A scathing report released Sunday by a Texas House committee investigating the Uvalde school shooting blamed multiple failures by those in positions of power – including nearly 400 law enforcers who converged on the scene – for not halting the massacre.
The preliminary report describes “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making”: how police disregarded department active-shooter training, how the school district did not adhere fully to its safety plan and how the shooter’s family did not recognize warning signs before the rampage.
“With hindsight, we could say that Robb Elementary was not adequately prepared for the risk of a school shooter,” Texas state Rep. Dustin Burrows, the committee’s chair, said at a news conference Sunday.
The committee held closed-door meetings over the past month investigating the shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead on May 24. Outrage skyrocketed over the response of authorities who waited more than an hour before breaching a fourth grade classroom – even as terrified students dialed 911 for help.
The report – the most complete account yet of the haphazard response to the massacre – had swift fallout: Lt. Mariano Pargas, a Uvalde Police Department officer who was the city’s acting police chief during the massacre, was placed on administrative leave after the report was released.
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Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin also announced Sunday that the city was releasing body camera footage from Uvalde police officers related to the Robb Elementary shooting.
The Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network, and TV station KVUE exclusively obtained and released hallway surveillance video last week of the shooter and responding law enforcement officers.
Families of the victims received the committee’s report Sunday, according to committee chairman Rep. Dustin Burrows.
‘Regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel’: What’s in the report?
The nearly 80-page report details numerous “shortcomings and failures” by the Uvalde school district and various law enforcement agencies and officers.
The document details a “regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel” in propping doors open and circumventing locks. Staff and students knew Room 111 of Robb Elementary was especially unsecured and commonly had trouble with locking – the room investigators believe the shooter likely entered through.
Law enforcement responders didn’t adhere to their own active-shooter plan and “failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety.”
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District established its own police department in 2018 that oversees Uvalde public schools. But the district didn’t have an officer specifically assigned to Robb Elementary, the report said.
“With nine different schools and a budget for six police officers, Uvalde CISD oversees more campuses than it has officers,” it reads.
In total, 376 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting. The majority of responders at the school were federal and state law enforcement, according to the report. Authorities included 150 U.S. Border Patrol agents and 91 state police officials.
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The report cites a breakdown in communication at the scene and confusion about leadership among police officers from the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District – but extends fault to other law enforcement agencies.
The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s written active shooter plan says its police chief – Pete Arredondo – should assume command during an active shooter. Although he was one of the first responders to the shooting, “he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander,” the report says.
But other police witnesses interviewed by the committee either assumed Arrendo was in charge, or couldn’t tell if anyone was in charge due to the chaos of the scene.
“Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde CISD 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,” the report reads.
Though the full investigation hasn’t been completed, the preliminary report provides initial details gathered from testimony of families and community members, many of whom have voiced frustration over conflicting law enforcement descriptions surrounding the shooting.
The report gathered information from interviews with 33 witnesses and 39 informal interviews, including administrators with the Texas Department of Public Safety, officers from the Uvalde Police Department, McLaughlin and Sheriff Ruben Nolasco.
Changing the shooting narrative
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott initially praised law enforcement officers for their actions during the shooting and praised their “amazing courage by running toward gunfire.” He walked back his statement after it was revealed that officers waited more than an hour after the shooter entered the school to storm the classroom.
The day after the shooting, a Uvalde police lieutenant who was at the scene was supposed to hold a briefing with state leaders, the report said. But the officer fainted while waiting in the hallway beforehand – in his place, DPS Regional Director for South Texas, Victor Escalon, held the briefing. But Escalon isn’t based in Uvalde and didn’t witness “the bulk of the day’s events, leaving him to depend on secondhand knowledge,” the report says.
Officials later repeated false information from Escalon that the incident lasted only 40 minutes thanks to officers that “were courageous in keeping the attacker pinned down while children were evacuated.”
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Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” that put the lives of officers ahead of the lives of children at a state Senate hearing in June. McCraw blamed the school district’s police chief, Arredondo, the incident commander, for stopping officers from quickly confronting the gunman.
More than 100 of the 142 rounds the shooter fired inside the school were shot before officers entered, the report found.
A different report obtained by the Statesman this month – written by Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training and sought by the Department of Public Safety – found a Uvalde police officer aimed his rifle at the gunman before he entered the school but waited for a supervisor’s permission to fire.
Shooter developed ‘fascination’ with school shootings, report says
The 82-page report says the shooter, Salvador Ramos, 18, was driven by “a desire for notoriety and fame.”
“Relatives described the attacker as shy and quiet,” it reads. “The Committee heard testimony that he was reluctant to interact with peers because of a speech impediment.”
Early school assessments showed he was falling behind academically and was identified as “at-risk” by third grade because of consistently poor test results. He had only completed ninth grade by age 17. Uvalde High School involuntarily withdrew him in October 2021, “citing poor academic performance and lack of attendance.”
The report says the shooter developed a “fascination” with school shootings. He was active on social media, and most of his usernames and emails referenced themes of confrontation and revenge.
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According to the report, his frequent comments about school shootings led him to gain the nickname “Yubo’s school shooter” on the French social networking app. People in his local group chat also started calling him “the school shooter.” He played video games and was taunted by a similar nickname by those whom he played with.
The FBI interviewed his ex-girlfriend, who said he was lonely, depressed, and “constantly teased by friends who called him a ‘school shooter.'”
“She said he told her repeatedly that he wouldn’t live past eighteen, either because he would commit suicide or simply because he ‘wouldn’t live long,'” the report reads.
What did the hallway video show?
The video obtained by the Statesman and KVUE showed the delayed law enforcement response.
In the video, officers walk back and forth in the hallway without entering or attempting to enter the classroom where the shooter was. Even after hearing at least four shots from the classrooms 45 minutes after police arrived, officers did not move to enter the room. They rushed into the classroom and killed the gunman an hour and 14 minutes after police arrived on the scene.
Law enforcement experts who reviewed the video for the Statesman called police action “disastrous” and “inexcusable.”
The Texas House committee pushed for the 77-minute videotape to be released to the public, and the Department of Public Safety wanted to release the video as well, saying it would promote transparency without interfering with investigations.
Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee objected to releasing the video and instructed the DPS to keep it confidential as investigations continued.
The video that the House committee will make available to families and the public Sunday will not include footage of the gunman walking into the school and the view from the hallway of the gunman firing his way into the classrooms. The video the Statesman obtained includes that footage.
Aftermath, reactions to the report’s release
The city held off releasing police body camera footage at the district attorney’s direction, McLaughlin 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.
Family members of the victims in Uvalde received copies of the report Sunday before it was released to the public.
“It’s a joke. They’re a joke. They’ve got no business wearing a badge. None of them do,” Vincent Salazar, grandfather of 11-year-old victim Layla Salazar, said of law enforcement officers on Sunday.
During an hourlong question-and-answer session with reporters after the report was released, committee 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.
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Burrows, 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 across the entire state and country,” Burrows said. Members of the panel, Burrow added, “have strong opinions about changes to policy that needs to be done.”
“Today is not the day we’re going to share 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 were among the children killed. “We already knew what was in the report,” he told reporters a short time later.
Contributing: Tony Plohetski, Austin American-Statesman; The Associated Press