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DOJ’s Uvalde report finds “unimaginable failure” in school shooting response. Here are the key takeaways.

A federal report investigating the police response to the May 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, found multiple failures by officers that allowed the attack to continue even as police were at the school. 

The report, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing, known as the COPS Office, looked at thousands of pieces of data and documentation and relied on more than 260 interviews, including with law enforcement and school personnel, family members of victims, and witnesses and survivors from the massacre. The team investigating visited Uvalde nine times, spending 54 days on the ground in the small community.

In a news conference after the release of the report, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said the law enforcement response was an “unimaginable failure,” and that “a lack of action by adults failed to protect children and their teachers.” 

In the report, much of the blame was placed on former police chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, , who was terminated in the wake of the shooting, although the report also said that some officers’ actions “may have been influenced by policy and training deficiencies.”

Here are some other takeaways from the 600-page report:

Uvalde police were on scene in minutes, but waited to enter classroom

The report found that police were on the scene within minutes of the attack being reported, and 11 officers went into the school three minutes after arriving on the scene. Five went toward the classroom, but all of the officers retreated for cover after initial shots. 

After three attempts to approach the classrooms where 19 students and two teachers were killed, the focus shifted from stopping the shooter to evacuating other rooms, the report said.

The report found there was “a great deal of confusion, miscommunication, a lack of urgency and a lack of incident command.”

The report referred to this response as a critical failure, stating that several officers acted consistently with accepted practices before retreating after hearing gunfire. Police also focused more on additional SWAT tactical officers arriving, a strategy that the report said should not delay a response. Since the Columbine school shooting, a “fundamental precept” of active shooter response “must be to immediately neutralize the subject,” according to the report. 

“Everything else, including officer safety, is subordinate to that objective,” the report said.

Forty-eight minutes after officers first entered the school, there were four more shots fired. No one entered the classrooms, presuming that the doors were locked. These gunshots should have spurred greater urgency to confront the suspect, the report said, rather than marked a retreat. Another 15 minutes passed with officers waiting for a sniper, who could not see into the building. 


New 911 recordings released from Uvalde shooting

Former police chief blamed for disorganized response 

The report stated that Uvalde Police Department acting chief Mariano Pargas, who has since resigned from his position, was in the “best position to start taking command and control and start coordinating with approaching personnel,” but Arredondo wound up in charge of the scene. Arredondo has previously said he did not know he was in charge of the scene. 

Arredondo discarded radios, causing communication difficulties, the report said, and leadership at the scene did not establish command posts, so arriving personnel did not receive accurate updates. 

Due to a lack of urgency outside and inaccurate information being shared, arriving officers thought that the shooter was dead or that Arredondo was inside the room with the suspect, the report said. The shooter was repeatedly described as “barricaded” and “contained” by officers. 

“The most significant failure was that responding officers should have immediately recognized the incident as an active shooter situation,” the report said. 

At no point did Paragas provide direction to personnel, the report said, despite being in the best position to start taking command and control and coordinate with arriving personnel. Paragas was told at one point that the “room is full of victims,” according to the report, and called dispatch to see if there were enough emergency medical responders on standby. Street closures blocked the arrival of ambulances, the report found. 

The vast majority of those on the scene had never trained together, according to the report, and there were “policy and training deficiencies” in play. Some first responders had never received any active shooter training, the report said. 

The report also found that Arredondo directed officers to delay making entry into the classrooms where the shooter was, in favor of getting keys and evacuating other classrooms in the building. There were 587 other students in the school that day, police said. 

“Unfortunately, on multiple occasions, (Arredondo) directed officers intending to gain entry to classrooms to stop because he appeared to determine that other victims should first be removed from nearby classrooms,” the report said. 

The report also criticized other agency leads for not effectively questioning the judgment displayed by Paragas and Arredondo. 

Uvalde school district did not have an active shooter policy

The report found that the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District did not have an active shooter policy, but did have a policy specifically related to incident command roles and responsibilities. 

This outlined that the district police department chief should be the person in control of the scene, should secure the administration office as a command post if possible and designate an alternate post if not, and work to communicate with other responding officers. According to this policy, Arredondo was the defacto incident commander. 

It wasn’t until 12:17 p.m., about 45 minutes after officers arrived on the scene, that Paragas assigned an officer to establish a command post, the report found. 

Leadership from various responding agencies “demonstrated no urgency for establishing a command and control structure, which led to challenges related to information sharing, lack of situational statuses, and limited-to-no direction for personnel in the hallway or on the perimeter,” the report said. 

Shooter fired dozens of rounds at police

Twenty-seven minutes after the second round of gunshots and 75 minutes after officers first entered the building, the classroom doors were opened, the report said, and two minutes later, police entered the classroom. Responding officers included members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, the Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue Unit, and deputies from Uvalde and Zavala counties. 

The shooter fired 45 rounds “in the presence of officers” before being killed, the report said. One of the members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit was injured. 

Police gave families incorrect updates about victims’ conditions 

There were multiple issues in giving information about victims, the report found. 

The report found that children who were evacuated from their classrooms were given limited instruction on where to proceed, and did not receive adequate medical attention before being transported to the reunification center that had been set up. At least 91 children were evacuated from the school to the back of a chapel of a funeral home. One child was bleeding and required medical attention, but did not receive it as law enforcement moved in and out of the chapel. Parents remained outside the funeral home. 

The establishment of an actual reunification site was delayed and chaotic, with next of kin receiving conflicting instructions on the location of the center. Families also had what the report called unreasonable challenges accessing the hospital where victims were transported. 

Community members, school personnel and other responders who didn’t have a formal role had access to deceased bodies, and the report said that the “traumatic” crime scene should have been better protected. 

Meanwhile, an FBI death and injury notification team trained in communicating with next of kin was prevented from doing so by the Texas Department of Public Safety, the report found. 

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news conference after the report was released Thursday that some families had been told that loved ones had survived when they did not. 

Families say a lack of answers, support has exacerbated trauma

The families of victims have requested details from investigative reports, from officials and law enforcement, from autopsy reports and more to learn more about their children’s final moments, the report said. These family members do not relate to the term “closure” and remain waiting for answers nearly two years after the shooting

“Several family members indicate they cannot move forward with their lives until they know what happened to their children. Some have asked if their child was alone or near friends. Others want to know if their child would have lived, had law enforcement entered the classroom earlier,” the report said. Many victims and family members have reported that no one has taken accountability for what happened, apologized, or even acknowledged that the families deserve this information. This void of information about the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths is unacceptable and has exacerbated their trauma.” 

The report found that it is still unknown how many victims and survivors require emotional support. 

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