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Families of Uvalde shooting victims want police accountability after DOJ report release

The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday released a report marking the conclusion of its 18-month long investigation into the 2022 shooting that left 19 kids and two teachers dead in Uvalde.<br/>
Michael Minasi
The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday released a report marking the conclusion of its 18-month long investigation into the 2022 shooting that left 19 kids and two teachers dead in Uvalde.

A failure.

That’s how the U.S. Justice Department is describing law enforcement’s response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

The department released its incident report yesterday. The report, which runs more than 500 pages, marks the conclusion of its 18-month long investigation into the 2022 shooting that left 19 kids and two teachers dead.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland briefed the families on the contents of the report on Wednesday, before it was released publicly. While the information in the Justice Department’s report isn’t new, it could help victims’ families get the accountability they’ve been asking for.

At a press conference in Uvalde Thursday, Garland did not mince words as he outlined the actions of the nearly 400 law enforcement agents on the scene the day of the shooting.

“The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, and in the hours and days after was a failure that should not have happened,” Garland said.

Garland said the decision by the police to wait over 77 minutes to confront the gunman stemmed from one critical mistake: they treated it as a barricaded subject situation — not an active shooter situation.

“I think the report concludes that had law enforcement agencies followed generally-accepted practices in an active shooter situation and gone right after the shooter to stop him, lives would have been saved and people would have survived,” he said.

Garland’s comments — and the DOJ report — confirms what victims’ families have been saying all along: Law enforcement didn’t do enough to save their loved ones.

“I just couldn’t believe it,”Jerry Mata, who lost his 10-year-old daughter Tess in the shooting, told The Texas Newsroom on Thursday.

“For these officers to sit there, and just not do anything and still be out here in the streets like nothing happened, and my daughter’s gone. It — it was hard,” Mata said.

Many family members of the victims say they’re grateful for the Justice Department’s decision to look into the police response. But they wish the report had done more — like identifying all the officers who showed up at that school that day and didn’t follow the active shooter protocols in place.

“Everybody should have been named,” said Kimberly Rubio, mother of 10-year-old victim Lexi. “I don’t understand why they are allowed privacy. My child — their children — they are named in this report because they are dead.”

Garland said what happened in Uvalde was a failure in leadership, and placed most of the blame on former Uvalde Schools Police Chief Pete Arredondo. Arredondo was fired three months after the shooting. But Garland also said the DOJ typically does not name lower-ranking officers who respond to these incidents.

One of the reasons family members want the identity of the police agents involved is so they can face consequences, including criminal charges.

However, the federal government won’t press changes, and Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has been quiet about a criminal investigation she says she’s conducting.

Victims’ families and a former Uvalde mayor have accused Mitchell of orchestrating a “cover up.”

Brett Cross, who lost his 10-year-old son Uziyah, said he hopes the DOJ report will move things forward in the Uvalde DA’s office.

“Because we know she hasn’t done a damn thing, and we refuse to accept that,” he said. “Do your job.”

According to Jazmine Cazares, who lost her 9-year-old sister Jackie, DA Mitchell has everything she needs to pursue charges against officers.

And Cazares hopes even more will happen.

“I think that this report can be used in prosecution, it can be used in suggesting legislation for school safety, things like that,” she said. “So, will it ever bring closure? Probably not, but I really hope it does — it can be used in prosecution or firing people, things like that.”

Cazares and the others who lost loved ones vow to keep pushing for changes to gun laws. They say those changes could help prevent the next mass shooting — so no one else has to feel the almost indescribable pain they have to live with everyday.

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán