‘Furious and saddened’: Lawmakers react to DOJ report on botched response to Uvalde school shooting

Report: There was a lack of communication, leadership

Crosses stand in memorial to victims of the school shooting at Robb Elementary, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, in Uvalde, Texas. The Justice Department has released a report with their findings after an investigation into the 2022 school shooting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – The Department of Justice on Thursday released a nearly 600-page report on law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde massacre that killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

The report states that on May 24, 2022, there was a lack of leadership, communication and accurate updates during the active shooting, in which a former Uvalde CISD student entered classrooms 111 and 112 and remained for 77 minutes.

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The report includes a series of comments by terrified children taken from a 911 call, including: “Help!” “Help!” “Help!” “I don’t want to die. My teacher is dead.”

By that point, the students and their teachers had been trapped in classrooms with the shooter for 37 minutes, and the 911 call lasted for 27 minutes. Even though law enforcement officials were in the hallway and just outside the classrooms, it would be another 13 minutes after the call ended before the survivors were rescued.

The Critical Incident Review team reviewed more than 14,100 pieces of evidence, including training logs and video footage, and interviewed more than 260 people from more than 30 different organizations. The team visited Uvalde nine times and spent 54 days on-site.

“The victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School deserved better,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022 — and the response by officials in the hours and days after — was a failure.”

Families were able to review the report on Wednesday evening before it was released to news organizations and before Garland held a news conference in Uvalde.

Garland and other state lawmakers have since released the following statements.

“The victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School deserved better,” said Attorney General Garland. “The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary on May 24th, 2022 — and the response by officials in the hours and days after — was a failure. As a consequence of failed leadership, training, and policies, 33 students and three of their teachers — many of whom had been shot — were trapped in a room with an active shooter for over an hour as law enforcement officials remained outside. We hope to honor the victims and survivors by working together to try to prevent anything like this from happening again, here or anywhere.”

“Uvalde is a community that is healing, and getting clear on the facts is part of healing,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “As I made clear last April when I came to Uvalde to meet with families and reiterated to them last night, we promised that our report would honor the victims and survivors; provide a detailed, independent, and authoritative accounting of the events; and would not only look backward but would also identify lessons learned and recommendations for other communities to prevent something like this from happening again.”

“The observations and recommendations in this report are based on national standards, generally accepted standards and practices, current research, and the expectations of communities,” said Director Hugh T. Clements, Jr. of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office). “Reports like this are critical to law enforcement and, by extension, to the community. As agencies constantly strive to do better and be more fully prepared, detailed observations and recommendations like those within this report are invaluable to agencies planning for the future.”

Gov. Greg Abbott released the following statement:

“Following the horrific tragedy at Robb Elementary School, Texas took swift action to bolster security in our schools and in our communities, and I thank the U.S. Department of Justice for their critical incident review of the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School. The State of Texas has already adopted and implemented some of the recommendations proposed by the DOJ in this review. We will continue to evaluate all possible means of making our schools safer, and we will carefully review all other recommendations the Department has offered to prevent future tragedies across our state.”

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez released the following statement:

“Texas Republican leadership engaged in a massive coverup to hide the facts from Texans, trying to place the blame on everyone else, even a teacher, rather than accepting an ounce of responsibility for their own cowardice. 19 children and two teachers died when 91 DPS troopers stood by for 77 minutes. Everyone in this community has been through a hellish nightmare. Families have re-lived this nightmare every day without their loved ones. They deserve justice. That means accountability and reform. Director Steve McCraw must resign. The AR-15 should be banned for sale to the general public. It’s time for politicians to honor the bravery shown by the children and educators of Robb Elementary.”

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred released the following statement:

”As a dad, I cannot imagine the deep grief, heartbreak, and frustration these families are feeling. On that dark day, law enforcement failed to protect the vulnerable children at Robb Elementary. I join my fellow Texans today in mourning and demanding justice and accountability.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro released the following statement:

“My heart is with the families in Uvalde as they relive the worst days of their lives. Nearly two years after the massacre, the anguish and pain at Robb Elementary School is impossible to forget. As a father of three kids – two in elementary school – I’m furious and saddened by the ways that Uvalde’s grieving families have been victimized, first by a preventable shooting, and then by Governor Abbott, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, and other public officials in Texas who hid the truth about Uvalde and lied to cover up their failures.

“In the aftermath of the massacre at Robb Elementary School, Uvalde families have continuously pressed lawmakers to pass common-sense gun laws that could prevent mass shootings. The 2022 passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was a good step forward, but we need universal background checks and a ban on assault rifles to save lives. Uvalde was every parent’s worst nightmare, and it’s hard to believe that national and state policy changed so little in response.

“I hope the Department of Justice’s Critical Incident Review will provide transparency and accountability in Uvalde and a roadmap to protect America’s children. Uvalde families deserve nothing less than the truth.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Casar released the following statement:

“Nothing will bring back the Uvalde children, teachers, and family members whose lives were stolen on May 24, 2022. Families deserve the truth, accountability, and justice, and my heart is with them today,” said Congressman Greg Casar (D-Texas). “We must take action to prevent future mass shootings — ban assault weapons, expand background checks, and learn from these failures. We must hold Greg Abbott and other public officials to account. Our children deserve to feel safe and protected, always.”

Additionally, the City of Uvalde released the following statement:

“Just days after the May 24, 2022 Robb Elementary School shooting, former Mayor Don McLaughlin requested the Justice Department conduct a review to provide an independent and complete account of all law enforcement actions, lessons learned, and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events.

"The City has already implemented changes in leadership, new personnel, new training, and new equipment to enhance law enforcement's ability to protect the safety of our community, and has enlisted an independent investigator to conduct a thorough, objective, and credible review of the City's law enforcement response. We anticipate that independent investigation will be finished this month.

“At every level throughout the review process, the City of Uvalde cooperated and provided extensive information to the Justice Department to ensure a fulsome account of law enforcement’s response from the City’s perspective. At this time, we are reviewing the full Justice Department report and will provide additional comments on its findings, as appropriate, following our careful and thorough review process.”

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) released the following statement:

“LULAC is disappointed that federal investigators have failed to address the criminal accountability for the tragedy at Robb Elementary. Nineteen children and two teachers died, mostly Latino, and not one person is facing criminal charges yet. How can that be when this report affirms much of what we have known for the past 20 months,” said Domingo Garcia, LULAC national president. “Law enforcement failed to act quickly and decisively and to do its job of protecting the community. Instead, we are left with more questions about when or whether even one person will ever face the consequences for criminal negligence or dereliction of their sworn duty. Ultimately, only the families of Uvalde can say if they believe justice has been served.”

Javier Cazares, LULAC council president in Uvalde and a grieving father whose 9-year-old daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was among the victims, emphasized the significance of the report as a step in a longer process. "What this report does is confirm many of the most important failures that happened before, during, and after this tragedy. I am focused on still sharing my daughter's story and look forward to what the District Attorney investigation and others will bring out. This report is by no means the end. We must still make sure that everyone connected to the events of that day, including city leaders and others, are held accountable."

The Justice Department's report, released today, aimed to comprehensively assess the law enforcement response to the tragic incident. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland initiated the review shortly after the tragedy, acknowledging the gravity of the situation in which 19 children and two teachers lost their lives. The 600-page report meticulously reconstructs a minute-by-minute timeline of critical events before, during, and immediately following the shooting. While addressing numerous unanswered questions, the report also highlights generally accepted practices for effective law enforcement responses to incidents of mass violence. It endeavors to honor the victims and survivors of the tragedy and offers recommendations to improve future responses in other communities.

However, despite the comprehensive nature of the report, LULAC remains dissatisfied with the lack of criminal accountability identified within its pages. The organization stands firm in its commitment to supporting the families of Uvalde and will continue to advocate for justice in the face of this devastating tragedy.

"LULAC will continue to stand with the families of Uvalde as we had from the start when we raised $2 million for them from people across America and Puerto Rico. We will not stop asking when will full and final justice comes for those who lost their loved ones!" exclaimed Garcia.

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, issued the following statement:

“NASRO greatly appreciates the work of the U.S. Department of Justice and in particular, the Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services for the extensive work involved in creating a valuable and important report on the response to the Robb Elementary School mass shooting.

“I agree with the recommendations in that report, especially that the first responding officers at an active shooter incident must go directly toward the threat and eliminate it. They must be prepared to approach the threat and breach or enter a room using whatever tools they have, even if armed only with a standard-issue handgun.

“This has been law enforcement best practice for more than two decades, so I was astounded and grieved to learn that a school district police chief, who one can reasonably expect to know better, did not lead officers to implement it.

“We also agree that a clear command structure is essential. For decades, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided training in the Incident Command System, which establishes procedures that any public safety organization, including fire, emergency medical and law enforcement, should follow. I am greatly disappointed that leaders of the law enforcement response to Robb Elementary School did not quickly implement Incident Command System procedures to assure an effective, coordinated response.

“We agree that appropriate training is essential. NASRO offers training courses around the nation that incorporate most, if not all the response recommendations in the DOJ report.

“NASRO has for a long time espoused the critical importance of classroom doors that can be quickly and easily locked from the inside. Too many school buildings in the United States have classroom doors that can only be locked from the hallway side with a key and too often that key isn’t even available to teachers in the classrooms, especially substitute teachers. In addition, key systems should be configured to enable every school-based police officer in a school district to easily carry on their person at all times keys that will open any door in any district building. The number of doors in a typical school building makes implementing these recommendations expensive but it is a necessary expense.

“The incidents of the recent past demonstrate that no community is immune to such violence. NASRO hopes that implementation of the DOJ’s recommendations will help prevent future losses of life in our nation’s schools.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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About the Author

Rebecca Salinas is an award-winning digital journalist who joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.

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