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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Report on Uvalde shooting finds ‘systemic failures’ in police response

Law enforcement officials outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, following the mass shooting on May 24, 2022.

By J. David Goodman and Edgar Sandoval

The first comprehensive assessment of the law enforcement response to the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, found that officers from local, state and federal agencies collectively failed to take swift action, a broad indictment of police action at Robb Elementary School.

The 77-page report, released Sunday by a special Texas House committee, spread responsibility for “systemic failures” broadly among the scores of officers who responded and those who waited outside a pair of connected classrooms where the gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.

The decision to finally confront the gunman was made by a small group of officers, including specially trained Border Patrol agents and a deputy sheriff from a neighboring county, the report found, concluding that the order could have been issued far earlier by other officers at the scene.

Its findings represented the most complete outside account of what took place during the 77 minutes between when the gunman began firing inside the classrooms and when police finally stormed in and ended the May 24 massacre.

But a flawless police response would not have saved most of the victims, the report found, who suffered devastating injuries when they were shot with a high-powered AR-15-style rifle by a gunman who had been waiting for his 18th birthday to purchase the weapon legally.

But some did survive, only to die on the way to the hospital, the report noted, adding in a final footnote that “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait” for rescue.

Federal legislation proposed by Congress in the wake of the Uvalde massacre would not have prevented the gunman, Salvador Ramos, from obtaining the weapon he used nor another one he also purchased with the assistance of an uncle, who drove the teenage gunman to get the weapons because he did not know how to drive.

The gunman had no documented history that would have prevented him from purchasing a weapon even under a “red flag” law, based on the facts gathered by the lawmakers. The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature has been unwilling to consider any legislation restricting firearms in response to the Uvalde shooting, focusing much of its attention during public hearings on the police response and on security at schools.

The narrative presented by the committee added some new details, but it did not substantially change the public understanding of what took place at Robb Elementary School as it has been pieced together by The New York Times and other news organizations over the intervening weeks.

The committee reached a more expansive conclusion about the nature of the failures than the one offered by the director of the state police, Steven McCraw, who has placed the blame in his public statements squarely on the school police chief, Pete Arredondo.

The report found the “egregious poor decision making” went beyond Arredondo and included the dozens of well-armed officers from McCraw’s own agency, the Department of Public Safety, as well as the scores from the U.S. Border Patrol.

While many of the officers interviewed by the committee said they considered Arredondo to be the incident commander, others said they were not aware of who was in charge, the report said, creating a chaotic vacuum of leadership that the larger state and federal agencies could have moved to fill but did not.

“Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde CISD chief of police,” the report said, referring to Arredondo, “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.”

Yet even as details became clearer, the larger contours of what is known about the deadly event remained the same: The gunman entered the school without being confronted by any officer, through a door that was not locked, and went directly to the classrooms, where he began shooting.

As seen on a surveillance video released as part of the report, local police officers, including Arredondo, arrived minutes later but retreated down a hallway after being met with gunfire at the doorway to one of the classrooms. Even as more heavily armed officers arrived, along with ballistic shields, they did not attempt to enter the classroom again for over an hour.

That was the “wrong decision,” McCraw said in the days after, saying the call to do so had been made by Arredondo, whom he said was the incident commander.

Arredondo has said he did not consider himself to be in that role during the massacre and thought someone else would take that role. But the committee found that he should have, based on the school district’s own response plan for a school shooting, which calls for the school police chief to “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.”

The three-member committee that prepared the report consisted of two state House members, Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, and Joe Moody, D-El Paso, as well as a former state Supreme Court justice, Eva Guzman, who recently ran an unsuccessful Republican primary bid for attorney general.

Selina Silguero, whose niece, Jailah Nicole Silguero, died in the shooting, said the devastating details in the report were another blow for the families of those killed. “We are very upset with everything,” Silguero said Sunday. “We want all these people who were in the building to be held accountable. It’s not right what they did. I mean, they had all the equipment on them, and our kids didn’t have anything to protect themselves with that big old rifle that he had.”

Silguero said she felt betrayed after learning that local and state officials tried to minimize the failures of the response days after the massacre. Looking on the video at scores of officers from several agencies standing in the hallway as children cried out for help broke her heart, she said.

“They had big rifles and shields and all that,” she said. “They want to cover it up and point fingers at each other. I want it all, we want it all, for them to be fired and charged.”

Jailah, who was 10 and an avid basketball player, was looking forward to joining a softball team next year. “We had told her, next year we’ll sign her up. But there won’t be a next year, because they took our baby.”

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