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DOJ calls officers' response in Uvalde school shooting a 'failure'

The DOJ's report sheds light on law enforcement's botched response to the May 2022 school shooting.
DOJ calls officers' response in Uvalde school shooting a 'failure'
Posted at 7:00 AM, Jan 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-18 16:53:40-05

The Department of Justice described numerous "failures" in a detailed report released Thursday morning following the May 2022 mass school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two adults dead.

Law enforcement's response to the school shooting has faced intense criticism since the days following the incident. It took more than an hour for officers to confront the gunman before he was fatally wounded, which was confirmed in the 575-page report.

Justice Department officials reviewed their findings with victims' families on Wednesday, one day before the report was made public.

The Justice Department compiled over 14,000 pieces of documentation, including audio and video recordings, photographs and interview transcripts. 

The report said that for 77 minutes, officers stood outside a classroom as the gunman remained inside with wounded students and teachers inside. 

"A series of major failures, failures in leadership, in tactics, in communications, in training and preparedness were made by law enforcement leaders and others responding to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said. "As a result, 33 students and three of their teachers, many of whom had been shot, were trapped in a room with an active shooter for over an hour as law enforcement officials remained outside."

The report revealed that once officers breached the classroom and killed the gunman, some wounded students were placed on buses instead of hospital-bound ambulances.

Officials said law enforcement describing the scene as a barricaded subject scenario and not an active shooter scenario was the "single most critical tactical failure in the incident response." The report said some officers wrongly called the gunman "contained" and "barricaded" numerous times.

"After 11:40 a.m., no more attempts to enter the rooms were made until 12:48 p.m.," said Garland. "As a consequence of failed leadership training and policies, injured and scared students and teachers remain trapped with a subject in the classrooms waiting to be rescued. Survivors later shared that they heard officers gathered outside the classrooms while they waited. The victims trapped in classroom 111 and 112 were waiting to be rescued."

The report said that 11 officers from two agencies were at the school within three minutes of the gunman entering the school. They say law enforcement's approach was rapid but not tactical. 

Several officers were wounded by shrapnel from inside the classroom. The Justice Department said it's reasonable to retreat and take a tactical pause except in active shooter situations. This should have alerted them to engage the shooter immediately by penetrating the classroom door, the report says. 

The report says there were at least nine occasions when officers did not share that the subject was still shooting or had injured officers. In those instances, the receiver only knew that there was a barricaded or contained subject, adding to the confusion.

Officials initially gave conflicting reports on whether the gunman was confronted when entering the school. They later said that they waited on a key to enter a classroom, only to find that the door was unlocked.

Among the failures to communicate, some officials told families their loved ones were safe in the hours following the shooting, only to later tell them their child had died. 

SEE MORE: Texas now requires armed security on all school campuses

Following the release of the report, President Joe Biden issued a reaction. 

"Today’s report makes clear several things: that there was a failure to establish a clear command and control structure, that law enforcement should have quickly deemed this incident an active shooter situation and responded accordingly, and that clearer and more detailed plans in the school district were required to prepare for the possibility that this could occur," the president said. "There were multiple points of failure that hold lessons for the future, and my team will work with the Justice Department and Department of Education to implement policy changes necessary to help communities respond more effectively in the future."

The report's release also renewed calls for tougher gun laws from President Biden and victims' families. 

"I hope that the failures end today and the local officials do what wasn't done that day, do right by the victims and survivors of Robb Elementary," said Kimberly Rubio, whose daughter Lexi died in the mass shooting. "Terminations, criminal prosecutions and our state and federal government enact sensible gun laws because Robb Elementary began the day an 18-year-old was allowed to purchase an AR-15."

The Department of Justice stated there are three goals it has for the report: 

- Independent account of law enforcement and other stakeholder actions and responses

- Identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events 

- Provide a roadmap for community safety before, during and after such incidents


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