Uvalde victims ‘deserved better’ from police: review

Andrew Goudsward and Brad Brooks |

A report into the police response to the Uvalde, Texas school shooting in 2022 has been released.
A report into the police response to the Uvalde, Texas school shooting in 2022 has been released.

Police failed in their response to the 2022 primary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers, the US Justice Department has concluded, saying the victims “deserved better”.

The report faulted law enforcement officers for waiting more than an hour to breach the classroom where the 18-year-old gunman was holed up with 33 students and three teachers, despite calls for help from the children.

“The victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School deserved better,” Attorney-General Merrick Garland said on Thursday during a press conference in Uvalde, adding that the law enforcement response “was a failure that should not have happened”.

The report criticised responding officers for not immediately confronting the gunman, who remained in a set of adjoining classrooms with students and staff for 77 minutes until he was killed by a police tactical team.

“Lives would have been saved” had police followed accepted practices and immediately advanced toward the shooter, Garland said.

The review found the first officers on scene moved to breach the classroom, but after being met with gunfire, law enforcement began approaching the situation as a “barricaded subject scenario” and not an active shooting.

Law enforcement, including the chief of the school district police force, focused on evacuating other classrooms and requesting more police resources, leaving children trapped with the gunman, the report found.

Officers waited outside in a hallway even as a child called 911 from inside the classroom and the gunman continued to shoot, according to the report. The report details the results of the department’s Critical Incident Review, of the law enforcement response, a review which began days after the shooting at the request of Uvalde’s then-mayor.

Families are still awaiting the results of a separate criminal investigation by local prosecutors and another independent review ordered by the city government.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell said in a statement that “while I am hopeful that the DOJ report will be informative, my office will continue our independent review for any potential criminal charges.”

The City of Uvalde has filed multiple lawsuits against Mitchell, alleging that she’s not doing her job and is engaged in a cover-up by not providing any information or transparency about her office’s investigation.

She did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the lawsuits. The city government of Uvalde on Thursday said it has already made changes in law enforcement leadership and training.

Ericka Miller, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, which had over 90 officers at the scene of the shooting, said in a written statement that “as DPS Director Steven McCraw first stated in the weeks after the shooting, the law enforcement response that day was an abject failure, and this report’s observations underscore those failures.”

The Justice Department report identified failures in law enforcement leadership, concluding that none of the law enforcement officials took charge at the scene.

The review also found missteps in officials’ communication with families and the public, including inaccurate social media posts stating that students were safe inside the school and a shooter was in custody. State and local officials later presented a misleading narrative of the shooting at press briefings, the report found.

Crosses placed to honour the victims killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School in 2022. (AP PHOTO)

The review follows several state and local investigations that have also examined shortcomings in the response.

The shooting in a rural part of southwestern Texas, carried out by a former student, was one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. Nineteen students, ranging from ages 9 to 11, were killed along with two teachers.

The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services led the assessment with the help of outside experts in emergency management, active shooter response and school safety.