Uvalde Preliminary Report Details ‘Systemic Failures’ in School Shooting Response
The report describes ‘lackadaisical’ responses by multiple law enforcement agencies and inadequate safety practices at Robb Elementary.
UVALDE, Texas — The scathing preliminary report on the Robb Elementary School shooting and the subsequent response was released to the victims’ families and the public Sunday, detailing what officials describe as “systemic failures and egregious poor decision-making” by nearly everyone involved who was in a position of power.
The 81-page report, compiled by the Texas House investigative committee, was released five days after the Austin American Statesmen and KVUE released 77 minutes of security video from the May 24 mass shooting at the Uvalde school. The video shows dozens of law enforcement officers entering the school and inexplicably waiting to breach the adjoining classrooms where a gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers.
The surveillance video only showed a fraction of the officers who responded. According to the report, 376 law enforcement personnel descended on the chaotic scene which lasted for more than an hour. The group was “void of leadership,” lacked basic communication and an urgency to take down the gunman, and took “an overall lackadaisical approach” in their response.
“For many, that was because they were given and relied upon inaccurate information. For others, they had enough information to know better,” reads the report.
Prior to the report’s release, blame was largely placed on local law enforcement, particularly Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was supposed to be the incident commander during the shooting. However, the preliminary report takes a closer look at the inaction of state and federal law enforcement, determining that 149 responders were U.S. Border Patrol and 91 were from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). There were 25 Uvalde police officers, 16 sheriff’s deputies, and five UCISD police officers on the scene. The remaining responders were from neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. marshals, and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers.
Investigators said someone else on the scene with more experience should have taken over as incident commander.
“These local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy,” the report says. “Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police — quickly arrived on the scene.”
Report: Officers Prioritized Their Own Safety
Surveillance video from the school shows law enforcement officers approaching the classrooms where the gunman was located and retreating after coming under fire. All officers who responded had undergone active shooter training which prioritizes stopping the loss of innocent lives.
“…all officers must be willing to risk their lives without hesitation,” the report urges. “At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety.”
Arredondo also did not adhere to the district’s active shooter response plan. In June, he told The Texas Tribune that he did not consider himself the incident commander even though he was one of the first officers to enter the school. He said he assumed another officer outside would fill that role.
The committee cited the district’s active shooter response plan, co-authored by Arrendondo, which says the chief will “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.” However, the report concludes the flawed response extends far beyond Arredondo.
“In this crisis, no responder seized the initiative to establish an incident command post,” the report says. “Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde CISD 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.”
In interviews conducted or obtained by the committee, other responding officers said they assumed Arredondo was in command or did not know who was in charge. Ultimately, at 12:51 p.m., Border Patrol agents breached the classroom without permission from Arredondo and killed the gunman more than an hour after he entered the school.
Notably, some responding officers attempted to confront or suggested confronting the gunman without permission from a commander. When officers were first driven back by gunfire after approaching the classrooms, Uvalde Police Department Lieutenant Javier Martinez attempted to confront the shooter again. Video shows Martinez advance up the hallway in “an evident desire to maintain momentum and ‘stop the killing.'” No officers followed him and he stopped. Several law enforcement officers told the committee they believed he might have made it to the classroom and engaged with the shooter had others followed him as backup.
DPS Agent Luke Williams disregarded a request to assist in securing am outside perimeter and instead entered the building to help clear rooms, the report says. He found a student hiding in a bathroom stall with his legs up so they couldn’t be seen. The student refused to come out until Williams showed his badge.
After evacuating the student, Williams encountered a group of officers at the end of the hallway where the shooter was and overheard someone ask, “Ya’ll don’t know if there’s kids in there?” Body camera footage shows Williams responded, “If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there.” An officer told Williams that whoever was in charge would figure that out.
Inadequate Safety Practices at Robb Elementary
Robb Elementary did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder, the committee’s report found. The gunman was able to jump a five-foot exterior fence and “there was a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel,” who frequently ignored security procedures by propping doors open and deliberately circumventing locks, the report said.
School policy requires that outside doors be locked at all times but none of the three doors into the school’s west building were locked, giving the gunman unimpeded access.
“Had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, that could have slowed his progress for a few precious minutes — long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker,” says the report.
Multiple witnesses told the committee that employees often left interior and exterior doors propped open using rocks, wedges and magnets — partly because of a shortage of keys.
“In fact, the school actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys,” the report continues.
The killings happened in Rooms 111 and 112. The door to Room 111, where the gunman likely entered, had a faulty lock that needed extra effort to ensure it was engaged. The teacher in that room, Arnulfo Reyes, told school administrators several times about the issue but no work order was placed. Reyes was shot twice but survived.
The report also found some faculty and staff did not initially take the intruder alert seriously due to alarm fatigue associated with a recent increase in “bailouts.” The report describes bailouts as “the term used in border communities for the increasingly frequent occurrence of human traffickers trying to outrun the police, usually ending with the smuggler crashing the vehicle and the passengers fleeing in all directions.”
School officials told the committee there were 47 “secure” or “lockdown” events between February and May of 2022 — 90% of which were due to bailouts. There has never been an incident of school violence related to the bailouts, according to The Texas Tribune.
Alerts sent out to teachers and faculty using a smartphone app were also impeded by several factors, including low-quality internet service and poor mobile phone coverage. The school principal was unable to communicate the lockdown alert using the app due to a bad Wi-Fi signal and she did not attempt to use the school’s intercom.
‘Loss of Trust in Government’
The three committee members, Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, said their goal of the report was to create a comprehensive account the Legislature can use to create policies to prevent future mass shootings.
The group also said they wanted to present an accurate narrative to the public, contrary to the many conflicting and retracted accounts provided by other officials in the weeks following the massacre.
“Problems with the flow of information have plagued government, media, and public discussion about what happened at Robb Elementary from the outset—damaging public trust, inflicting a very real toll on the people of Uvalde, and creating an imperative to provide a reliable set of facts,” the committee members wrote.
The day after the shooting, a press conference was to be led by a Uvalde police lieutenant who had been at the scene, but that officer “literally passed out” while waiting in the hallway beforehand, the members wrote. The briefing was instead held by DPS Regional Director of South Texas Victor Escalon, who “did not witness a bulk of the day’s events, leading him to depend on secondhand knowledge acquired from other law enforcement officers who had been part of the response.”
Governor Greg Abbott and other leaders also relied on that information during their own press conferences, which repeated false narratives that the attack only lasted forty minutes thanks in large part to responding officers successfully executing a plan.
The next day, during another press conference held outside Robb Elementary, authorities said the door the gunman entered through was propped open by a teacher. It was later confirmed by video that the teacher did prop open the door but saw the attacker approaching and slammed the door shut as she called 911. However, the door had either already unlocked or the lock failed to engage, something the teacher could not have known because the doors lock from the outside.
“An uncertain narrative also opens the door much wider for conspiracy theories, many of which have been harmful. The fear of a coverup is palpable here, and while most see it as simply part of an intragovernmental “blame game,” others have made wild accusations that authorities are sweeping some major scandal under the rug,” reads the report. “Most fundamentally, there has been a loss of trust in government.”