Texas House kicks off inquiry into Uvalde shooting behind closed doors

Police block off the road leading to the scene of a school shooting at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022, in Uvalde. (Sergio Flores For The Texas Tribune, Sergio Flores For The Texas Tribune)

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State lawmakers launched an investigation into the Uvalde massacre Thursday, but the witnesses, testimony and specific goals of the investigation will remain secret for now.

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State Rep. Dustin Burrows, who chairs the committee leading the inquiry, said the goal is to provide “answers and solutions” that will prevent future mass shootings. Uvalde law enforcement has come under intense criticism from state officials and law enforcement experts for its response, in which police took more than an hour to enter the classroom where the gunman had opened fire and then holed up with his rifle.

Burrows, a Lubbock Republican and attorney, also couldn’t say how long the investigation will take, but he said the committee “may produce a preliminary report” for the public before the investigation concludes.

On Thursday, after the first day of the investigation, Burrows said the committee received a briefing from the Texas Department of Public Safety and had begun to review the physical evidence. He also addressed the decision to conduct the investigation in private.

“I think every member on this committee obviously feels that there is a need for transparency and would love to begin discussing with what we have learned today, what we will continue to learn, but there is also a respect for the process,” Burrows said.

[What we know, minute by minute, about how the Uvalde shooting and police response unfolded]

“In an effort to want to be thorough, and more importantly accurate, we’re going to continue to review this as a committee, individually, [and] make sure that we continue to visit with more individuals who have firsthand accounts before we reveal more information or any conclusions.”

The three-person investigative committee will have subpoena power. El Paso Democrat Joe Moody, a former prosecutor, will serve as vice chair. Former Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, who recently lost a bid to become the Republican nominee for attorney general, will also be a member of the panel.

State rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, speaks during a House Investigative Committee hearing about the Uvalde shooting at the Capitol on June 9, 2022.
State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, spoke at the Capitol on Thursday during a House Investigative Committee hearing about the Uvalde shooting. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced the creation of the committee on Friday.

“The fact we still do not have an accurate picture of what exactly happened in Uvalde is an outrage,” Phelan said in a statement. “Every day, we receive new information that conflicts with previous reports, making it not only difficult for authorities to figure out next steps, but for the grieving families of the victims to receive closure.”

A federal probe of the law enforcement response to the shooting is also underway, in addition to state investigations by the Texas Rangers.

The gunman remained in the school with a military-style rifle for more than an hour before he was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol officer. Meanwhile, students who were still trapped inside with the gunman repeatedly called 911 for help.

Experts have said the amount of time officers took to engage the shooter went against modern law enforcement training, which teaches officers to immediately engage with active shooters and not wait for backup, in order to save as many lives as possible. Texas officials have condemned the police response during the shooting as a failure.

The Uvalde shooting also prompted Congress to renew long-standing debates over increased gun restrictions. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is the lead GOP negotiator in the Senate’s efforts to pass bipartisan gun safety legislation.

In Texas, Moody pledged to not let “partisanship” deter the House investigation.

“When the issues are this complex, and the stakes are this high, we need facts first,” he said. “We can’t develop sound policies based on the conflicting reports we’ve had, especially when some of them are agenda-driven narratives.”

He also said the group must work to ensure that mass shootings do not become “normalized,” while noting that the emotions of the 2019 mass shooting in his El Paso district are “still very raw.”

“This isn’t a new normal; it’s an epidemic and an emergency,” he said. “We can’t accept a do-nothing attitude. Failing to tackle these issues because they’re difficult or politically uncomfortable is cowardly and morally wrong.”

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Correction, June 9, 2022: An earlier version of this story misstated the first day of the House committee’s investigation. It was Thursday, not Wednesday.