The failure of police to go into the Uvalde classroom while a gunman killed children inside was the result of “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” among every law enforcement agency that responded, according to a highly anticipated report by Texas lawmakers released Sunday.
“Other than the attacker, the Committee did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its Investigation,” the report said. “There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making.”
Nineteen children and two adults were killed in the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for the state House to convene a special legislative committee to investigate the shooting, and the lawmakers released their preliminary findings in Sunday’s report. The committee interviewed 39 people, including at least 20 law enforcement officials.
Following the release of the report, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said that Lt. Mariano Pargas, who was the city’s acting chief of police on the day of the shooting, has been put on administrative leave. McLaughlin hosted a meeting Sunday for families of Uvalde victims, according to committee chair Texas Rep. Dustin Burrows.
Initial accounts had placed the blame for the delay in the response largely on Uvalde school police commissioner Pete Arredondo, the incident commander who Texas Public Safety Commissioner Steven McCraw said was responsible for the law enforcement response. But Sunday’s report said the failure extended beyond Arredondo, although Burrows noted in a press conference Sunday that if “anyone was in charge at least south of the door, it was him.”
Burrows said that there needed to be an incident commander, and Arredondo testified that he did not feel he was in command.
According to Sunday’s report, 376 law enforcement officers in total responded to the shooting – a number that included just five of the officers from the local schools’ police force. There were 25 Uvalde police officers, 16 sheriff’s deputies and some neighboring county law enforcement, but the vast majority were state and federal officials, with 149 Border Patrol officers, 91 state police officers, 13 U.S. Marshals and eight federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers.
Despite the large number of officers who responded, the group had no clear leadership and lacked the communication to respond efficiently, the report said.
“The void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon,” the report said.
Most of the victims “perished immediately,” although the committee wrote that it’s “plausible some of the victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue.”
The responding officers “failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety.”
Burrows noted on Sunday that “we may never know” if the door to the classroom with the gunman was locked. The report said that body camera footage from Uvalde Police Sgt. Daniel Coronado recorded “several people commenting on the need to find a master key to the classrooms.” Those officers included Arredondo, who was on his phone asking for a key, “which was a primary focus of his attention for the next 40 minutes,” the report said.
“Chief Arredondo personally tried all of one large set of keys brought to him, and when Sgt. Coronado cautioned him to stay clear of the hallway and the ‘fatal funnel,’ Chief Arredondo responded, ‘just tell them to f***ing wait,'” the report said.
The report also said that there was a “relaxed vigilance” on the school campus about intruders, with at least one classroom being known for being unlocked. On the day of the shooting, no one had locked the three exterior doors
Additionally, there were frequent lockdowns prompted by “bailouts,” the term used to describe when a vehicle with suspected undocumented migrants crashes during a police pursuit and the people inside the vehicle scatter. There were about 50 alarms between February and May 2022 related to bailouts, leading to a “diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts,” the report said.
The report also revealed new details about the 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, who was described in the report as a “school shooter” by friends of his girlfriend in 2021. The gunman had made threats to women, had begun to “demonstrate interest in gore and violent sex, watching and sometimes sharing gruesome videos and images of suicides, beheadings, accidents, and the like” the report said. He did not return to school when school reopened amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.
Law enforcement officials conducted interviews with family members, examined data on the shooter’s phone and provided testimony to Texas lawmakers. He shot his grandmother before the attack on the school.
Some of the video footage leaked to local news outlets, including the Austin-American Statesman and KVUE, last week. The video showed the gunman walking down an empty hallway and stopping to fire into classrooms, as a student who spotted the shooter rounded a corner and then ran away. Three minutes later, the first police officers entered the building, and the gunman shot at them.
The video then jumped 19 minutes ahead and showed a more heavily armed police presence in the hallway, but officers had still not confronted the gunman. Seventy-seven minutes into the edited video, officers can be seen breaching the classroom amid a barrage of gunfire.
Although Texas lawmakers initially praised law enforcement’s response, in the weeks since, local authorities have provided shifting and often conflicting accounts of the delay between when the gunman entered the school and when U.S. Border Patrol agents unlocked the classroom door and killed him. Abbott said days after the shooting that he had been “misled” by officers in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
On Friday, The New York Times reported that Uvalde officials gave a document to McCraw in a closed-door meeting in the days after the shooting that urged him to praise law enforcement for acting quickly and saving children’s lives. The meeting came after McCraw had publicly criticized the law enforcement response. McCraw’s agency is leading the investigation into the police response. Additionally, the Justice Department said on May 30 that it would be conducting a review of law enforcement’s actions.
Government officials last week objected to the initial release of the video, with McCraw saying he was “deeply disappointed” the video had been released before victims’ families had a chance to view it. The families were supposed to privately view the video on Sunday.