Uvalde school district suspends entire police force amid anger

Move comes as families continue to demand answers over the police’s handling of May school shooting that left 21 dead.

Police walking near Robb Elementary School following the May 24 attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead [File: Dario Lopez-Mills/AP Photo]

The school district in Uvalde, Texas has suspended its entire police force, five months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in a mass shooting that reverberated across the United States.

In a statement (PDF) on Friday, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) said it had decided “to suspend all activities” of the district’s police department “for a period of time”.

Lieutenant Miguel Hernandez and Ken Mueller, director of student services, also were put on administrative leave, but Mueller elected to resign, the statement said.

“The District has requested the Texas Department of Public Safety to provide additional troopers for campus and extra-curricular activities. We are confident that staff and student safety will not be compromised during this transition,” it said.

The announcement came amid intense scrutiny over law enforcement’s response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24. The deadliest US school shooting in nearly a decade, the attack reignited a national debate about gun laws in the country.

It also sparked widespread outrage after it emerged that although nearly 400 heavily armed law enforcement officials had rushed to the scene, they waited more than one hour to confront and kill the gunman.

Parents of the young schoolchildren who were killed, as well as those of students who survived, have been demanding accountability for months.

Brett Cross, who lost his son Uziyah Garcia in the attack, said on social media that he and other parents had camped outside the Uvalde school district offices for days demanding the suspension of the police force.

New outrage ripped through Uvalde on Thursday over revelations that a school police officer hired after the massacre was not only on campus during the May attack as a Texas state trooper, but under investigation for her actions during the incident.

The hiring of Officer Crimson Elizondo was first reported by CNN on Wednesday night, and less than 24 hours later, the Uvalde school district fired her in the face of swift and mounting backlash.

“We sincerely apologize to the victim’s families and the greater Uvalde community for the pain that this revelation has caused,” the district said in a statement.

An 80-page report in July found law enforcement teams suffered from “systemic failures” that led to chaos and inaction – and ultimately caused a failure “to prioritise saving innocent lives over their own”.

Pete Arredondo, Uvalde schools police chief was sacked in August after a unanimous vote by the school board.

Investigators said Arredondo, who should have been overseeing the law enforcement response, ordered his team to hold back from storming in to stop the suspect.

Arredondo said he did not consider himself to be the incident commander and denied ordering his team to wait.

Last month, schoolchildren in Uvalde returned to their classrooms amid heightened security and a lingering lack of trust among parents.

Robb Elementary School did not reopen and many former students of the school were absorbed in other schools in the district. Dozens others signed up for virtual school or enrolled in private schools.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies