The report builds on a scathing investigation by state lawmakers that found “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision-making” among the nearly 400 law enforcement officers that responded.
The Justice Department launched the review early last year at the request of Don McLaughlin, then the mayor of Uvalde, as distraught and outraged parents and families demanded to know why it took officers so long to enter the building and stop the shooter. The gunman had entered his former elementary school armed with an AR-15 rifle and killed the students and teachers. Seventeen other people were injured.
Video from the scene released days later showed parents in anguish, begging officers to charge into the school and save their children. They were outraged when, soon after the shooting, authorities announced that Uvalde police had responded within minutes. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at the time that it “could have been worse” had law enforcement officers not run toward the gunfire. He later said he had been “misled” about the response.
Attorney General Merrick Garland arrived in Uvalde on Wednesday, and Justice Department officials briefed parents and victims’ families on the report Wednesday night. During the day, Garland toured murals local artists painted downtown to honor each victim.
Sandra Torres, whose 10-year-old daughter, Eliahna, was killed, was among several members of victims’ families who met with Garland on Wednesday evening. Earlier in the day, she said she was wary that the report would bring families some closure.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Torres said. “I don’t know what they’re going to have. The thing that I want the most is justice, accountability.”
Law enforcement officers at the scene were harshly criticized for waiting more than an hour to confront the shooter. Their agencies and government officials further angered families by offering conflicting accounts of what unfolded that day and for failing to discipline responding officers. They also withheld documents and videos from the public that could have shed some light on events.
Pete Arredondo, then the chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, received the most scrutiny for instructing responding officers to wait for more backup.
A Texas House committee that conducted its own investigation found that under the district’s active shooter plan, Arredondo would have been the incident commander. Instead, he waited for more than an hour for additional law enforcement officers to arrive before entering the school.
He “did not assume his preassigned responsibility of incident command,” the committee report said. Arredondo has said he did not consider himself to be the officer in charge.
Steve McCraw, the director of the state Public Safety Department, described the police response as an “abject failure” and criticized responding officers for not engaging with the shooter within minutes of having arrived on the scene.
Arredondo, whom McCraw named as the on-scene commander, was fired in August 2022 by the Uvalde school board. McCraw faulted Arredondo for treating the situation as one involving a barricaded subject rather than an active shooter.
The Justice Department collected more than 13,000 items for review and analysis, including policies, procedures and training materials from responding agencies; manuals; and hours of video, photos and interview transcripts.
The investigation is one of several. The review by McCraw’s office led to the firing of one officer. A criminal investigation by the district attorney in Uvalde remains open.
“I’m not sure what information they have, but I hope this report details which officers did what so that our DA cannot run and hide and refuse to prosecute them,” said Brett Cross, whose 10-year-old son, Uziyah, was killed.
Jesse Rizo, whose 9-year-old niece, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed, said he hopes the Justice Department holds people accountable for the bungled response and provides missing details about what occurred while the gunman moved through Robb Elementary.
He said he has been hopeful before, only to be let down: “You hope for the best, and it always falls short.”
Adam Martinez, whose 8-year-old son, Zayon, survived the shooting, said the boy still cannot sleep in his own room and is triggered by loud noises. Martinez, who started a podcast on which family members and residents can discuss their challenges and achievements since the shooting, has been one of the most vocal critics of law enforcement’s response.
“To us, for somebody to get fired, that’s what we would like,” Martinez said. “Out of this case, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Suzanne Gamboa reported from San Antonio, Alicia Victoria Lozano reported from Los Angeles, Ken Dilanian and Morgan Chesky reported from Uvalde