AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A massive but uncoordinated and chaotic law enforcement response, a “regrettable” culture of noncompliance when it comes to school security and online signals of violence coming from the shooter: Those were the three main takeaways from the long-awaited Texas House report into the May 24th shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde that killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers.
The Special House Investigative Committee Report was shown to victims’ families in private nearly eight weeks after the mass shooting, something city officials say should have happened sooner. It led them to release their own video.
“The entire Uvalde community has already waited entirely too long for answers and transparency, so we are releasing all body cameras from Uvalde police officers taken during the incident,” said Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin.
McLaughlin made that announcement the same day the report was released, saying he had initially held off at the direction of District Attorney Christina Mitchell and the Department of Public Safety.
What hours of body camera footage from officers shows
KXAN dug through hours of body camera footage which showed the chaotic response of law enforcement, while also raising even more questions about why it took so long for officers to confront the gunman.
A body camera worn by Uvalde Police Sgt. Daniel Coronado showed officers questioned whether the shooter was even still in the classroom.
Around 12:47 p.m., Coronado is heard on body camera warning fellow officers to be careful near the classroom door because the shooter had shot through surrounding walls. Moments later, other responding officers can be heard discussing whether he might be in the connected next door classroom.
Just before 12:49 p.m., Coronado is again heard, this time talking into his radio, saying: “Keep an eye up on top, on the roof. He might have climbed up the, on the ceiling.”
Coronado then tells Uvalde Schools Police Chief Pete Arredondo there’s a helicopter circling, which can be heard in the background.
Arredondo is seen on the phone and heard saying: “Complete surround around the top of the [inaudible]….I don’t know what’s going on, the door’s open, but I don’t want this m***** f***** to climb up the roof and go out somewhere. We need a complete — I’m sure we’re completely surrounded, but I just want to double check.”
The body camera footage follows a release of the Texas House’s Investigative Committee’s 77-page report Sunday that, among other details, revealed “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making.” The footage also provides a look into the chaotic scene, one that the report found showed a lack of “reliable communication” between Arredondo and other law enforcement personnel responding to the scene.
While groups of officers surrounded Rooms 111 and 112, throughout the 77-minute video, groups broke off to help rescue and evacuate students as well as staff members hidden in classrooms throughout the building.
Around 11:59 a.m., body camera footage captures officers helping students escape through classroom windows, with blankets and vests strewn across the broken windows to protect them from glass.
It also highlights the confusion among different officers surrounding the nature of the call, where the suspect was located and the possible number of shooters involved. At 11:41 a.m., Coronado says via his radio that officers believe the male subject is contained in one of the campus offices, not a classroom.
Later at 12:11 p.m., Coronado is heard speaking to Arredondo and says, “I don’t know if there was two shooters or not.”
Coronado’s footage also captures him making requests for any area agencies to respond to the scene and assist in the response. In total, the House report found that 376 responders from 23 agencies arrived in and around Robb Elementary.
“We gotta get them out of there, bro,” Coronado is heard on camera, as he and fellow officers help rescue children from surrounding classrooms at 12 p.m. — 50 minutes before the shooter would be killed. “I don’t know what the f*** is gonna happen after this.”
Vulnerable school security
The report also revealed vulnerabilities regarding school security at Robb Elementary, saying the initial response may have lacked urgency because of the frequency of school lockdowns in recent months as law enforcement chased suspected human traffickers smuggling migrants frequently in that area.
The school district had about 50 such alarms between February and May of 2022. That frequency of less-serious alerts in Uvalde quote “diluted the significance of alerts and dampened everyone’s readiness to act,” the report said.
It also pointed to doors being unlocked. According to the report, the school’s locked door policies were often bypassed and ignored, including on the day of the shooting, when nobody locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building.
Warning signs exhibited by the shooter
Finally, the report gave new details about the shooter, giving disturbing details about his past. The committee ultimately found he had given hints in the months and days before the shooting.
The findings show his peers suspected something was off, but he didn’t have a criminal record, so he went undetected by law enforcement.
According to a former girlfriend, he was lonely, depressed and said friends constantly teased him, calling him a school shooter.
Just weeks before the shooting, an acquaintance said the shooter had discussed bad memories of fourth grade, which is ultimately where the deadly shooting took place.
ALSO: ‘Crawling on her’: Austin family suing nursing home after ant bites detailed in state report
Pictures of Kathleen Laurel line the kitchen counter in her daughter’s home: snapshots from weddings, dinner parties and a “Parents Weekend” celebration from her daughters’ days as students at the University of Texas.
Those daughters — Lisa Howard and Kelly Pesek — remember their mother as a woman with a vibrant sense of humor and wit.
“She was just so funny and would always make us laugh,” Pesek said. “We were all kind of friends, once my sister and I grew up.”
Her husband, Joe Laurel, describes her as his “best friend.”
Mixed with the happy memories, however, are the difficult ones: her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, her disease progressing and an eventual move to a skilled nursing facility in southwest Austin. The hardest memories to process, her family said, are the ones from her final days.
Two weeks before Kathleen died last September, the family said they got word ants had been found in her room at Brush Country Nursing and Rehabilitation – and on her body.
“I went there as soon as I found out that day, and I actually spoke to the nurse that found her the night before. This sweet nurse was pregnant, and she was crying. She was telling me the story that she was the one taking the ants off my mother, and she was getting bitten as she was doing it,” Howard said.
The family took photos of what they believed were ant bites on Kathleen’s arms and legs. Both sisters told KXAN they were told by leadership at the facility that wounds were a result of heat rash.
“Which seems ludicrous to me, if you see the pictures,” Pesek said. “Then, heat rash begs the question, ‘Well why — where was she in so much heat that she got a heat rash?’”
“It’s something out of a horror story,” Howard said.
There are other cases involving ants in nursing homes, including a lawsuit filed last spring in Arkansas over a woman who died after an attack and a recent report of a Fort Worth-area facility fined over an ant infestation.
Kathleen’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Brush Country Nursing and Rehabilitation and the health care company which owns it, Dynasty Healthcare Management.
KXAN reached out to the company and the law firm representing them. Attorneys for the facility and company told KXAN they could not comment on pending legal matter, but they filed an answer in Travis County District Court denying all the claims made by the family and demanding proof of their claims of negligence. Their filing also notes, “there are inadequate factual pleadings to state a gross negligence claim against these Defendants.”
The incident is detailed in a report completed by a surveyor with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, who was on site at the nursing facility for an unrelated visit. The attorney representing Kathleen’s family obtained the report and provided a copy to KXAN investigators, who verified its validity with HHSC.
The report stated the facility failed to ensure a resident “with physical debilities and severe cognitive impairment was checked on as needed throughout the night shift as she was found with active ants crawling on her while she was in bed with ant bites throughout her body causing resident pain, red welts, and hives that required immediate medical intervention and treatment.”
The report cited an interview with a nurse aide who told the surveyor she tried to knock all the ants off of the resident before moving her to the recliner in the room, but that “it was impossible to check on every resident every two hours.”
According to the facility administrator’s interview in the report, he contacted pest control after the incident to “spray inside and outside of her room.” Plus, he said her room had been “deep cleaned” by the housekeeping staff.
The report also noted the administrator and the director of nursing at the facility audited all the residents’ rooms and “no additional ants” were found. The report also states the facility implemented “skin assessments.”
Other workers cited in the surveyor’s report detailed other issues they believe were caused by staffing shortages: resident falls, missed meals and the failure to pass out certain medications on time.
One registered nurse told the surveyor, “the lack of care residents are receiving due to being short staff[ed] was heart-breaking.”
Statewide staffing shortages
Industry leaders and advocates in long-term care have warned of widespread staffing shortages in nursing homes across Texas, but also nationwide, in recent months.
“This is not a new issue. This is not an, ‘Oh by the way, look what COVID caused.’ We were tens of thousands of staff behind before COVID even hit,” said Kevin Warren, the president and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association, representing skilled nursing facilities.
Last fall, his association partnered with a group called LeadingAge Texas to conduct a workforce-focused survey of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living communities. They found nearly every facility in Texas reported unfilled Certified Nurse Aide, or CNA, positions. Others had unfilled Registered Nurse roles, along with open dietary staff and housekeeping positions.
Seventy percent of the survey respondents said they could not compete with other employers.
Warren testified before lawmakers in late June about what he hopes could be long-term solutions: loan forgiveness programs for people who go to work in long-term care, more outreach to high school students or early college training programs, and more funding to offer better pay.
“How do we encourage these men and women who are looking at long-term care as an option to say, ‘This is affordable. This is something I want to do and make a career out of,’” Warren said.
Other witnesses told the Texas House Human Services committee they would like to see higher pay for staff as well, potentially in the form of longevity pay or retention bonuses.
The state’s Long-term Care Ombudsman, Patty Ducayet, told stories of residents having to wait for a bath or to get out of bed, poorly maintained HVAC systems affecting staff and residents’ quality of life, and facility vehicles sitting in disrepair – instead of being used for resident activities and appointments.
Lawmakers agreed, saying “most” of the funding “ought to be going to patient care.” Ducayet called for more transparent financial reporting by facility owners and operators to ensure that was happening.
KXAN investigators asked Warren about that proposal, and he said he believed the nursing home industry was more transparent than many other health care sectors when it comes to staffing, finances and quality of care.
He said one thing was clear: “there is a significant delta between the cost of care and what the [Medicaid] reimbursement is.”
In the HHSC surveyor’s report of what was found at Brush Country Nursing and Rehabilitation, the facility administrator detailed its normal staffing schedule, which included three nurses, five CNAs, and three medical assistants during the day shift. The administrator also detailed the facility’s night shift staffing, which included three nurses and four CNAs.
The report reads, “He stated that he believed the staffing was sufficient to be able to care for all the residents appropriately.”
‘Couldn’t ask for help’
The HHSC surveyor’s report details at least four deficiencies found at the facility, including those described as Quality of Care, Sufficient Nursing Staff, Medication Errors and Physical Environment. The report notes the facility cleared up all of the deficiencies in just a few days.
Kathleen Laurel’s family said they saw her condition get worse in the days that followed, and 19 days later, she died. Her death certificate doesn’t cite the ant bites or mention the wounds seen on her body. Her cause of death was listed as “Alzheimer’s disease.”
Howard called it “heartbreaking” to lose a parent, but said it has been even harder to find out these details from her last few weeks alive, “after the fact.”
“She was completely helpless. Like I said, she was nonverbal. She couldn’t ask for help. She had no way of raising her hand and saying, ‘I need help; I’m being mistreated; I’m hungry; I have ants on me,’” Howard said.
Joe Laurel said, in general, he’d like to see minimum staffing standards enforced statewide, to ensure people with similar diagnoses in any facility will get proper care.
Pesek added, “To make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
‘Semiconductors are like the new oil’: Senator Cornyn provides update on the CHIPS Act, future of microelectronics in Texas
In other news, this week the U.S. Senate voted to advance a slimmed-down version of a bill, co-authored by Texas Senator John Cornyn, to boost U.S. semiconductor competition with China while also addressing inflation.
How exactly does that impact you? Everything from cars to cell phones are powered by chips and those chips are not made in the U.S. The CHIPS Act moves to address that.
“Semiconductors are like the new oil in the sense that they are essential to our economy and essential to our national security,” Cornyn said.
The $52 billion bill offers incentives for U.S. manufacturing companies to bolster U.S. chip manufacturing. Right now, semiconductor manufacturing is big business across much of Texas.
According to Texas Department of Labor Statistics, by the end of last year, employment in the microelectronics manufacturing industry in the Dallas, Fort-Worth area totaled over 22,000 workers.
In Austin, that number was just under 15,000. Houston had over 1,700 and San Antonio had nearly 1,400. Samsung also announced they would build a 17 billion chipmaking plant in Taylor, Texas, which is not included in those numbers.
“I expect other companies will make similar announcements in Texas that will create not just a manufacturing facility, but a whole ecosystem of suppliers and others, it will create lots of jobs and help boost the Texas economy,” Cornyn said. “And if we don’t do it, then some of these companies will simply go elsewhere to Europe or stay in Asia, and we will not we will have failed to build up that supply chain.”
As for the chances of this bill passing the Democratic-led House, Senator Corynyn said he was confident they would approve the measure.
Record heat, drought conditions lead to week of wildfires in Texas
The largest wildfire burning in North Texas, the Chalk Mountain fire in Somervell, has burned more than 6,000 acres so far. NBC affiliate KXAS in Dallas reports it’s expected to burn even more through the end of Wednesday.
Record heat and dry conditions have made way for more brush fires to pop up throughout Texas.
Evacuation orders have happened in several parts of the state. Haley Fedora, who was around Graham — a North Texas town 100 miles west of Forth Worth to visit her grandfather in hospice care — said what was supposed to be a visit with her ‘Daddy Jack’ turned into a stressful rescue.
“We already have him on our mind to make sure he’s in the best care. But then the fire’s happening, and at the same time his electricity goes out and his oxygen turns off. It was just a whirlwind of getting him out of the house safely,” she said.
Fedora’s 96-year-old grandfather, ‘Daddy Jack’ had to be rescued by an ambulance in order to get him out of his nursing home safely.
“That was very traumatizing for him,” she said. “For us to have to tell him, ‘there’s a fire. We have to get you out.’ And he is fragile emotionally right now, it just made me tear up because he didn’t, we didn’t understand it,” she said.
Pres. Biden takes executive action against climate change
Extreme heat conditions have threatened more than 100 million Americans this week who face heat advisories — long lasting waves that scientists attribute to global warming.
The record-breaking temperatures came as President Joe Biden announced new efforts to combat climate change, including measures to address extreme heat.
On Wednesday, the president announced new executive steps, specifically to address extreme heat and boost offshore wind.
“Let me be clear: Climate change is an emergency,″ Biden said.
For heat, his executive action will include $2.3 billion to help communities cope with soaring temperatures through programs run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies.
His executive action falls short of the calls from some Democrats to issue a climate emergency declaration, amid stalled negotiations over environmental legislation in Congress.
“Since Congress is not acting as it should…this is an emergency and I will look at it that way,” Biden said. “As president, I’ll use my executive powers to combat the climate crisis in the absence of executive action.”
Long waitlists in Central Texas: Families scramble to find childcare
Jenn Schmidt sits in front of her double monitors at home as she works remotely. Nearby she’s got an infant activity play mat, rocker and a few toys on hand for twins she’s fostering.
“I’m trying to work and get my eight hours a day in with managing bottle feeding and nap time with the babies,” said Schmidt as one of the twins played and kept cooing nearby.
Since April, she’s been looking for some help and trying to get the almost 4-month-old twins into a child care program.
What Schmidt found instead was long waitlists.
“In that process, you go through, at least, the daycares that CPS approves and… we could not find any openings within Bastrop County,” Schmidt explained. “We extended it into Austin. I’m trying to go routes to my work office to try to find something along the way and had issues that way, as well.”
She said one child care center told her that it would be August of 2023 before they could get the twins off the waitlist.
Success By 6, a coalition of early childhood advocates and part of the United Way for Greater Austin surveyed child care providers in Travis County during the spring and found 89% had difficulty hiring in the previous six months.
“Having watched the pandemic unfold, and, as we are hoping to be entering the recovery phase, it doesn’t surprise me we have long neglected our childcare sector. It’s going to take more than just a boost of influx of money in the short term. It’s going to take rethinking how we fund child care on a fundamental level in our community, state and nation before we’re able to really create sustainable long-term access to high-quality care which all of our children deserve,” said Cathy McHorse, vice president of Success By 6 at United Way for Greater Austin.
The survey was conducted in March and included 91 child care centers in Austin, Del Valle, Manor Pflugerville, Round Rock, Lakeway and Bee Cave.
The survey also found 43% of child care centers limited hours because of staffing shortages, more than half, 56%, reported they were under-enrolled because they didn’t have necessary workers and 94% had a waitlist.
“Much of the challenge with the lack of access to affordable child care is right now, like in many other industries, our child care sector is experiencing a staffing crisis of… hate to say it, but unprecedented proportions,” McHorse said. “It’s even more exacerbated with programs that accept childcare subsidies. And that’s the state subsidy that supports families with low income in accessing affordable childcare.”
She added that on average child care staff in Texas make $11 an hour, $22,000 a year.
McHorse explained that with today’s cost of housing, gas and food it’s only cutting deeper into household budgets.
“They can’t afford to live within the city of Austin. If they live outside the city of Austin, are they going to spend the money on gas to come from the outskirts to work for $11 an hour?” McHorse said.
Children at Risk, a research and advocacy nonprofit, analyzed data from Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and reported that Texas lost 21% of child care providers from March 2020 to September 2021. Out of those closed, 41% of the providers served infant and toddlers, and 79% were child care homes.
The data also revealed that 1.6% of programs that received stabilization grants closed during the same time period, suggesting it had a positive effect on operation status.
Child advocates, like McHorse, said they will be pushing lawmakers this upcoming legislative session to increase what the state contributes to child care programs.
She said that could mean better wages for child care staff.
“We know some of our sister cities around the country and even down the road in San Antonio, they incorporate the one-eight cent sales tax to fund pre-K… which results in grants and supports to their child care sector,” McHorse said.
In the meantime, she added that families looking for a program right now should check out the statewide portal for a list of child care availability in real-time.
Families can also check if they qualify for child care financial assistance in Travis County and for rural areas outside of Travis County.
Schmidt, who started fostering during the pandemic, said she was surprised to learn that the waitlists could last months.
She just found out that they were finally moved off one of the waitlists. The twins will start child care this coming week.
“I have a couple of co-workers… they were expecting later this year. And so I said, ‘you need to start now,’” Schmidt said. “It’s like having to know you’re going to need daycare before you even know you’re expecting.”