Uvalde parents angered by new report that clears city police of missteps during Texas school attack

Felicia Martinez, center, and husband Abel Lopez, right, whose son Xavier was among 19 children killed in the massacre at Robb Elementary, depart a special city council meeting after speaking in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, March 7, 2024. Almost two years after the deadly school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead, the city council met to discuss the results of an independent investigation it requested into the response by local police officers. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Felicia Martinez, center, and husband Abel Lopez, right, whose son Xavier was among 19 children killed in the massacre at Robb Elementary, depart a special city council meeting after speaking in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, March 7, 2024. Almost two years after the deadly school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead, the city council met to discuss the results of an independent investigation it requested into the response by local police officers. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — An investigation Uvalde city leaders ordered into the Robb Elementary School shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers defended the actions of local police in a report released Thursday, prompting shouts of “cowards” during a City Council meeting and causing several family members of the victims to angrily walk out.

The report acknowledged wide failures by police during the 2022 attack and reiterated rippling missteps that the Justice Department and state lawmakers have previously laid bare. Nearly 400 law enforcement agents, including Uvalde Police Department officers, rushed to the scene of the shooting but waited more than an hour to confront a teenage gunman armed with an AR-style rifle.

But an investigator hired by Uvalde officials found that the city’s officers did not violate policies, and in some cases, praised their actions during one of the deadliest classroom shootings in U.S. history. The presentation prompted an eruption of anger among some of the victims’ family members, who also scolded the investigator for leaving the room before they had a chance to address him.

“You said they did it in good faith. You call that good faith? They stood there 77 minutes,” said Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter was among those killed in the attack, after the presentation ended.

Jesse Prado, an Austin-based investigator and former police detective who made the report for the Uvalde City Council, began his presentation by describing the failures by responding local, state and federal officers at the scene that day: communication problems, poor training for live shooter situations, lack of available equipment and delays on breaching the classroom.

“There were problems all day long with communication and lack of it. The officers had no way of knowing what was being planned, what was being said,” Prado said. “If they would have had a ballistic shield, it would have been enough to get them to the door.”

The city’s report is just one of several probes into the massacre, including the Justice Department report in January that criticized the “cascading failures” of responding law enforcement.

Law enforcement took more than an hour to get inside the classroom and kill the gunman, even as children inside the classrooms called 911, begging police to rescue them.

But Prado said his review showed that officers showed “immeasurable strength” and “level-headed thinking” as they faced fire from the shooter and refrained from shooting into a darkened classroom.

“They were being shot at from eight feet away from the door,” Prado said.

Prado also said the families who rushed to the school hampered efforts to set up a chain of command as they had to conduct crowd control with parents trying to get in the building or pleading with officers to go inside.

”At times they were difficult to control,” Prado said. ” They were wanting to break through police barriers.”

Family members erupted when Prado briefly left after his presentation.

“Bring him back!′ several of them shouted.

Prado returned and sat and listened when victims’ families cried and criticized the report, the council and the responding officers.

“My daughter was left for dead,” Ruben Zamorra said. “These police officers signed up to do a job. They didn’t do it.”

A criminal investigation by Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell’s office into the law enforcement response in the May 2022 shooting remains open. A grand jury was summoned earlier this year and some law enforcement officials have already been asked to testify.

Tensions remain high between Uvalde city officials and the local prosecutor, while the community of more than 15,000, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio, is plagued with trauma and divided over accountability.

Uvalde City Council member Hector Luevano said he was “embarrassed” and “insulted” by the city’s report.

“These families deserve more. This community deserves more,” Luevano said. “I don’t accept this report.”

The city report comes after a nearly 600-page report by the Department of Justice in January found massive failures by law enforcement, including acting with “no urgency” to establish a command post, assuming the subject was barricaded despite ongoing gunfire, and communicating inaccurate information to grieving families.

“Had law enforcement agencies followed generally accepted practices in active shooter situations and gone right after the shooter and stopped him, lives would have been saved and people would have survived,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said when the federal report was released.

The DOJ reported that 48 minutes after the shooter entered the school, UPD Acting Chief Mariano Pargas “continued to provide no direction, command or control to personnel.”

The city report notes the agency’s SWAT team had not trained consistently since before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Three UPD officers who were present in the hallway during the shooting “were the leadership of the SWAT team and had the most experience with Uvalde PD.”

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott initially praised the law enforcement response, saying the reason the shooting was “not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do.” He claimed that officers had run toward gunfire to save lives.

But in the weeks following the shooting, that story changed as information released through media reports and lawmakers’ findings illustrated the botched law enforcement response.

At least five officers who were on the scene have lost their jobs, including two Department of Public Safety officers and the on-site commander, Pete Arredondo, the former school police chief. No officers have faced criminal charges.

____

Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas, Juan A. Lozano in Houston and Anita Snow in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Politics

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed AP

Trending on NewsNation