An attorney representing more than a dozen Uvalde, Texas, families in wrongful death and emotional distress claims following May’s deadly school massacre believes the majority-Latino community of 15,000 residents would have been better off if police officers hadn’t shown up at all to Robb Elementary School that day.
“The people of Uvalde would've been better off if there was no police because they wanted to go into the school,” attorney Mark Di Carlo claimed to Yahoo News. “They were tased, barricaded and beaten to prevent them from going in. What kind of law enforcement agency … that uses our tax money prevents us from saving our own children?”
More than a month and a half after the May 24 shooting — during which 19 children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman — Di Carlo, who’s representing 15 families, says school and city officials have effectively gone radio silent with updates on the investigation. He said letters he has received from other attorneys in recent weeks show that school officials have retained lawyers and are refusing to share physical evidence or allow for any outside agencies to inspect the school until law enforcement has completed its own investigation, with an open-ended timetable.
On Tuesday, a state lawmaker who represents Uvalde tweeted that on Sunday he would release surveillance video from the shooting for the community to see. And shortly thereafter, it would be released to the public.
But officials have previously flip-flopped several times on releasing the video, drawing skepticism and ire from many community members.
Rep. Dustin Burrows, the chairman of a special Texas House panel investigating the shooting, said Monday morning that local law enforcement and the Uvalde mayor had struck a deal to release a portion of the video footage. But hours later, the Texas Department of Public Safety rebuffed this claim, saying the agency could not unilaterally grant this request because it did not have permission from Uvalde’s district attorney.
“We believe it's basically been a cover-up since day one,” Di Carlo said. “Everything is being withheld.”
For many, the video only underscores physical evidence of police officers waiting idly as a gunman killed innocent children, juxtaposed with the lack of accountability they’ve taken since. For others, the video — which shows a member of law enforcement stopping to get hand sanitizer while in the school — justifies anger that has only built up over time.
On a recent visit to Robb Elementary, Di Carlo said that police officers were surrounding the empty school and one stopped him as he tried to get a closer look and told him to “step away.”
“It's rather egregious that they're spending all this money and effort to protect an empty school when they had an opportunity and time to go into the school and safeguard the children, and perhaps save some lives, and they neglected to do so,” he said.
Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, the city’s top prosecutor, has had to answer for the investigation’s bumpy rollout and communication. Busbee told Yahoo News in an email exchange that she has been meeting with the families of victims to update them on the investigation and assisting them since day one.
She says she set up a family assistance center at the Uvalde County Fairplex the day after the shooting to serve as a “one-stop shop” for counseling services and to immediately help families in need. But that closed on June 1, just eight days after the massacre. Five days later, on June 6, she says she opened up the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center using a $5 million grant from Gov. Greg Abbott and plans to keep the center open for years to come.
“It is my plan and the plan of Uvalde County that the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center be in existence for at least 4-5 years to provide counseling services to the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary, to their families and to all the citizens of Uvalde County,” she wrote.
But critics say they lack faith that Busbee is doing all she can do right now, particularly to help the victims' families through this tough time. Last Tuesday, Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, a Democrat and Republican respectively, issued a joint letter, shared with Yahoo News, calling on Abbott to replace Busbee, whom Abbott appointed to head victim services.
“The Uvalde community is strong, but it needs our help to move past this tragedy and heal. That help has not come,” the letter read in part. “Since her appointment, I have heard troubling stories from my constituents about the failure of the District Attorney and the Governor to help these families in need. My constituents have told me that they are faced with dire financial demands and they are desperate for help. But, little help has been provided.”
But Busbee contends she cannot give the grant money directly to victims.
“The grant prohibits Uvalde County or myself from giving monies from that grant directly to families,” she said in an email. “To insinuate that I am able to give monies to families directly from the grant indicates a lack of understanding as to how a VOCA [Victims of Crime Act] grant works.”
As the investigation into the mass shooting rolls on past seven weeks with no clear end in sight, Di Carlo has questioned the need for the results of the inquiry at all, which he said the DA hinted could take upwards of two years. Instead, he noted, the public just wants to see the video and autopsy evidence for themselves.
“We don't need the results of those investigations because we know the results of those investigations, and their opinions … are rather questionable,” he said. “The information we need are the videos; we need the autopsies.”
“We need the facts," he added. “We don't need their opinions.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Eric Thayer/Getty Images