August 15, 2022
Blistering report finds “systemic failures” by authorities in the wake of Uvalde school shooting
A scathing report released Sunday by a Texas House committee investigating the mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde faulted “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making” by law enforcement and the school district.Also Sunday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced that Uvalde's acting chief of police, Lt. Mariano Pargas, has been…

A scathing report released Sunday by a Texas House committee investigating the mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde faulted “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making” by law enforcement and the school district.

Also Sunday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced that Uvalde’s acting chief of police, Lt. Mariano Pargas, has been placed on leave as a city launched an investigation of his response and that of his officers.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, McLaughlin said the city’s inquiry would “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.”

The mayor also said the city will release body camera footage of the response of its officers. A city spokesperson did not respond to an attempt to reach Pargas. It’s not immediately clear if he has legal representation.

The 77-page preliminary report specifies that beyond the gunman, no other individual is to blame for the May 24 massacre. Instead, the report outlines the roles that law enforcement agencies and officials, school officials, the gunman’s family, social media platforms, and gun laws played in failing to intervene with the gunman, prevent the shooting or minimize the devastation.

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

The U.S. Border Patrol, the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office, Uvalde city police, and Uvalde school police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Schools police Chief Pete Arredondo, who recently resigned his newly elected position on the City Council amid scrutiny of his leadership during the attack, has said that he had not believed he was in a position to assume command and that he and officers around him did everything possible to stop the shooter.

“My mind was to get there as fast as possible, eliminate any threats, and protect the students and staff,” the chief, placed on leave during the ongoing investigations, told the Texas Tribune last month.

Speaking Sunday at a news conference on the report’s findings, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, said any individual officer at the scene who didn’t take more action or question who was in charge should be held accountable.

Officers at the scene had a responsibility to ensure there was “effective overall command” and to “ask more questions,” he said.

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, agreed, saying of each officer at the scene, “They should have done more, acted with urgency.”

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, who contributed to the report, suggested that, to date, focus on the response to the attack has been clouded by misinformation.

“Accurate facts have to provide the backdrop for any policy changes that come out of this,” she said.

The report does not share every conclusion of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which has an ongoing investigation of the response, which included some of its own officers.

DPS Director Steve McCraw in late May placed the most blame for the prolonged and disorganized police move to neutralize the gunman on Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Chief Arredondo, who was at the scene early but who acted more as a foot soldier tracking the shooter than someone coordinating the response. Arredondo’s department has six officers.

While 376 officers responded to the scene, a lack of clear leadership and direction contributed to officers’ “overall lackadaisical approach,” the report found.

Many responding officers “were given and relied upon inaccurate information,” and others “had enough information to know better,” the report concludes.

“The scene was chaotic, without any person obviously in charge or directing the law enforcement response,” the report notes.

Lack of leadership and coordinated response

When the gunman first arrived on the scene, there was no law enforcement officer on the campus, according to the report. A coach at the school, Yvette Silva, “acted heroically and almost certainly saved lives by alerting the school to the attacker’s advance,” the report notes, adding that “most fourth grade classes successfully locked down as a result of her quick response.”

When officers did arrive on the scene, the report says, their response quickly broke down.

Officers who first arrived on the scene about three minutes after the gunman entered the school “acted appropriately by attempting to breach the classrooms and stop the attacker,” according to the report. At that point, Arredondo — a key focus of the report — “was actively engaged in the effort to ‘stop the killing,'” the report states.

But after gunman returned fire on the officers, they “lost critical momentum by treating the scenario as a ‘barricaded subject’ instead of the greater urgency attached to an “active shooter” scenario.”

Arredondo also failed to take on what the report characterizes as “his preassigned responsibility of incident command,” which would have required letting the other officers know he was in charge and leaving the building to set up an incident command post. Instead, he remained in the hallway, and in doing so, he was unable to communicate with other law enforcement officers and “effectively implement staging or command and control of the situation,” according to the report.

Arredondo also didn’t know about the 911 calls coming from inside the classroom “because of his failure to establish a reliable method of receiving critical information from outside the building,” according to the report.

“Even if he had received information of surviving injured victims in the classrooms, it is unclear that he would have done anything differently to act ‘more urgently,'” the report adds of Arredondo.

Arredondo, who is on administrative leave from his role as police chief and resigned from his seat on the Uvalde City Council a month after being sworn in in the wake of widespread criticism, previously told the Texas Tribune he never considered himself the incident commander and instead acted as a front-line responder.

The officers’ positions were also not tactically coordinated inside the school, the report found.

While Arredondo and other officers were clustered around the south end of the building, focused on entering the classrooms the gunman was in and securing protective equipment for officers, dozens of other officers were in the hallway on the north side of the building “stacking up for an assault on the classrooms, and mostly waiting for further instructions pending the arrival of protective gear and breaching equipment,” the report states.

The report also blames other law enforcement officers for the breakdown in the police response.

Other officers on the scene should have recognized “obvious deficiencies in command and control” and approached Arredondo or other officers around him to offer assistance with incident command, according to the report.

Officers also assumed the classroom doors were locked without seeing if that was true, according to the report, which notes that the door of Room 111, one of the two in which the shooter was active, “probably was not effectively locked shut.”

When the United States Border Patrol Tactical Unit, known as BORTAC, arrived on the scene, Arredondo didn’t direct them, nor did they seek instruction from him, according to the report. BORTAC Acting Commander Paul Guerrero waited to try to enter the classrooms until obtaining a working master key and putting a rifle-rated shield in place.

The report concludes that “it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue,” but notes that most of the victims probably died instantly upon being shot and that the committee “has not received medical evidence” to make a definitive judgment about whether a quicker response from officers at the scene could’ve saved lives.

Problems with school infrastructure and communication

The report also blames the school’s infrastructure, and administrators, for communication and logistical failures that enabled the gunman to easily enter the building and unlocked classrooms to open fire.

Nobody used the school intercom to communicate the lockdown, and poor wi-fi likely delayed an alert that went out to teachers, meaning that “not all teachers received timely notice of the lockdown,” including the teacher in one of the two classrooms the gunman breached. And because the school district frequently sent out “less-serious bailout-related alerts,” many administrators, teachers, and law enforcement officials initially failed to take the lockdown alert seriously, the report states.

The school also had what the report describes as “a culture of noncompliance with safety policies requiring doors to be kept locked, which turned out to be fatal.”

“Teachers at Robb Elementary often used rocks to prop open exterior doors,” the report states, adding that the gunman was able to enter the building through an unlocked door.

Teachers also often left interior doors unlocked “for convenience,” and used magnets and other methods to get around door locks, according to the report.

Various administrators knew that the lock on the door to Room 111 — one of the two classrooms the gunman breached — was faulty, but neither the principal, nor her assistant responsible for initiating maintenance work orders, nor the teacher took action to fix or replace it, the report notes. The door to Room 111 was “probably not locked” during the shooting and “required special effort to lock,” and the teacher who was inside does not remember locking it or hearing a lockdown alert.

“If the door to Room 111 had been locked, the attacker likely would have been slowed for some time as he either circumvented the lock or took some other alternative course of action,” the report states.

School, family failed to intervene with gunman

The report also outlines the roles that the gunman’s unstable family and home life played in the context of the shooting, noting family members’ failures to obtain mental health assistance on his behalf despite his “sociopathic and violent tendencies.”

The gunman’s father was absent and his mother struggled with substance abuse, the report states.

Social media threats weren’t followed up

The report also places some blame at the feet of social media platforms on which the gunman allegedly made threats, but does not name any specific platforms.

The gunman also reportedly told social media contacts that he was “going to do something they would hear about in the news,” and even referred to attacking a school, the report notes. Some of those contacts may have reported those threats to the social media platforms they received them on, but the platforms “appear to have not done anything in response to restrict the attacker’s social media access or report his behavior to law enforcement authorities,” the report states.

Additionally, the report notes that “the services used by Uvalde CISD to monitor social media for threats did not provide any alert of threatening behavior by the attacker,” though the report doesn’t state what those services consisted of or how exactly they monitored threats.

‘The most complete telling to date’

Family members of the victims received the report Sunday, and printed copies of the report were hand-delivered to Uvalde and Texas officials on Saturday night in an attempt to prevent the report from being leaked to the media before the family members had a chance to review it, CNN reported.

The report notes that the committee’s investigation into the shooting continues, but that it “believes this interim report constitutes the most complete telling to date of the events of and leading to the May 24, 2022, tragedy.”

“We do not have access to all material witnesses. Medical examiners have not yet issued any reports about their findings, and multiple other investigations remain ongoing,” the report states.

The report excludes both the name and image of the gunman “so as not to glorify him,” it notes. The committee dedicates the report to the victims.

“This report is meant to honor them,” it states.

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