Police failed in their response to the 2022 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, according to a US Department of Justice report.
The report cited “critical failures” and faulted law enforcement officers for waiting more than an hour to breach the classroom where the 18-year-old gunman was holed up with students and staff, leaving the children inside to make panicked 911 calls.
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“The victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School deserved better,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement on Thursday.
“The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022 – and the response by officials in the hours and days after – was a failure.”
The report released on Thursday, the most comprehensive federal accounting of the police response to the shooting, identifies a vast array of problems from failed communication and leadership to inadequate technology and training that federal officials say contributed to the crisis lasting far longer than it should have.
The report concluded officers should have immediately breached a classroom to stop the shooting, but instead treated the gunman like a barricaded subject and allowed him to remain in a classroom with victims for more than an hour.
The report details the results of the department’s “Critical Incident Review,” of the law enforcement response, a review which began days after the shooting at the request of Uvalde’s mayor.
The police response to the massacre came under intense criticism following reports that law enforcement waited in a hallway for more than an hour while the gunman remained holed up in a classroom and students made panicked 911 calls.
A US Border Patrol-led tactical team ultimately burst into the classroom and killed the gunman.
A July 2022 report from Texas lawmakers described an “atmosphere of chaos” at the scene and concluded that law enforcement “failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety”.
The Justice Department review is aimed at providing an independent analysis and identifying lessons for authorities responding to other mass shootings.
The department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services led the assessment with the help of outside experts in emergency management, active shooter response and school safety.
Uvalde, a community of more than 15,000, has continued to struggle with the trauma left by the killing of 21 people – mostly elementary school students, and has remained divided about questions of accountability for officers’ actions and inaction.
Uvalde school district officers arrived within three minutes of the gunman’s arrival at the school and ran towards the classroom, but as they approached, the gunman fired from inside the classroom. Two officers were hit by shrapnel and police retreated to take cover.
“An active shooter with access to victims should never be considered and treated as a barricaded subject,” the report says, with the word “never” emphasized in italics.
In the 20 months since the Justice Department announced its review, footage showing police waiting in a hallway outside the fourth-grade classrooms where the gunman opened fire has become the target of national criticism.