Justice Department report finds ‘cascading failures’ and ‘no urgency’ during Uvalde, Texas, shooting

Hundreds of officers responded to the 2022 massacre that killed 19 children and two staff members, but waited more than an hour to confront and kill the gunman

Merrick Garland
Artist Abel Ortiz gives Attorney General Merrick Garland a tour of murals of the Uvalde shooting victims, in Uvalde, Texas, U.S., January 17, 2024.POOL (via REUTERS)

Police officials who responded to the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas “demonstrated no urgency” in setting up a command post and failed to treat the killings as an active shooter situation, according to a Justice Department report released Thursday that identifies “cascading failures” in law enforcement’s handling of one of the deadliest massacres at a school in American history.

The Justice Department report, the most comprehensive federal accounting of the haphazard police response to the May 24, 2022, shooting at Robb Elementary School, identifies a vast array of problems from failed communication and leadership to inadequate technology and training that federal officials say contributed to the crisis lasting far longer than it should have.

Even for a mass shooting that has already been the subject of intense scrutiny and in-depth examinations, the nearly 600-page Justice Department report adds to the public understanding of how police in Uvalde failed to stop an attack that killed 19 children and two staff members.

A federal report into the halting and haphazard law enforcement response to a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, was set to be released Thursday, reviving scrutiny of the hundreds of officers who responded to the 2022 massacre but waited more than an hour to confront and kill the gunman.

Uvalde, a community of more than 15,000, continues to struggle with the trauma left by the killing of 19 elementary students and two teachers, and remains divided on questions of accountability for officers’ actions and inaction.

But it’s unclear what new light the U.S. Department of Justice review will shed. The shooting has already been picked over in legislative hearings, news reports and a damning report by Texas lawmakers who faulted law enforcement at every level with failing “to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety.”

In the 20 months since the Justice Department announced its review, footage showing police waiting in a hallway outside the fourth-grade classrooms where the gunman opened fire has become the target of national ridicule.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was in Uvalde on Wednesday ahead of the release of the report, visiting murals of the victims that have been painted around the center of the town. Later that night, Justice Department officials privately briefed family members at a community center in Uvalde before the findings were made public.

Berlinda Arreola, whose granddaughter was killed in the shooting, said following Wednesday night’s meeting that accountability remained in the hands of local prosecutors who are separately conducting a criminal investigation into the police response.

“I have a lot of emotions right now. I don’t have a lot of words to say,” Arreola said.

The review by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services was launched just days after the shooting, and local prosecutors are still evaluating a separate criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers. Several of the officers involved have lost their jobs.

The Justice Department has said its investigation would “provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and response that day” and identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for active shooter events.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell said in a statement Wednesday that she had not been given a copy of the Justice Department’s report but had been informed it does not address any potential criminal charges.

How police respond to mass shootings around the country has been scrutinized since the tragedy in Uvalde, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott initially praised the courage of officers’ response and blame was later cast heavily on local authorities in Uvalde. But an 80-page report from a panel of state lawmakers and investigations by journalists laid bare how over the course of more than 70 minutes, a mass of officers went in and out of the school with weapons drawn but did not go inside the classroom where the shooting was taking place. The 376 officers at the scene included state police, Uvalde police, school officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents.

The delayed response countered active-shooter training that emphasizes confronting the gunman, a standard established more than two decades ago after the mass shooting at Columbine High School showed that waiting cost lives. As what happened during the shooting has become clear, the families of some victims have blasted police as cowards and demanded resignations.

At least five officers have lost their jobs, including two Department of Public Safety officers and Uvalde’s school police chief, Pete Arredondo, who was the on-site commander during the attack.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Más información

Archivado En

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS