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Twenty months after deadly Uvalde school shooting, multiple investigations have yet to be released

Police hold a press conference on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Uvalde, TX. Twenty one people were killed after a gunman after a high school student opened fire inside Robb Elementary School on Tuesday where two teachers and 19 students were killed. (Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune)
Texas Department of Public Safety officers hold a press conference on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Uvalde. Twenty one people were killed after a gunman opened fire inside Robb Elementary School, where two teachers and 19 students were killed. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

Nearly 20 months after Texas’ deadliest school shooting, where 19 students and two teachers were killed, multiple investigations into the delayed police and medical response have yet to be released to the public.

On Thursday, the Justice Department released findings from its investigation into law enforcement’s response to the May 24, 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. The 575-page federal report focused on how 376 law enforcement officers from various agencies responded to the shooting. Federal officials concluded that failures in leadership and training contributed to law enforcement's response, which has long been heavily criticized.

Video footage from that day shows law enforcement officers remained in the school hallway as a gunman fired indiscriminately into two fourth-grade classrooms. It took 77 minutes before law enforcement confronted and killed the shooter, who was an 18-year-old with an AR-15-style rifle.

Since the massacre, families and the media have fought for transparency and an explanation for why the police response was so delayed and chaotic.

But at least three separate investigations into the massacre have not yet been released, including records from the Texas Department of Public Safety, a criminal investigation from the Uvalde County District Attorney’s office and the City of Uvalde’s independent investigation.

More than a dozen news organizations — including The Texas Tribune — have sued the DPS, alleging that the state police have unlawfully withheld those records, which include body camera footage and emergency communications. A Travis County state district judge ordered last November that the DPS release the records within 20 days. Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an appeal on behalf of the agency on Dec. 8, so that case remains ongoing.

Part of that investigation was a medical analysis to determine whether any of those killed at Robb Elementary might have survived if police and medical assistance arrived sooner. Records obtained by The Washington Post, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica showed that communication lapses among medical responders delayed treatment for victims. Four victims had heartbeats when they were rescued from the school and died later that day.

DPS Chief Medical Officer Mark Escott, who also serves as EMS medical director for the City of Austin, said in a statement that the Uvalde DA’s office informed him last August that they were “moving in a different direction” and no longer wanted the medical analysis.

“At this time, I have no knowledge of what, if any, medical analysis will be included in the (DPS) report,” Escott said.

The DPS did not respond to the Tribune’s request for comment about when its report will be made public.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell already received those DPS records, which she says will be used to conduct the criminal investigation into the police failures during the shooting.

Her office has said it would use the report from the Texas Rangers, a specialized investigative arm of the state DPS, to determine whether to charge anyone with a crime. Mitchell has supported DPS’ position of not publicly releasing those records, arguing that disclosing them could jeopardize any criminal charges.

Mitchell did not respond to a request for comment and her office has yet to file any criminal charges.

The ongoing investigation has prompted a legal battle between the city and county. Uvalde city officials filed a lawsuit last year seeking access to DPS records so that the municipality could release its own report. The lawsuit said that the lack of access is impeding the city’s independent investigator from determining whether any disciplinary actions were needed. The city hired Jesse Prado of JPPI Investigations, LLC to conduct the internal affairs inquiry, which would include the city’s police department.

What has been released

The first report released to the public on the school shooting came out in July 2022 from the Texas House Committee.

The 77-page report stated that the 376 law enforcement officers who responded to the shooting were devoid of clear leadership, basic communication and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, who was ultimately shot and killed after a U.S. Border Patrol team entered the classroom where most of the victims were shot. None of the law enforcement officers entered the classroom for more than an hour after the shooting began.

While other reports placed the blame squarely on Uvalde CISD police chief Pete Arredondo, the House report was the first to also criticize the inaction of state and federal law enforcement.

Several law enforcement officers resigned or were fired in the months following the shooting. Arredondo was fired by the school board in August 2022 amid public criticism of the disastrous police response. According to the school district’s active-shooter protocol, Arredondo was the incident commander. But Arredondo repeatedly defended himself saying he did not consider himself to be in charge. Uvalde school officials then suspended all of the police department's activities. Last March, the district named a new police chief and has since rebuilt the department’s staff.

After completing its internal investigation — which has not been made public — of how seven of its troopers responded to the shooting, the Texas Department of Public Safety fired Sgt. Juan Maldonado, the highest-ranking state trooper to respond to the shooting. Body camera footage released by the Uvalde Police Department shows that he was outside the school within four minutes of the shooting. A second Texas Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell, was terminated last January. Kindell appealed the decision by requesting a meeting with DPS Director Steve McCraw.

DPS has so far refused to hear the appeal, and Kindell remains on paid leave while that appeal is pending. Another state trooper, Crimson Elizondo, resigned before the investigation was resolved. She was hired by Uvalde CISD’s police department but then fired after community members criticized the hiring. The remaining four officers were cleared of wrongdoing.

Lt. Mariano Pargas, who was the city’s acting police chief on the day of the shooting, stepped down about six months after the shooting.