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Uvalde shooting report describes multiple failures and a ‘lackadaisical approach’ by law enforcement

<i>TX House Investigative Committee</i><br/>
TX House Investigative Committee
TX House Investigative Committee

By Shimon Prokupecz, Dakin Andone, Amir Vera, Matthew J. Friedman, Elizabeth Joseph and Peter Nickeas, CNN

A preliminary report by the Texas House investigative committee probing the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre outlines a series of failures by multiple law enforcement agencies, describing “an overall lackadaisical approach” by authorities on the scene of the shooting in which 21 people were killed.

It’s just one of the findings in the 77-page report, which also details failures by several other entities, including the Uvalde school system, the shooter’s family and social media platforms.

But through its investigation, the committee didn’t find any “villains” beyond the shooter, according to the report released Sunday.

“There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives,” the report says. “Instead, we found systemic failures and egregious poor decision making.”

After meeting with victims’ families, state Rep. Dustin Burrows urged people to read the entire 77-page report.

“You cannot cherry-pick one sentence and use it to say everything without reading it all and with context,” Burrows said.

The document, which was made available to the victims’ families Sunday morning, is described as an “interim report,” with the investigative committee noting its work remains incomplete and that multiple investigations remain underway. But it marks the first time since the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary that a government report has offered a comprehensive look at the shooting and the law enforcement response, which has been heavily criticized.

In the days after the attack, officials gave contradictory and confusing information, and key questions about the police response have remained unanswered since the May 24 shooting. Chief among them — why authorities waited more than an hour in the school hallway before confronting and killing the gunman, a move that law enforcement experts say may have potentially cost lives.

State Rep. Joe Moody said the findings in the report are not what many people want to hear, but it is reliable information.

“It’s hard to hear that there were multiple systemic failures,” he said, adding he’s dealt with this situation before, when 22 were killed in the 2019 El Paso shooting. “We want to tell ourselves there’s one person … that’s just not what happened here.”

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Some experts told CNN the report still leaves them with more questions than answers. Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, said information in the legislative report conflicted with the findings in the earlier report from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center, such as whether one of the first officers to arrive outside the school had a chance to shoot the gunman before he entered the building.

“These types of contradictions, these types of conclusions that appear to potentially be flawed do nothing to provide answers and comfort to the families or to that community,” Eells said. “I think it just exacerbates their frustrations and their feelings that they’re just getting jerked around.”

Eells said he thought the leaked video “was much more telling.”

Last month, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Col. Steven McCraw called authorities’ response an “abject failure” in a hearing before a Texas Senate committee, placing blame at the feet of the on-scene commander, who state authorities have identified as district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo.

But Arredondo, who was put on administrative leave by the school district, did not consider himself incident commander, the report says, echoing comments he made to the Texas Tribune last month.

“My approach and thought was responding as a police officer. And so I didn’t title myself. But once I got in there and we took that fire, back then, I realized we need some things. We’ve got to get in that door. We need an extraction tool. We need those keys … As far as I’m talking about the command part…the people that went in, there was a big group of them outside the door. I have no idea who they were and how they walked in or anything kind of — I wasn’t given that direction,” Arredondo said in the report.

The report also noted others could have assumed command. Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training “teaches that any law enforcement officer can assume command, that somebody must assume command, and that an incident commander can transfer responsibility as an incident develops,” it says. “That did not happen at Robb Elementary, and the lack of effective incident command is a major factor that caused other vital measures to be left undone.”

Describing the “shortcoming and failures of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and of various agencies and officers of law enforcement,” the report notes nearly 400 officers responded to the scene — a number of whom were from federal agencies.

Of the 376 responders, 149 were from the United States Border Patrol, 14 were from the Department of Homeland Security and 91 were from the Texas DPS. The report did not state when officers from each responding agency arrived on scene.

Ultimately, the report found “the entirety of law enforcement and its training, preparation, and response shares systemic responsibility for many missed opportunities.”

CNN has reached out to Texas DPS, US Border Patrol, the Uvalde School District, the city’s police department and the Uvalde district attorney for comment, among others.

Families of the victims were able to receive the report and hallway surveillance video, with no audio, of the law enforcement response Sunday morning before meeting with members of the investigative committee Sunday afternoon. The school district superintendent and other school staff were denied entry to the meeting by several families, said one source, who described the meeting as “brutal … a lot of emotion.”

Systemic, widespread and avoidable law enforcement failures detailed in report

Surveillance footage shows that law enforcement entered the school minutes after the gunman, who had already gone inside adjoining classrooms 111 and 112 where he would kill the victims.

About three minutes after the shooter entered, at least nine officers made what appeared to be a coordinated entry into the building and approached the classroom doorway, only to retreat after the gunman opened fire again.

According to the report, police who made entry knew there had been gunfire, evidenced by a “cloud of debris” in the hallway, bullet holes in the walls and spent rifle casings on the floor. But there was no evidence officers had “any contemporaneous understanding, as they arrived in the building, that teachers and students just then had been shot inside the classrooms.”

It would be more than an hour before officers finally breached the classroom, killing the shooter.

According to the committee’s report, first responders “lost critical momentum” by treating the situation as a “barricaded subject” scenario, which calls for a more measured response compared to an active shooter.

“Correcting this error should have sparked greater urgency to immediately breach the classroom by any possible means, to subdue the attacker, and to deliver immediate aid to survive victims,” the report says. If they had recognized the situation as an active shooter scenario, they should have prioritized the “rescue of innocent victims over the precious time wasted in a search for door keys, and shields to enhance the safety of law enforcement responders.”

The report attributed some of the failures to a breakdown in communication, in which information known to some outside the school may not have been relayed to those on the inside. Arredondo previously told the Tribune he left his two radios outside the school because he wanted his hands free to hold his gun.

“Notably, nobody ensured that responders making key decisions inside the building received information that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in (classrooms), and had called out for help,” the report says.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows said during the news conference Sunday that several officers in the hallway or building “knew or should have known” that people were dying in the classrooms. “They should have done more, acted with urgency, try the door handles, try to go in through the windows try to distract him, try to do something to address the situation,” he said.

Burrows went on to say that there were many officers on scene who “were either denied access to the building, were told misinformation.” Some, Burrows said, were even told false information.

“Some were told the police chief of the consolidated Independent School District was actually inside the room actively negotiating with the shooter, such that they did not know what was happening,” Burrows said.

Some questions remain unanswered, like whether lives could have been saved if authorities had shortened their delay in attempting to breach the classroom: “We do not know at this time whether responders could have saved more lives by shortening that delay,” the report noted.

The report also lacks to-the-second timestamps that would be useful for the public, and for members of law enforcement across the country, to evaluate the quality of police response.

The report released Sunday has citations but the committee didn’t provide its source material, including interview transcripts with responding officers or unedited video it may have obtained. To date, there has not been an official release of unedited or raw evidence in the case; only ever-shifting narratives of what transpired by officials at various levels of local and state government.

Members of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police chief and officers, the district superintendent, the school’s principal, a teacher and custodial staff are among those who testified behind closed doors to the committee — with roughly 40 people testifying, according to one source.

The committee did not have access to material witnesses, the report says, and medical examiners have not issued reports about their findings. But the investigative committee “believes this interim report constitutes the most compelling telling to date,” though “some aspects of these interim findings may be disputed or disproven in the future.”

The report “provides some of the most thorough and accurate information released to date” about the shooting, Dade Phelan, speaker of the Texas House, said in a statement, saying the committee’s work “has provided answers to the people who need it most.”

Shooter’s history and school’s security shortcomings

Robb Elementary had its own issues, per the investigative report, which found that poor WiFi “likely delayed the lockdown alert” the day of the shooting. Not all teachers received the report immediately, and the school intercom was not used to communicate during the lockdown.

“As a result, not all teachers received timely notice of the lockdown,” the report says.

Additionally, the school had what the report calls “recurring problems” with doors and locks, including the locking mechanism to room 111, which was “widely known to be faulty, yet it was not repaired.”

“Robb Elementary had a culture of noncompliance with safety policies requiring doors to be kept locked, which turned out to be fatal,” the report says.

The question of whether the door to Robb Elementary classroom 111 was ever locked was not definitively answered in the report because no one ever tried to turn the door handle.

“The committee believes based on all the testimony and information we’ve received, it was very likely that door was either not locked or secured at the time,” Burrows said. “However, I am not willing to tell you with 100% absolute certainty that we know, and we may never know whether or not that door was actually locked and secured at that time.”

A lack of law enforcement leadership both inside and outside of the school were also notable areas of failure in the response to the shooting, Burrows said Sunday.

“In hindsight, we can say that Robb Elementary was not adequately prepared for the risk of a school shooter,” Burrows said, specifically noting that other schools are believed to have many of the same issues. “This is a wider problem.”

The report did not name the shooter nor show his image, “so as not to glorify him,” it said, but did offer information about his background, both at home and school as a student of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District.

Though he had “few disciplinary issues,” he struggled academically, having completed only the ninth grade by the time he was 17. And the school made “no meaningful intervention” before he was finally involuntary withdrawn from school for poor performance and excessive absences last October.

Because of those absences, the report says, there was “no information actually known to the school district that should have identified this attacker as a threat to any school campus.”

But the shooter sent messages about guns to some of his contacts on social media, the report says, and he would suggest he was going to “do something” they would hear about on the news. Some users might have reported the behavior to the social media platforms, the report indicates, but the platforms “appear to have not done anything in response.”

Before the shooting, various members of the gunman’s family knew he had “asked for help in making straw gun purchases which would have been illegal,” the report says. “Family members uniformly refused to buy guns for him.”

Acting chief of city police on the day of shooting placed on administrative leave

Lt. Mariano Pargas, the acting chief of the Uvalde Police Department on the day of the shooting, has been placed on “administrative leave,” according to a statement by Mayor Don McLaughlin following the report’s release. CNN has reached out to Pargas for comment.

“The City has a responsibility to evaluate the response to the incident by the Uvalde Police Department, which includes Lt. Pargas’ role as the acting Chief,” the mayor’s statement read. “This administrative leave is to investigate whether Lt. Pargas was responsible for taking command on May 24th, what specific actions Lt. Pargas took to establish that command, and whether it was even feasible given all the agencies involved and other possible policy violations.”

Mayor McLaughlin did not hide his anger Sunday while speaking with reporters about the leaks that have occurred over the past seven weeks since the school shooting.

“We’re tired of the bullsh*t leaks. We’re tired of the bullsh*t stories,” McLaughlin said of the erroneous information that had been shared with the media. “The only people that are being blindsided by that is these families. These families they have been blindsided since day one because they have gotten no information.”

“This has been unprofessional, the way this thing has been handled since day one,” McLaughlin said, referring to a Department of Public Safety comment that Uvalde Police officers were not cooperating with the investigation.

Printed copies of the report were hand-delivered to Uvalde and Texas officials Saturday night out of fear the document might leak to the media before family members of the victims were able to read it, according to some of the officials who received the report.

The surveillance footage was leaked and published by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper last Tuesday, sparking outrage from both local officials and families who said they were blindsided and disrespected by the unexpected release.

In a statement after the video was published by the paper, Republican state Rep. Dustin Burrows, the committee chairman, said while he was glad a portion of the video was made public, he was “also disappointed the victims’ families and the Uvalde community’s requests to watch the video first, and not have certain images and audio of the violence, were not achieved.”

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CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz and Matthew J. Friedman reported from Uvalde, while Dakin Andone wrote and reported this story in New York. CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph reported from Los Angeles. CNN’s Rosa Flores and Kevin Flower contributed to this report.

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