Uvalde 2 years later: Reports detailed ‘cascading failures,’ new school underway, leadership changes

Here’s where things stand in Uvalde two years after the shooting at Robb Elementary School

Uvalde Two Years Later (KSAT)

UVALDE, Texas – Two years after the deadly attack in Uvalde, victims’ families are still looking for answers and action since a gunman stormed Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, and killed 19 students and two teachers.

One federal investigation has detailed the “cascading failures” in the botched response to the shooting while another local report exonerated police officers, fueling frustrations among victims’ and survivors’ families who have called for further transparency and accountability.

Nearly 400 law enforcement agents, including Department of Public Safety troopers, Uvalde police officers and deputies and other agencies, rushed to the school following reports of shots fired, but they waited 77 minutes outside the classrooms to confront the shooter.

Now, months after the Department of Justice and a city-hired investigator have released their reports, families await Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell’s investigation that could possibly hand down criminal charges.

In the past year, victims’ families have run for office and launched other activism in an attempt to enact change, and the Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation has broken ground on a new campus.

Here’s where things stand in Uvalde as the city approaches the two-year mark.

Families announce lawsuits against TxDPS officers and UCISD staff

The families of 19 Uvalde victims announced on Wednesday that they have settled with the City of Uvalde through a yearlong restorative justice process. It was capped at $2 million because the families said they didn’t want to bankrupt the city.

The settlement calls for a new “fitness for duty” standard for Uvalde police and a commitment to enhanced department training. It also establishes May 24 as an annual Day of Remembrance and calls for creating a public memorial at the Plaza.

Families also announced lawsuits against 92 individual DPS officers and several Uvalde CISD members, including then-Principal Mandy Gutierrez and then-Chief Pete Arredondo.

The lawsuit notes state troopers did not follow their active shooter training and responsibility to confront the shooter, even as the students and teachers inside were following their own lockdown protocols of turning off lights, locking doors, and staying silent.

In a news conference that announced the lawsuits, attorney Josh Koskoff said the state “has done nothing at all.”

The settlement will be paid from the city’s insurance coverage.

Justice Department report finds ‘cascading failures’ in response

The Department of Justice on Jan. 18 presented a 500-plus report that detailed a myriad of failures in law enforcement’s response to the Robb shooting.

The scathing report cited “cascading failures” by officers as children and teachers waited more than an hour to be rescued in classrooms 111 and 112.

“In fact, for 77 agonizing, harrowing minutes, children and staff were trapped with an active shooter. They experienced unimaginable horror,” the DOJ report states. “The survivors witnessed unspeakable violence and the death of classmates and teachers.”

The report did not necessarily provide any massive revelations but confirmed with significant authority and evidence that the failures by police and leadership led to the large number of casualties.

Here are the takeaways from the report:

  • After three attempts to approach the classrooms, first responders shifted their focus from entering classrooms 111 and 112 and stopping the shooting, to evacuating other classrooms, attempting to negotiate with the shooter, and requesting additional responders and equipment.
  • The “most significant failure” was that police didn’t treat the crisis as an active shooter situation. There was a “lack of urgency” toward entering the classrooms.
  • Officers described the shooter over the radio as “barricaded” or “contained.” Yet within four minutes, 911 dispatch reported they had received calls from victims within the classrooms. “I don’t want to die. My teacher is dead,” one of them said.
  • UCISD’s Arredondo directed officers to delay entering the classrooms several times in favor of searching for keys and clearing classrooms. He also attempted to negotiate with the shooter.
  • The classroom door that Arredondo spent a large chunk of time attempting to unlock was likely open the whole time.
  • Despite the “overwhelming numbers of law enforcement personnel from different agencies” responding to the campus, no one assumed a leadership role or established an incident command post.
  • Children and staff were not adequately medically evaluated and some injured students were released without the proper care. Another parent found “hundreds of shards of glass embedded” in their child’s skin that night and spent “hours pulling the glass out.”
  • Families had difficulty obtaining information. Incorrect information shared by UCISD on social media stated all students and staff were safe. Some families received incorrect information suggesting their family members had survived when they had not. Others were notified about deaths by personnel untrained in delivering such news. Family members were highly distressed and yelled, “What, our kids are dead? No, no!”
  • Public communications challenges persisted during the shooting and in the aftermath.
  • “There were at least 10 stimulus events” where officers should have taken steps to stop the gunman.
  • UCISD’s campus safety teams met infrequently and safety plans were based largely on templates.

Here are some of the recommendations from the report:

  • Officers must prioritize neutralizing the shooter and helping victims.
  • Active shooter training must include the factors in determining active shooter versus barricaded subject situations.
  • As soon as possible, the lead agency should establish a unified command.
  • Officials should ensure all victims of a mass violence incident are screened medically and assessed for mental health concerns soon after evacuation.
  • The lead agency must be swift, proactive, accurate and transparent in its messaging.

The full report can be seen below.

Here is the Justice Department’s reconstruction of the shooting, which is similar to timelines previously offered by authorities:

  • 11:21 a.m. — The gunman shoots and injures his grandmother at their home, then sends a message to an acquaintance saying what he did and that he plans to “shoot up an elementary school.”
  • 11:28 a.m. — The gunman crashes a vehicle he stole from his grandparents’ home into a ditch about 100 yards from Robb.
  • 11:33 a.m. — He enters the school through a closed but unlocked door, walks to classrooms 111 and 112, and opens fire on their doors from the hallway. The two classrooms are connected by an interior door.
  • 11:36 a.m. — The first responding officers enter the school. The gunman is by now shooting inside the two fourth-grade classrooms. Two officers who run toward the classrooms are hit with shrapnel and retreat.
  • 11:38 a.m. — The first request to activate the Uvalde SWAT team is made over the radio.
  • 11:39 a.m. — A city police officer makes the first official request for shields. Officers in the hallway begin treating the gunman as a barricaded subject rather than an active shooter.
  • 11:40 a.m. to 12:21 p.m. — More officers from multiple law enforcement agencies arrive. During these 41 minutes, according to the report, “there is a great deal of confusion, miscommunication, a lack of urgency, and a lack of incident command.”
  • 12:21 p.m. — The gunman fires four additional shots inside the classrooms. At this point, officers move into formation outside the classrooms’ doors but don’t enter. Officers then test keys on another door while searching for additional keys and breaching tools.
  • 12:48 p.m. — Officers open the door to room 111, which was likely unlocked. A minute or more goes by before the officers enter the room and engage the shooter.
  • 12:50 p.m. — The gunman is fatally shot by officers after he emerges from a closet while opening fire.

Family members, many of whom had been briefed on the federal report before its release, had mixed reactions to the findings and the report itself.

Some told news outlets they were grateful that the federal investigation supported their criticisms of the response. Many families hoped the report would come with a recommendation for federal charges against some of the criticized officers.

This was one of several investigations into the shooting and the botched response.

In July 2022, a Texas House special investigating committee released a comprehensive report that identified shortcomings.

A criminal investigation by Uvalde DA Mitchell’s office remains open. A grand jury was empaneled in January and some law enforcement officials have already been asked to testify.

The investigation will determine if any law enforcement officers will be criminally charged.

Independent report defends Uvalde police’s response

The City of Uvalde hired third-party investigator Jesse Prado — an Austin-based investigator and former Austin police detective — to review the Uvalde Police Department’s response to the Robb shooting.

Then-Mayor Don McLaughlin announced the investigation in July 2022. In the report, Prado said he was contacted by City of Uvalde Attorney Paul J. Tarski on July 15, 2022.

The investigation was supposed to take 60 to 90 days to complete, but it was finally released on March 7, 2024.

In the report, Prado said he interviewed officers and reviewed evidence, policies and procedures. He said 28 officers and three dispatchers were the focus of the investigation.

Here are the takeaways from the report:

  • Uvalde police Lt. Mariano Pargas believed UCISD’s Arredondo was in charge of the scene because it was Arredondo’s jurisdiction. “Pargas did not think about who was in charge of the scene because he had seen Chief Arredondo,” the report states.
  • Pargas was the acting UPD chief during the shooting as Chief Daniel Rodriguez was on vacation in Arizona at the time. Rodriguez called Pargas and asked him what the plan was. Pargas said he did not know, and Rodriguez told him to set up a command post. No such post was created until after entry was made, and Pargas did not officially assume the position of incident commander.
  • Pargas stepped down in November 2022. If Pargas had remained on the force, Prado said he should be exonerated. He recommended all officers also be exonerated.
  • The UPD had little to no training since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, the report states. “They did not have the proper equipment and many of the items they did have were expired.”
  • Officers believed the door to the classroom containing the shooter was locked. At 12:48 p.m., BORTAC Acting Commander Paul Guerrero used the correct key to open the door. It is inconclusive if the door was locked or not, as it was never tried before the key was turned.
  • Prado said DA Mitchell “hindered” the investigation and did not allow him to get copies of certain information.
  • Officers tried 28 times to radio through when they were in the hall and approaching the rooms. The dispatchers and responding officers were not able to hear them.

During a presentation at a special City Council meeting on March 7, Prado said he believed Uvalde police officers did not commit any wrongdoing or violate policy in their response to the shooting.

Instead, he placed blame on the lack of communication between responding local, state and federal officers as there was no leader delegating orders. Among other issues, he said, were lack of equipment and crowd control, and time wasted on finding the correct key.

“At times they were difficult to control,” Prado said. “They were wanting to break through police barriers.”

The full report can be seen below.

Officers showed “immeasurable strength” and “level-headed thinking,” since they were shot at and didn’t fire into the classroom, Prado said.

As Prado answered questions from the city attorney, some families walked out in anger.

Afterward, Prado left the room without hearing from the victims’ families, prompting several to chant “bring him back!”

Another person from the crowd screamed “coward.” Prado later returned, sat and listened to criticism.

“You said they did it in good faith. You call that good faith? They stood there 77 minutes,” said Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was among those killed in the attack. Rubio is the president of Lives Robbed, a group that calls for gun reform, awareness, accountability and transparency.

Uvalde City Council member Hector Luevano said he was “embarrassed” and “insulted” by the report.

“These families deserve more. This community deserves more... They deserve a thorough investigation, a thorough explanation,” Luevano said. “I’m sorry but I don’t accept this report without further explanation and y’all shouldn’t either.”

Records obtained by KSAT Investigates showed Prado had no active shooter response training when he worked with Austin police.

Uvalde Mayor Pro-Tem Everardo Zamora said they took the advice of their attorneys, the Tarski Law Firm, in hiring Prado.

The study cost the City of Uvalde more than $100,000.

During a City Council meeting on March 12, members did not discuss the investigative report or the police chief’s resignation. No officers have faced criminal charges.

Construction underway on new elementary school

The new elementary school in Uvalde is under construction. (Copyright 2024 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Crews broke ground on the new Uvalde elementary school on Oct. 28, 2023, after months of fundraising, planning and community meetings.

But there have been a few hiccups: Due to project cost, construction was delayed until February.

In March, KSAT reported that $20 million was still needed to build the school.

Tim Miller, the executive director for the Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation, said the targeted date for substantial completion is September 2025.

The campus will be adjacent to Dalton Elementary School at Fourth and Leona streets.

In April 2023, the Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation presented the school’s designs to the community that showed an oak tree with two main branches and 19 smaller branches bearing the names of the 21, standing tall in the library.

Families gave their input on the designs, with safety at the forefront.

UCISD has not announced if, or when, it will demolish Robb Elementary School.

Shakeups at UCISD, Uvalde police departments

UCISD Police Chief Joshua Gutierrez is leaving the district just more than a year after taking the position.

His resignation will be presented for board approval on June 17, and if approved, Gutierrez’s last day will be June 26.

Gutierrez took over as interim chief in November 2022, after Arredondo was fired amid scrutiny. Gutierrez was named permanent police chief in March 2023.

UCISD has already started searching for a new chief of police.

“We are committed to finding a successor who will continue to uphold the standards of safety and security that our school community deserves,” the district said in a statement on Tuesday. “We thank Chief Gutierrez for his dedicated leadership and guidance in reestablishing the Uvalde CISD Police Department.

On the city level, Uvalde Chief Rodriguez, who was on vacation during the school shooting, resigned on March 12.

He announced his resignation less than a week after Prado released his Independent Expert Investigative Report that cleared city police of missteps in the response.

In a news release, Rodriguez said it was “time for me to embrace a new chapter in my career” and was “eager to explore new opportunities.”

His resignation letter did not mention the shooting or the criticism his department has faced since.

According to Prado’s investigation, on the day of the shooting, Rodriguez told Pargas to set up a command post — but Pargas did not do so.

Pargas stepped down six months after the shooting. Despite the public scrutiny, Pargas was re-elected to his county commissioner seat in November 2022.

Rodriguez told the Uvalde Leader-News that his resignation was not in response to Prado’s report, but what was best for him and his family.

He wasn’t “forced, asked or pressured” to make the decision, he told the paper. His resignation was effective on April 6.

Homer Delgado, the then-assistant chief, was appointed interim police chief and then named permanent police chief on April 4.

On April 29, Michael “Mike” Davis was named the assistant chief of police.

Also in April, Delagado announced a plan to overhaul the Uvalde Police Department, called the “Guardian Initiative.”

The “Guardian Initiative” calls for department-wide reviews, new training standards, more professional development programs and expanded community outreach.

Delgado provided the following statement when he announced the initiative:

“As officers, we are accountable to the people who depend on us, and we must demonstrate the highest levels of professionalism and responsiveness to carry out the core mission of every single officer – protecting the safety of the Uvalde community. The Guardian Initiative is key to the transformation of our department, and will require hard work, discipline, extensive training, and community engagement to enhance the department’s capabilities while ensuring integrity and transparency in our operations. We look forward to working hand-in-hand with the entire Uvalde community as UPD undergoes these critical changes to keep Uvalde Safe.”

Newly elected mayor resigns

Cody Smith resigned as mayor on April 1 — about five months after he was elected to the seat.

In a statement, Smith cited medical concerns. Here is his full statement:

“I want to thank members of the Uvalde community for their thoughts and prayers during my ongoing recovery from unexpected medical issues I have experienced in recent weeks. After much consultation and prayer, I have decided to resign as Mayor of the City of Uvalde to focus on my health. It has been a great honor to serve the city and community I love, and I have great confidence that Mayor Pro-Tem Everardo Zamora will serve with honor until the next mayor is elected on November 5, 2024.”

His resignation was effective immediately.

Smith replaced McLaughlin, who was the mayor of Uvalde when the shooting happened.

McLaughlin resigned in July 2023 as he announced plans to run for the Texas House District 80 seat.

In a specially called election in November 2023 to replace McLaughlin, Smith faced Kimberly Rubio.

Smith won with a nearly two-thirds majority.

Smith is a banker who served two terms as Uvalde mayor more than a decade ago. Before this last stint, he last served as Uvalde mayor in 2012.

Races to watch in Uvalde in 2024

Former Mayor McLaughlin is vying for the Texas House District 80 seat, which Democrat Tracy King held for nearly 30 years. In June 2023, King announced he would not seek reelection.

In the March 5 primary election, McLaughlin captured the GOP nomination with 58% of the votes. In the Nov. 5 election, he will face either Cecilia Castellano or Rosie Cuellar, who are seeking the Democratic nomination.

The contest between Castellano and Cuellar, sister to recently indicted U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, will be decided in the May 28 runoff election.

Texas House District 80 covers a large swath of South Texas, including Uvalde and Atascosa counties and parts of Laredo.

Former Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin.

Two Uvalde County law enforcement officials named in the Justice Department’s report are also on the ballot.

Sheriff Ruben Nolasco, who responded to the shooting, is seeking reelection. The Republican won 39% of the votes in the March primary and will face former Texas Department of Public Safety official Otto Arnim in the May 28 runoff. There was no Democrat on the primary ballot.

Nolasco was specifically named in the DOJ’s report for lacking leadership and communication on May 24, 2022.

“As leaders from additional law enforcement agencies arrived, including Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco, the lack of clear communication and command structure made coordination difficult. Emergency medical responders faced similar challenges as they deployed,” the report states.

The report states that Nolasco’s “training records revealed that he did not have any active shooter or ICS (Incident Command System) training and had minimal leadership/supervision training.”

Since the shooting, Nolaso and sheriff’s office personnel have attended ALERRT Level 1 training, the report states. He has also taken “some” ICS classes, the report states.

Ruben Nolasco and Otto Arnim are in a runoff for the Uvalde County Sheriff GOP nomination. (Copyright 2024 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Uvalde County Constable for Precinct 6, Emmanuel Zamora, is also seeking reelection. In the March primary, Zamora won the race with 64% of the votes against challenger Republican Robert Moss. There is no Democrat opponent.

Zamora previously worked for the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy. Like many others seeking re-election, Zamora responded to the Robb shooting, was called out in the DOJ report, and left before answering questions at the SWTJC candidate forum.

Uvalde County Constable for Precinct 1, Johnny J. Field, also ran for reelection but lost to UPD detective Max Dorflinger.

Results from the May 28 runoff and Nov. 5 election will be available on KSAT’s Vote 2024 page.

Emmanuel Zamora (left) and Johnny Field (right) (Credit: Uvalde County & Southwest Texas Junior College)

After ecumenical center, Uvalde to get behavioral health campus

On April 22, Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to build a $34 million behavioral health center in Uvalde. Construction is slated to start in the summer and the facility is expected to open in the summer of 2025.

Abbott said the campus will serve people in 32 counties, and include a 16-bed unit for adults and a 16-bed unit for youth.

“The regional behavioral health care campus will focus on providing crisis stabilization to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and act as a designated 24/7 diversion center, accepting walk-ins and drop-offs from law enforcement,” a news release states. “A second building will consist of various outpatient programs.”

Funding was approved during the 88th Legislative Session when Abbott signed House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 30 into law. The laws provide an additional $5 million in funding for the facility’s first year of operation.

The facility was announced as the City of Uvalde ended its contract with the Ecumenical Center.

The trauma-informed organization ran the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center and provided specialized counseling in the wake of the shooting.

In December 2023, the Uvalde County Commissioners Court voted not to renew its contract with the Ecumenical Center. It came at the recommendation of DA Mitchell, who preferred “we bring in services all locally.”

At the time, Ecumenical Center CEO Mary Beth Fisk told KSAT they were not notified of the decision.

The contract ended in April.

Uvalde was a mental health desert before the shooting, and the attack prompted Texas to bring in more assistance to the community.

Murals in Uvalde honor those killed in the Robb Elementary School shooting. (Copyright 2024 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Uncle of Jackie Cazares wins seat on UCISD board

Jesus “Jesse” Rizo, the uncle to Jackie Cazares, won a seat on the Uvalde CISD school board during the May 4 election.

He was one of three candidates elected for at-large seats out of a field of seven.

Rizo has been vocal in criticizing law enforcement’s response to the shooting and what he calls a lack of transparency and accountability.

In an interview with KSAT, Rizo said he wanted to bring compassion and communication to the board.

“Just you remember that day, you know. I think that the families, the community seeing an uncle sit up on the board, I think that that gives them hope. It begins a healing process that begins at. Finally, something takes place,” he said.

He was sworn in on May 13.

On Wednesday night, longtime UCSID board member Anabel White resigned. Her letter to the board did not explain her decision to retire. A new

The lives lost in Uvalde include the following victims:

  • Eva Mireles (4th grade teacher)
  • Irma Garcia (4th grade teacher
  • Alithia Ramirez
  • Amerie Jo Garza
  • Xavier Lopez
  • Jose Flores
  • Nevaeh Bravo
  • Ellie Garcia
  • Tess Mata
  • Lexi Rubio
  • Jacklyn Cazares
  • Jailah Nicole Silguero
  • Jayce Luevanos
  • Maranda Mathis
  • Makenna Lee Elrod
  • Layla Salazar
  • Maite Rodriguez
  • Annabell Rodriguez
  • Eliahna Cruz Torres
  • Rojelio Torres
  • Uziyah Garcia
Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles' class at Robb Elementary. (KSAT 2024)
Arnulfo Reyes and his 4th grade class at Robb Elementary. (KSAT 2024)

About the Authors

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

Andrew Wilson is a digital journalist and social media producer at KSAT.

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