Uvalde Failure: DOJ Report Finds 377 Officers Waited 77 Mins as 19 Kids, 2 Teachers Killed by 1 AR-15
Interview with Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez by Amy Goodman
January 19, 2024
A sweeping Justice Department report exposes the “cascading failures” of the police response to the 2022 Uvalde elementary school mass shooting when 19 children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman. Despite the presence of close to 400 officers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, it took 77 minutes for police to confront and kill the shooter. The scathing 600-page report lays out the “haphazard” initial response in which hundreds of law enforcement officers stood by as the massacre unfolded. Democratic Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, says the report proves “what happened on May 24th was the worst law enforcement response to a school shooting in our nation’s history.” Gutierrez describes the events of the school shooting, where “everything that could have gone wrong happened,” and why the shooter’s AR-15-style rifle did so much damage and scared police. “We need an assault weapons ban in this country, once and for all,” says Gutierrez, who is running for U.S. Senate against Republican Senator Ted Cruz. “These politicians are cowards on this issue.”
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Texas. It was May 24th, 2022, when an 18-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle shot dead 19 fourth graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, as nearly 400 law enforcement officers who descended on the school took 77 minutes to confront and kill him.
Now the Justice Department has issued a scathing 600-page review of the massacre. The long-awaited report details a series of, quote, “cascading failures,” starting with a “haphazard” initial response in which officers failed to quickly establish a command post and did not immediately treat the attack as an active shooter situation. Attorney General Merrick Garland released the report Thursday at a news conference in Uvalde.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: The chaos and confusion that defined the law enforcement response while the shooter remained a threat also defined the aftermath of the shooting. For example, surviving victims, some with bullet wounds and other injuries, were put on buses without being brought to the attention of medics. Some families were told that their family members had survived, when they had not. And victims, families and community members struggled to receive timely and accurate information about what had occurred at Robb Elementary.
AMY GOODMAN: Parents of the Robb Elementary School mass shooting victims gathered Thursday to respond to the DOJ report. This is Kimberly Rubio, the mother of Lexi, one of the 19 children killed.
KIMBERLY MATA-RUBIO: I hope that the failures end today and the local officials do what wasn’t done that day, do right by the victims and survivors of Robb Elementary — terminations, criminal prosecutions — and our state and federal government enact sensible gun laws, because Robb Elementary began the day an 18-year-old was allowed to purchase an AR-15.
AMY GOODMAN: Also at Thursday’s news conference in Uvalde was the attorney Josh Koskoff. He represents the Robb Elementary victims’ families.
JOSH KOSKOFF: How did this 18-year-old kid even know enough to know how to equip himself in this way? What happened? What are the means by which gun companies are marketing these weapons to our children? How are they reaching them? Where’s the role of marketing and the gun companies in this report? There’s no fault or investigation whatsoever.
AMY GOODMAN: Just three weeks into this year, there have already been at least two school shootings in the United States.
For more, we’re joined by Democratic Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde. He’s running for U.S. Senate for the seat currently held by Republican Ted Cruz.
State Senator Gutierrez, welcome back to Democracy Now! We spoke to you repeatedly after the massacre. Can you respond to the report? And be very specific about what happened inside, and the fact that — what was it? — 377 law enforcement, police, troopers, etc., stood by for 77 minutes as the children inside desperately called police — the children acting like adults, and the adults like children.
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Yes. Amy, first off, thank you for having me on your show. I think it’s important that people like yourself, people in the media, continue to tell this story in a real way and to begin to shed light and continue to shed light on this issue.
What happened on May 24th was the worst law enforcement response to a school shooting in our nation’s history, let’s be very clear. The police on that day, they all failed, not just the district police chief, not just the local sheriff, not just the acting chief of police, but the Department of Public Safety failed. Ninety-six officers of Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star were on the scene, as they show up to all scenes in rural Texas. And not one of those officers, including his high-level command officers, took control of that scene. Not one of them said, “We need to do something to stop this madness. We need to coordinate a command center.” That never happened, not before, during or after this event. As the attorney general suggested yesterday, this cascading folly of errors, this cascading failure, it was everything that could have happened and everything that could have gone wrong happened, from radios that didn’t work to just complete chaos and complete lack of leadership and management.
But the biggest thing that occurred was something that I had to see for myself as I viewed over 400 hours of bodycam footage. I needed to see why in the world this failure occurred. And amidst all of that carnage and all of the blood and all of the gore and all of those poor children that had passed on, the same refrain from cops over and over and over: “He’s got an AR-15 in there. There’s an AR-15. He’s got an assault rifle.” Not one cop, not one DPS trooper, not one sheriff, over and over and over, you would hear that one simple refrain, cumulating in one of the last officers to suggest that. He said, “I don’t want to die today.” Specifically, he said, “I don’t want to get clapped out today.” The children certainly were more brave than the police.
Even though I’ve seen all of this, and even though all of this is for me now 20 months in the making, even yesterday I learned something new that I had not seen on my bodycam footage: the fact that one officer yelled into that room, “If there’s anybody in there, let us know.” A child cried out, said, “I’m in here.” The gunman went back into that room, four shots were fired, and that child was killed.
What occurred on that day is something that we should all continue to talk about, because these incidents don’t happen in a vacuum. They don’t happen in 12 minutes, as is the national average. The fact is, most do, and most do get resolved in those 12 minutes. That’s not what happened here in Uvalde on that day. What happened was extreme failure. What’s happened was cowardice. What’s happened was that cops knew that this guy had a gun that they were afraid of. And that is why policymakers in the state of Texas and in the United States need to do something about this particular gun, because the damage it makes and the ease by which it kills is astounding and profound, and we must stop it. And we need an assault weapons ban in this country, once and for all.
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