This story is part of a KXAN series of reports called “Stop Mass Shootings,” providing context and exploring solutions surrounding gun violence in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans, as well as for lawmakers who are convening a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Explore all “Stop Mass Shootings” stories by clicking here.
UVALDE, Texas (KXAN) — Nearly eight weeks after 19 children and two teachers were murdered at Robb Elementary School, the families of the victims got to privately see the preliminary report and view video of the law enforcement response before both were released to the public at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
The 77-page report, released by the Texas House committee tasked with investigating the May 24 mass shooting, blamed “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making.” The report gives, for the first time, a more complete understanding of what happened — and what went wrong — following conflicting and often changing accounts from law enforcement and government officials.
One of the report’s key findings is the shooter “fired most of his shots and likely murdered most of his innocent victims before any responder set foot in the building.” Of the approximately 142 rounds fired, more than 100 of those rounds came before any officer entered, the report found.
“With hindsight we can say that Robb Elementary did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder on campus,” the report said.
‘Lack of effective overall command’ in law enforcement response
On Sunday, members of the Texas House’s investigative committee — State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman — convened to discuss the report’s findings, revelations Burrows reiterated were “multiple systemic failures.”
Burrows said the report’s findings do not determine one person or one decision made that was responsible for the shooting, but rather several failures paired with a chaotic environment that led to miscommunications and delayed responses.
The committee met with more than 35 witnesses in executive session, as per precedent established by the House’s Investigative Committee. He said he believed these private conversations with witnesses allowed for a faster and “more candid” testimony, as well as more accurate recounts.
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Investigators conducted 39 independent interviews as well as reviewed crime scene photos, 911 calls and both audio and video from the shooting to collect information.
Burrows criticized the early release of hallway video from the shooting that included audio of the gunfire along with the shooter’s face. He criticized showing the shooter, who Burrows said sought notoriety from his image being shown.
“He wanted that and he did not deserve it,” he said.
Burrows said several officers within Robb Elementary either knew or should have known people had been shot and were dying and should’ve intervened, treating the situation as an active shooter incident and not a barricade subject. He said there should have been a tactical commander taking the lead in the response, along with an overall commander relaying information and keeping all responders on scene up to date.
Burrows said there was no overall commander outside the building, adding there were multiple opportunities where law enforcement could have asked more questions and remedy the chaotic situation.
“There was a lack of effective overall command that day,” Burrows said.
Moody said the report is a baseline legislators can work from to develop possible policy changes down the road. He said while there are contrasts between the Robb Elementary shooting and previous mass shootings, he noted similarities that can and should be addressed in the future.
Guzman noted that while the report doesn’t offer immediate policy recommendations, its focus was to uncover and report the facts of what happened in the lead up and response to the shooting. From there, she said she hopes the report will equip lawmakers through next step responses.
She said the report and its findings lay bare “human failures” and “collapses in systems.”
“[Law enforcement personnel] were supposed to protect the innocent, who now lie in their graves,” she said.
During testimony, Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo said he felt like he wasn’t in command. Burrows said following the report’s findings, Arredondo appeared to be in charge with response from the south entrance to the building, at minimum. Burrows said the U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit arrived and then made entry to shoot and ultimately kill the shooter.
Moody said there were substantial failures in information flow both during the shooting and in information relayed to the public in the days and weeks that followed. The back and forth, mistruths and walked back information were harmful to the victims’ families and their communities, he said.
Vulnerabilities in school’s security system
In its review, investigators determined Robb Elementary wasn’t adequately prepared for the risk of an active shooter situation, with a too-short exterior fence and noncompliant door locks being just two of those factors.
Burrows said the committee believes it’s very likely — but the committee doesn’t have 100% certainty — that if someone had tried the door’s handle without a key, it would’ve been unlocked or able to open.
The school’s locked door policies were often bypassed and ignored. On the day of the shooting, no one locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building.
Classroom 111 had a “faulty lock,” which was warned about, but never asked to be fixed, the report notes. This “regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks” contributed to the shooter’s ability to walk into school, and that classroom, without any resistance.
In the report, it addresses approximately 80,000 school buildings across the state of Texas as a means of addressing the breadth of educational facilities that could be subject to future policy changes. Burrows said when discussing policy changes, it’s critical to recognize that schools outside of Uvalde could and likely do deal with similar security failures that make them more vulnerable to an active attack.
Another factor that contributed to a “relaxed vigilance” on campus is the frequency of security alerts and campus lockdowns stemming from a rise in “bailouts.” The term, used in border communities, refers to human traffickers trying to outrun police often ending with a smuggler crashing a vehicle and passengers fleeing, the report said. The frequency of “bailout” alerts — around 50 between February and May — contributed to a “diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts.”
Guzman said she hopes each school district takes the time to read the report and revisit their own safety and security provisions to glean from the failures at Robb Elementary.
‘Systemic failures’ in first responders, lack of leadership
In total, 376 law enforcement officers responded to the tragedy at Robb Elementary.
Most of the responders (149) came from U.S. Border Patrol. Ninety-one responders came from the Texas Department of Public Safety; 25 came from Uvalde Police; five from Uvalde CISD; 16 each from Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office and San Antonio Police Department SWAT; 14 from Homeland Security; 13 from United States Marshals and eight from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Responding officers ignored more than two decades of lessons learned since Columbine High School in 1999, “failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety,” the report found.
“[A]ll officers must now acknowledge that stopping the killing of innocent lives is the highest priority in active shooter response,” the report said, “and all officers must be willing to risk their lives without hesitation.”
“The report confirms what we’ve all suspected, the response was a Colossal failure of leadership,” said former Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo, who is now a law enforcement consultant and reviewed the report’s findings. “If this tragedy doesn’t spur legislative action by our current leadership in Texas to rethink open carry of these weapons of maximum lethality and permitless carry, nothing will.”
The report does not know whether lives could have been saved if officers acted quicker but called the delayed response “unacceptably long” and a violation of current active shooter training. Adding to the chaos and confusion, Uvalde CISD’s active shooter plan called for the school’s police chief, Arredondo, to “assume command and control of the response,” but that never happened.
“Uvalde CISD’s written active shooter planned directed its police chief to assume command and control of the response to an active shooter,” the report said. “The chief of police was one of the first responders on the scene. But as events unfolded, he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander. This was an essential duty he had assigned to himself in the plan mentioned above, yet it was not effectively performed by anyone.”
This “void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help,” the report continues, “and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon.”
A command post and the “deliberate assignment of tasks and the flow of information” could have “transformed chaos into order,” the report noted. Law enforcement making critical decisions inside the building did not receive information that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in Rooms 111 and 112, and called 911 for help, which a former area 911 operator believed to be the case days after the shooting. An “effective” incident commander would have realized radios “were mostly ineffective” and other lines of communication were needed to relay the contents of the 911 calls.
Because urgent medical attention was needed, law enforcement should have addressed this as an active shooter situation instead of a barricaded subject, the report found.
“Recognition of an active shooter scenario also should have prompted responders to prioritize the rescue of innocent victims over the precious time wasted in a search for door keys and shields to enhance the safety of law enforcement responders,” the report said, noting Uvalde CISD and its police department “failed to implement their active shooter plan.”
State leaders and reporters have been calling for months for the release of the hallway video. Some criticized an Austin newspaper and TV station earlier this week for publishing a 77-minute leaked video that showed the hallway, outside surveillance footage, and body camera footage. On Tuesday, Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody, vice chair of the House committee investigating the shooting, said “the report we’re working on provides context. A piecemeal release of information continues to tell part of a story that people deserve the complete truth about.”
Unlike the video previously leaked, the hallway video released Sunday starts after the shooter enters the classroom and does not contain any audio at all. While the leaked video edited out the sounds of children screaming but kept the sounds of gun shots being fired, the video released to the public Sunday does not include any audio. It shows the shooter entering the hallway around 11:33 a.m. on May 24 carrying a black rifle. A child can be seen walking down another part of the hall and peeking around a corner before running away after hearing gunshots.
The video released Sunday does now show the shooter firing rounds into the classroom and stepping inside. Other agencies that responded to the scene include: Frio County Sheriff’s Office; Kinney County Sheriff’s Office; Dilley Police; Zavala County Sheriff’s Office; Medina County Sheriff’s Office; Sabinal Police; Uvalde Fire Marshals; Pearsall Police; Texas Parks and Wildlife; Uvalde County Constables; Val Verde Sheriff’s Office; Frio County Constables; Southwest Texas Junior College and Zavala County Constables.
The first officer appears on camera at 11:35 a.m. Two start running toward the classroom door with the shooter and two more join them outside it. A minute later gunshots are fired and officers are seen retreating. At 12:21 p.m. officers move back down the hall and just outside the classroom door. At 12:50 p.m. more gunshots are fired.
The 18-year-old shooter was killed at the scene.