, and the commander of the Uvalde Police Department SWAT team, whose name was not included — arrived at the school early in the attack, yet failed to take adequate command of the situation, the report said.

The Uvalde district’s active-shooter plan directed Arredondo to assume command at the school, but “he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander” as directed by the plan.

“The void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon,” the report said.

Officers are held back from the classroom where the gunman was holed up at Robb Elementary School on May 24.

In addition, the committee said, a command post could have transformed chaos into order, but nobody ensured that officers inside the school knew that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in the connected Rooms 111 and 112, and had called 911 seeking help, the report said.

Law enforcement personnel from state and federal agencies also failed to step forward and provide needed leadership, the committee found.

“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” and could have “helped to address the unfolding chaos,” the report said.

In all, 376 law officers responded to the school shooting, including 91 members of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the report said, concluding, “In this sense, the entirety of law enforcement and its training, preparation, and response shares systemic responsibility for many missed opportunities on that tragic day.”

Families and community members still questioned the acts of police, and why it took more than an hour to storm the classroom. Burrows said he shared many of their frustrations on that score.

“If someone knew there were victims inside dying and did nothing about it then those agencies will have to hold those officers accountable,” he said.

After the committee’s press briefing, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said in in response to questions from community members that the committee’s report would be translated and available in Spanish in two weeks, and told the public that “he would try to get it sooner.”

‘Same shortcomings’ found across Texas

The committee said the impact of its report needs to be felt beyond Uvalde.

“We acknowledge that the same shortcomings could be found throughout the State of Texas. We must not delude ourselves into a false sense of security by believing that ‘this would not happen where we live.’ The people of Uvalde undoubtedly felt the same way,” the report said.

The committee also said its work is not done because it has not questioned all witnesses, the medical examiner reports have not been issued, and other investigations are still pending, including by the Texas Rangers and U.S. Department of Justice.

Even so, the committee said it believes its report is the most comprehensive look at the events in Robb Elementary, an important touchstone after the official version of events shifted.

Speaking to reporters and Uvalde residents at a news conference May 25, Gov. Greg Abbott praised officers, saying their swift action “to respond to … and eliminate the gunman” saved lives at Robb Elementary. After news to the contrary trickled out, Abbott said he was livid that his briefing by law enforcement made no mention of the delay.

Another key detail that was mistaken included law enforcement reports that a Robb teacher had propped open an exterior door and left it that way, giving the gunman access to the school. Later reports revealed that the teacher shut the door but that it did not lock.

Preliminary reports that a school resource officer arrived on campus to confront the gunman outside the school also proved to be wrong as further details showed that the officer initially mistook a teacher for the shooter behind the building.

Relying on the Texas Public Information Act, multiple news organizations sought records related to the shooting, including video taken from inside the school and officer bodycam footage. Many of the open-records requests, including those from the American-Statesman, have been denied or are awaiting a decision by the state attorney general’s office.

Officers wait in a hallway at Robb Elementary while a gunman remains in a classroom where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

Hallway video edited by House committee

The hallway video that captured the long delay in confronting the gunman was a key piece of evidence, and its release to the public was supported by Abbott; DPS officials; McLaughlin; Rep. Dustin Burrows, the Lubbock Republican who leads the investigative committee; and others who said the footage was essential in understanding what took place during the attack.

But Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee opposed releasing the video, according to a DPS official. Busbee also sent letters to Uvalde officials ordering them to keep the video and other records confidential while investigations continued.

The hallway video, disclosed to the American-Statesman and KVUE, was published last week after extensive internal deliberations by news leaders who determined that the newspaper and TV station would not follow the government’s lead in keeping the information private. That decision was criticized by those who said it should have first been made available to the families of victims.

The report was publicly released after families of the Uvalde victims were given the opportunity to review the committee’s findings earlier Sunday. Committee members, along with some Uvalde community leaders, then met privately with the families and the committee’s version of the video was shown.

The video released by the committee Sunday did not include the first several minutes of footage released by the American-Statesman and KVUE last week showing the gunman walking on the campus and into the school. That video also showed the attacker calmly walking down the hallway before firing into the classroom carrying his AR-15. The video released Sunday, which the report called “prudently edited” also did not have audio. 

The report said the footage omitted any images of the gunman because he desired fame. 

“We regret that others, under the cloak of anonymity, and for their own motives, have sensationalized evidence of this horrible tragedy at the risk of glorifying a monster,” the report said. 

More than seven weeks after the Robb Elementary shooting, flowers, candles, photos and other mementos were still piled in front of the school sign. The memorial at the town square was drawn back, but photos of the children and teachers were attached to some of the trees with signs reading “no justice, no peace.”

Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat and member of the three-person committee, said he would make the same promise to those in Uvalde as he made to residents of his hometown after a mass shooter there targeted Hispanics at a popular shopping center nearly three years ago: “Help the Legislature understand what happened and why,” and that he would fight for better solutions.

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