Uvalde, a community of more than 15,000, continues to struggle with the trauma and remains divided on questions of accountability for officers’ actions and inaction.
The shooting has already been picked over in legislative hearings, news reports and a damning report by Texas lawmakers who faulted
law enforcement at every level with failing “to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety.”
In the 20 months since the Justice Department
announced its review, footage showing police waiting in a hallway outside the fourth-grade classrooms where the gunman opened fire has become the target of national ridicule.
Attorney General Merrick Garland was in Uvalde on Wednesday ahead of the release of the report, visiting murals of the victims that have been painted around the center of the town. Later that night, Justice Department officials privately briefed family members at a community center in Uvalde before the findings were made public.
Berlinda Arreola, whose granddaughter was killed in the shooting, said following Wednesday night’s meeting that accountability remained in the hands of local prosecutors who are
separately conducting a criminal investigation into the police response.
“I have a lot of emotions right now. I don’t have a lot of words to say,” Arreola said.
The review by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services was
launched just days after the shooting, and local prosecutors are
still evaluating a separate criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers. Several of the officers involved have
lost their jobs.
Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell said in a statement Wednesday that she had not been given an advance copy of the Justice Department’s report but had been informed it does not address any potential criminal charges.
How police respond to mass shootings around the country has been
scrutinized since the tragedy in Uvalde, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott initially praised the courage of officers’ response and blame was later cast heavily on local authorities in Uvalde. But an 80-page report from a panel of state lawmakers and investigations by journalists laid bare how over the course of more than 70 minutes, a mass of officers went in and out of the school with weapons drawn but did not go inside the classroom where the shooting was taking place. The 376 officers at the scene included state police, Uvalde police, school officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents.
The delayed response countered active-shooter training that emphasizes confronting the gunman, a standard established more than two decades ago after the mass shooting at Columbine High School
showed that waiting cost lives. As what happened during the shooting has become clear, the families of some victims have blasted police as cowards and demanded resignations.
At least five officers have lost their jobs, including
two Department of Public Safety officers and Uvalde’s school police chief, Pete Arredondo, who was the on-site commander during the attack.