It’s been two years since the Uvalde massacre. Will the town take a stand on Super Tuesday?

“I know I didn’t do anything wrong. I have nothing to hide,” Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco said in May 2022, days after the mass elementary shooting left 19 children and two teachers dead.

Sheriff Nolasco had his say in the matter, and now, voters will now get theirs as the sheriff runs for re-election. The primary is 5 March — marking the first time he will face voters after the massacre.

Mr Nolasco, who is running as a Republican, has refused to step down from his post — or withdraw his candidacy — despite facing a barrage of complaints over law enforcement’s bungled response to the mass shooting and calls to halt his re-election bid.

Sheriff Nolasco, along with other senior law enforcement officers, was criticised by name throughout a critical incident report by the Justice Department. The report reviewed the botched police response, finding “cascading failures” of leadership, communication and urgency.

Some others in top roles on that fateful day are no longer in their posts; the school police chief has since been fired and the acting city police chief has retired. But Mr Nolasco has remained defiant, running for a second term.

This race is likely to be tight. Mr Nolasco won by just 60 votes in 2020, according to the Uvalde Leader-News. Avoiding the topic of Uvalde, which made national headlines and continues to plague his community, seems nearly impossible.

Still, Mr Nolasco said, “I’m just not done yet. I want to continue to improve that office,” he told the outlet in December 2023. “I’d like to think I took it out of the darkness.”

A scathing report

The Justice Department report detailed a minute-by-minute timeline of the shooting, starting with the shooting on Diaz Street, where the gunman shot his grandmother.

The sheriff testified to a Texas House Committee that while he was on his way to respond to the school shooting, he learned of the Diaz Street incident, and diverted his attention there.

Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco, left, is comforted by US Senator Ted Cruz during a vigil held in honor of the lives lost at Robb Elementary school at the Uvalde County Fairplex Arena in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022 (**MANDATORY CREDIT FOR PHOTOG AND SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS/NO SALES/MAGS OUT/TV)
Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco, left, is comforted by US Senator Ted Cruz during a vigil held in honor of the lives lost at Robb Elementary school at the Uvalde County Fairplex Arena in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022 (**MANDATORY CREDIT FOR PHOTOG AND SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS/NO SALES/MAGS OUT/TV)

Three minutes later, there were a total of three deputies plus the sheriff at the home while the shooter was actively firing a semi-automatic weapon at the nearby elementary school; authorities from other agencies responded to the school massacre.

The grandmother identified the shooter, divulging a key piece of information — his full name — to the sheriff.

Two of the sheriff’s deputies then left the grandmother’s home and headed for Robb Elementary School — but the sheriff and another deputy remained at the house.

Eventually, Sheriff Nolasco arrived at the school — 35 minutes after the first person on the scene made entry, the report states. The stand-off between the police and the shooter spanned 77 minutes, meaning the sheriff missed nearly half of it.

Despite having background information on the subject, Sheriff Nolasco did not share the name with other officers working at the school. He also did not assign an intelligence officer to gather more information on the shooter as officers were working to ascertain this information, according to the report.

It wasn’t until an hour after the sheriff spoke to the grandmother that an officer addressed the gunman by name, bodycam footage obtained by CNN revealed, highlighting the delay in sharing such pertinent information, as officers were trying to negotiate with the shooter. (The Justice Department warned against negotiations with an active shooter.)

Although it’s not clear whether the sheriff had linked that the 18-year-old who had shot his grandmother was the same person as the school shooter, a Texas ranger later said, “it’s not going to take a rocket scientist” to connect the dots, CNN reported. The Diaz Street house was half a mile from the elementary school.

On top of this, records revealed that Mr Nolasco had never received any active shooter training and had received “minimal” leadership training. Still, as the highest ranking officer for his agency, “he had the authority to lead those resources from his agency in line with his positional authority,” the report says.

The report found that the sheriff “did not demonstrate adequate command leadership during the incident” through his failure to coordinate his officers or establish a “unified command.”

It was later revealed that the sheriff’s office did not have an active shooter policy when the teenager opened fire on the school.

“I could not believe that with all the mass shootings that have taken place, just in Texas alone, that there was no policy in place. It was a total shock,” Berlinda Irene Arreola, the grandmother of 10-year-old victim Amerie Jo Garza, said on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. The little girl had tried to use her new cellphone to call 911 during the tragedy.

If what’s past is prologue

Tuesday’s vote could send a message regarding residents’ outrage at the Uvalde shooting response — which could perhaps be a bellwether for nationwide disappointment over a lack of solution to the country’s gun violence epidemic.

But if Texas Gov Greg Abbott’s race in November 2022 — mere months after the tragedy — serves as precedent, Uvalde victims’ families may have to be more adamant about their disapproval of how the shooting was handled.

Mr Abbott won over 60 per cent of the vote in Uvalde County in that election, and eventually was re-elected governor. His state has some of the weakest gun laws in the nation.

Victims’ families-turned-advocates promoted his competitor Beto O’Rourke and his call for increased gun safety measures in the state.

“I’m speaking directly to moms when I say our babies’ lives are on the ballot,” Kimberly Rubio, the mother of 10-year-old shooting victim Lexi Rubio told the Texas Tribune at the time. “Had Abbott prioritized the lives of his most vulnerable constituents over guns, then I wouldn’t be here today. I would be at home with Lexi.”

Gloria Cazares, whose 10-year-old Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the tragedy, also told the outlet: “We’ve asked to raise the age limit to purchase an assault rifle from 18 to 21. We’ve asked for red flag laws and background checks. In Texas we need someone to advocate for our children and families.” She added, “We are not going anywhere, we are definitely not done and we are going to vote Abbott out.”

Mr Abbott’s victory could be partly chalked up to his distance to the incident. As governor, he was not directly involved in the response to the shooting. Strangely, he also served as the first person to communicate about the incident; he was responsible for giving the first press conference after the massacre, which is a job that typically falls on the local sheriff or police chief, the Justice Department report noted.

Another election since the tragedy illustrated a dissonance between a community that rallied behind “Uvalde Strong” messaging and the ballot box results.

Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter was killed, had run for mayor of Uvalde, garnering just 33 per cent of the vote. After the disappointing loss, she told the Texas Tribune, “I’m going to continue to fight for accountability and transparency for my daughter.”

Aside from the sheriff, in this election cycle, others involved in the response are running again. Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell is running unopposed in her Republican primary amid pressures to resign.

The Uvalde mayor accused her of being “involved in a cover-up regarding the city’s investigation into the Robb School tragedy.” The city then sued DA Mitchell in August 2023 for her failure to produce all of the available information about the massacre. At the time, she dismissed the lawsuit as a “distraction.”

In the sheriff’s race, Otto Arnim, who is competing against Mr Nolascao in the Republican primary, attacked his rival over his muddled response. “Keep electing the same people, you’re going to get the same results,” Mr Arnim’s ad states.

Finger pointing

If this election proved to be the sheriff’s ouster, it would serve as a more direct rebuke to local law enforcement’s inaction.

Sheriff Nolasco has long deflected any blame for the devastation.

“All I can say is I was not the incident commander that day,” Mr Nolasco told ABC News in November 2022. “Honestly, I mean, there’s just a lot of finger-pointing that’s going on right now ... I think they want to point fingers to me and point fingers at me.”

However, one police captain on the scene said the sheriff maintained “operational control” during the incident. Mr Nolasco later said that he believed the Uvalde school police chief Pete Arredondo had been in charge.

“You have a chief of police that works for the school,” Mr Nolasco said. “And he co-authored [the school district active shooter] policy that put him in charge. The incident is at school and I’ll let you do the math.”

Mr Arredondo has since been terminated from his role. But the former school police chief also waved off responsibility, telling the Texas Tribune: “I didn’t issue any orders.”

His lawyer further added that the Diaz Street house “would have been the first incident to establish incident command,” and Mr Nolasco had reported to that scene.

“I didn’t know the connection to that other scene over there,” the sheriff told ABC News.