A Justice Department report released Thursday details a myriad of failures by police who responded to the shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, when children waited desperately for over an hour before officers stormed a classroom to take the gunman down.
The federal review, which was launched just days after the May 2022 shooting, provides a damning look at the missteps by police after a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School. It was not a criminal investigation but one of the most exhaustive reviews of law enforcement’s failure to stop the attack. Nineteen students and two teachers died in the shooting.
“The victims and survivors of the shooting at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022, deserved better,” Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters in Uvalde.
Local officials are still weighing whether to bring charges.
Here are some of the major takeaways from the report:
THE MOST SIGNIFICANT FAILURE
The Justice Department concluded that the chief failure was that law enforcement didn’t treat the crisis as an active shooter situation and push forward to engage the gunman until the threat was eliminated. Several of the officers who first arrived at the school did in fact move quickly toward the classrooms where students were trapped inside with the gunman, but retreated after he fired at them.
Law enforcement then treated the situation as if the gunman was barricaded, dead or otherwise contained, focusing on calling for more SWAT equipment and evacuating surrounding classrooms instead of immediately engaging the shooter and saving lives.
Some officers believed they had to wait for equipment such as shields or a specialized tactical team before they could enter, the report said.
“As more law enforcement resources arrived, first responders on the scene, including those with specific leadership responsibilities, did not coordinate immediate entry into the classrooms, running counter to generally accepted practices for active shooter response to immediately engage the subject to further save lives,” the report said.
The report includes excerpts from a 911 call from terrified 9- and 10-year-old children trapped with the shooter while law enforcement waited in the hallway just outside the classrooms. “I don’t want to die. My teacher is dead,” one of them said. At that point, the students and their teachers had been trapped in classrooms with the shooter for 37 minutes. The call lasted for nearly 27 minutes, the report says. It would be another 13 minutes after the call ended before survivors were rescued.
There were numerous signs that should have prompted police leaders to send officers in sooner, the report states, including the victims’ injuries and the gunman firing about 45 rounds “in law enforcement officer presence.”
“For 77 agonizing, harrowing minutes, children and staff were trapped with an active shooter,” the report said, “They experienced unimaginable horror. The survivors witnessed unspeakable violence and the death of classmates and teachers.”
The report includes a slew of recommendations designed to prevent similar failures in the future. Chief among them is that officers responding to such a crisis must prioritize neutralizing the shooter and aiding victims in harm’s way.
The report says “an active shooter with access to victims should never be considered and treated as a barricaded subject.” Evacuations should be limited to those who are immediately in danger and “not at the expense of the priority to eliminate the threat,” the Justice Department said. And officers must be prepared to engage the shooter “using just the tools they have with them,” even if they are armed only with a standard issue firearm, it said.
Other recommendations address coordination between agencies responding to shootings, the release of information to the public, and providing proper support and trauma services to survivors.
WHAT ARE VICTIMS’ FAMILIES SAYING?
The Justice Department also outlined failures in communication to families during and after the shooting, including instances of incomplete, inaccurate or disjointed releases of information that led to lingering distrust in the community.
The report cites the county district attorney telling family members that authorities had to wait for autopsy reports before death notifications could be made. Family members who had not been told that children had died, yelled back: “What, our kids are dead? No, no!”
Family members, many of whom had been briefed on the federal report before its release, had mixed reactions to the findings and the report itself. Some told news outlets they were grateful that the federal investigation supported their criticisms of the response. Many families had hoped the report would come with a recommendation for federal charges against some of those criticized most heavily in the failures.
Velma Lisa Duran, whose sister Irma Garcia was one of the teachers killed, told The Associated Press Thursday that she was grateful for the federal agency’s work but disappointed that local prosecutors have yet to bring any charges.
“A report doesn’t matter when there are no consequences for actions that are so vile and murderous and evil,” said Duran. “What do you want us to do with another report? … Bring it to court,” she said.