17 July 2022

‘Systemic failures’ in Uvalde school shooting response – report

17 July 2022

Nearly 400 law enforcement officials rushed to a mass shooting at a US primary school that left 21 people dead but “systemic failures” created a chaotic scene that lasted more than an hour before the gunman was finally confronted and killed, investigators have found.

The nearly 80-page report obtained by multiple media outlets is the first to criticise both state and federal law enforcement, and not just local authorities in Uvalde, Texas, for the inaction at Robb Elementary School.

The report was written by an investigative committee from the Texas House of Representatives and released to family members on Sunday.

It comes as Ulvalde mayor Don McLaughlin said the acting police chief on the day of the massacre, Lt Mariano Pargas, has been placed on leave.

Mr McLaughlin said Mr Pargas was put on administrative leave to determine if he was responsible for taking command after the gunman entered the school, killing 19 children and two teachers.

The findings are the most complete account yet of the May 24 massacre in South Texas and the hesitant and haphazard response by heavily armed law enforcement as a gunman fired inside a fourth-grade classroom.

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

The gunman fired approximately 142 rounds inside the building, and it is “almost certain” that 100 shots came before any officer entered, the report stated.

According to the report, 376 law enforcement officers massed at the school. The overwhelming majority of those who responded were federal and state law enforcement. This included nearly 150 US Border Patrol agents and 91 state police officials.

“Other than the attacker, the committee did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its investigation,” the report said.

“There is no-one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives. Instead, we found systemic failures and egregiously poor decision-making.”

Authorities respond to the shooting at Robb Elementary School (Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District/Austin American-Statesman via AP) (AP)

The report noted that many of the hundreds of law enforcement responders who rushed to the school were better trained and equipped than the school district police — which the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state police force, previously faulted for not going into the room sooner.

“In this crisis, no responder seized the initiative to establish an incident command post,” the report stated.

“It’s a joke. They’re a joke. They’ve got no business wearing a badge. None of them do,” Vincent Salazar, grandfather of 11-year-old Layla Salazer, said on Sunday.

The report comes after weeks of conflicting and inaccurate statements from authorities about why law enforcement waited so long to confront the gunman, and follows weeks of closed-door interviews with more than 40 people who were at the scene.

No single officer has received as much scrutiny since the shooting as Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief who resigned from his newly appointed seat on the city council after the incident.

Mr Arredondo told the committee he treated the shooters as “barricaded subject”, according to the report, and defended not treating the scene as an active-shooter situation because he did not have visual contact with the gunman.

Vincent Salazar, grandfather of Layla Salazar who was killed in the shooting, holds a copy of the report (Eric Gay/AP) (AP)

Mr Arredondo also tried to find a key for the classrooms, but no-one ever bothered to see if the doors were locked, according to the report.

“Arredondo’s search for a key consumed his attention and wasted precious time, delaying the breach of the classrooms,” the report read.

A nearly 80-minute hallway surveillance video published by the Austin American-Statesman this week publicly showed for the first time a tactical response which the head of Texas’ state police condemned as a failure and some Uvalde residents have blasted as cowardly.

Calls for police accountability have grown in Uvalde since the shooting.

The report is the result of one of several investigations into the shooting, including another led by the Justice Department.

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