Probe slams U.S. school terror response

July 18, 2022 - 19:1

A damning investigative report into the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas has slammed the “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” of all agencies involved in response to one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

A committee of Texas state lawmakers investigating the school massacre has released the extensive report, some 80 pages in size, nearly two months after the horrific attack.

For the first time since the massacre, the local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies have all been denounced for their failures in the lead-up and during the 24 May shooting in which the attacker killed 19 young school children, two teachers, and injured 17 others.

According to the report, It’s still unclear exactly how many children’s lives could have been saved with a better security response to the shooting. The gunman fired “approximately 142 rounds” inside the building while it is “almost certain” that at least 100 shots were fired before any officer entered.

Parents and relatives of the victims, still in mourning, received an advance print copy of the report but slammed the police as cowards and called on them all to resign.

“At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety,” the report said.

This week, footage leaked to local media, showed the attacker’s arrival to the school and then very heavily armed police waiting around for 77 minutes before confronting the shooter. The footage was met with anger and strong criticism.

The massacre was the latest in a spate of mass shootings over the past decades that have shaken the United States. It was also the latest in a string of school shootings that saw many children killed but was made even more shocking by the fact the average age of the child killed was ten with oldest child just eleven years of age.

According to the report, nearly 400 security personnel from many different agencies went to the school after the attacker began killing the children, but their duty to protect the public was hijacked by a serious lack of coordination among different security agencies and officials.

Law enforcement officers told investigators that they were under the assumption the Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo was in charge of the terror site, but Arredondo has already stated in public he did not believe himself to be in charge.

While Arredondo has resigned and placed on leave from his chief’s job amid heavy scrutiny for the inadequate police response to the massacre, the report also faults other law enforcement agencies for not stepping up to fill the void.

Arredondo did not even think officers were facing an “active shooter situation”, despite the series of desperate phone calls coming from at least one child inside a classroom. Nevertheless, the report says all the agencies involved are at fault.

Following the massacre, a blame game unfolded with different officials accusing others for the botched security response. This is despite the training and repeated mass shootings at U.S. schools. 

Essentially there was a lack of leadership on a security level at a time when that was of the utmost importance to save the lives of school children.  

Among the investigators’ conclusions, they pointed out that the lack of a commander presence outside the school prevented the deadly attack from being ended much faster. A commander would have figured out a better way to communicate and drawn a path for security personnel to breach the classroom where the shooter was located.

According to the report, police officers and various other security forces waited more than an hour in the school hallway outside a classroom where the shooter was present before eventually confronting and killing the attacker inside the classroom.

“In this crisis, no responder seized the initiative to establish an incident command post,” the committee wrote. “Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde [school district] chief of police or anyone else perceived to be in command to point out the lack of and need for a command post, or to offer that specific assistance.”

The report provides details on how one officer confronted others who were gathered together in the hallway and heard another officer asking if there were kids in the classroom. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there,” he said. Another officer responded “whoever was in charge would figure that out”.

Since school shootings began to spread, for decades, police have been trained to confront what U.S. authorities describe as active shooters as quickly as possible, with officers expected to organize themselves for that confrontation (regardless of the agency employing them) if there’s even a remote chance to save some lives.

However, the report details a scene of chaos and a severe lack of communication at the Robb elementary school on the day of the shooting.

Just hours after the release of the report, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin placed the city police department’s acting chief, Mariano Pargas, on paid leave, saying an investigation would be conducted to find out if he should have taken command. All police body camera footage recorded during the incident would also be released, the city’s mayor pledged.

Quite shockingly no one ever checked to make sure the doors were even locked. At least one room where the attacker was in “probably” wasn’t locked and no one ever called the school principal to ask for a key, the report said.

Nonetheless, parents have long felt that an earlier confrontation by police with the shooter may have cleared the way for emergency medical personnel to potentially save the lives of victims who had initially survived the gunshot injuries inflicted on them.

Not all school employees received an emergency alert about the gunman because of poor wireless internet signal, according to the report. The school’s principal also failed to communicate the threat over the school’s intercom.

Meanwhile, officials in Texas also undermined trust in the slow emergency response by providing inconsistent and inaccurate information about the attack in its immediate aftermath, the report found.

The Uvalde police department official charged with briefing Texas governor Greg Abbott on events “fainted” just ahead of the briefing, according to the report, and another official took his place. In his initial press conference, Abbott provided inaccurate details about the attack and has since said he is “livid” about being misled.

“A complete and thorough investigation can take months or even years to confirm every detail, especially when this many law enforcement officers are involved,” the report said. “However, one would expect law enforcement during a briefing would be very careful to state what facts are verifiable, and which ones are not.”

Angry family members of the victims who gathered at the site of the report’s publication and still grieving over the murder of their loved ones and wore shirts with the faces of the children they lost. Some believe the truth is still being distorted.

Vincent Salazar whose grandchild was murdered at the elementary school told media he will not be attending any meeting with the committee because of what he sees as systemic failures that allowed the gunman inside the school and allowed the shooting to continue for more than an hour.

He says “It’s a joke. Texas failed the students. I’ll tell you right now, it’s not the truth, all I see is somebody covering up someone else.”

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