Uvalde families renew demands for police to face charges after a scathing Justice Department report

Reggie Daniels pays his respects a memorial at Robb Elementary School, June 9, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas, created to honor the victims killed in the school shooting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Families of the children and teachers killed in the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre are renewing demands for criminal charges after a scathing Justice Department report again laid bare numerous failures by police during one of the deadliest classroom shootings in U.S. history.

“I’m very surprised that no one has ended up in prison,” said Velma Lisa Duran, whose sister Irma Garcia was one of the two teachers killed in the May 24, 2022, shooting. “It’s sort of a slap in the face that all we get is a review … we deserve justice.”

The release of the nearly 600-page report Thursday — roughly 20 months after the shooting — leaves a criminal investigation by Uvalde County prosecutors as one the last unfinished reviews by authorities into the attack at Robb Elementary School. Nineteen students and two teachers were killed inside two fourth-grade classrooms, while highly armed police officers waited in the hallways for more than hour before going inside to confront the gunman.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland called the police response “a failure that should not have happened.”
But the report is deliberately silent on the question that still burns in the minds of many victims’ families: Will anyone responsible for the failures be charged with a crime?

President Joe Biden said Thursday that he had not yet read the full findings. “But I don’t know that there’s any criminal liability,” he said.

Since the shooting, at least five officers have lost their jobs, including two from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the on-site commander, then-school district police chief, Pete Arredondo. But no one has been charged in the criminal investigation that was led by the Texas Rangers. The Justice Department report says the FBI has assisted the Rangers but is not doing its own investigation.

The Rangers — part of the Texas DPS, which had more than 90 officers on the scene of the shooting — submitted their initial findings at the start of 2023. Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell initially said she hoped to bring the case to a grand jury by the end of last year. But she pushed back that timeline in December and said Thursday that she will need time to review the voluminous Justice Department report.

“I am a working DA with a small office,” Mitchell said in an email. “It is going to take me awhile to go through this report. I am hopeful that it was informative for the community.”

The pace of the criminal investigation has long frustrated families of the victims, Uvalde’s former Republican mayor and a Democratic state senator who represents the small South Texas town and has called for the head of the Texas state police to be fired.

“Twenty months later, there’s no end in sight for this local district attorney to be able to do anything,” state Sen. Roland Gutierrez said. “We don’t know if she’s going to indict anybody at all. It’s really a shame where we are now.”

In the report, federal officials detailed “cascading failures” by police, from waiting for more than an hour to confront and kill the gunman to repeatedly giving false information to grieving families about what had happened.

Produced by a Justice Department office that supports local police, the document is among the most comprehensive accountings to date of what went wrong. It says training, communication, leadership and technology problems extended the crisis, even as agonized parents begged officers to go in and terrified students called 911 from inside a classroom where the gunman had holed up.

Uvalde is a close-knit city of 15,000 about 85 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio. Parents of children killed in the shooting grew up and went to school with some of the officers they now blame, and they feel abandoned by local and state leaders who they see as intent on moving past the massacre.

“We need our community,” said Brett Cross, who was raising his 10-year-old nephew, Uziyah Garcia, when the boy was killed in the shooting. “It is hard enough waking up every day and continuing to walk out on these streets, walk to a (grocery store) and see a cop who you know was standing there when our babies were murdered and bleeding out.”

Cross is among those who hope the Justice Department report will unify Uvalde around a common set of facts and spur criminal charges. During a news conference in the city, Garland stopped short of saying if charges should be filed, leaving that to Mitchell.

The Department of Justice report faults state and local officials with undercutting the public’s trust in law enforcement by repeatedly releasing false and misleading information about the police response. That includes Gov. Greg Abbott, who initially praised the officers’ courage “running toward gunfire.”

As what happened has become clear, Jesse Rizo has been among those left looking for more accountability. Rizo, whose niece Jacklyn Cazares was among the shooting victims, still hopes Mitchell will bring charges, but he has little faith in those in power.

“You hope for the best,” he said, “but the past will tell you basically what your outcome is going to be.”