The special State House committee that was tasked with investigating the response to the Uvalde mass shooting released its report yesterday. The report identified numerous failures, in law enforcement and in the school and in other systems, though it’s clear to me that they studiously avoided mentioning one particular type of failure. I’ll get there in a minute. First, the law enforcement failures.
The 18-year-old who massacred 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde on May 24 had no experience with firearms before his rampage began. He targeted an elementary school with an active shooter policy that had been deemed adequate but also a long history of doors propped open.
No one was able to stop the gunman from carrying out the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in part because of “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved who was in a position of power, a new investigation into the shooting has found.
On Sunday, a Texas House committee is releasing the most exhaustive account yet of the shooter, his planning, his attack and the fumbling response he provoked.
The 77-page report, reviewed by The Texas Tribune, provides a damning portrayal of a family unable to recognize warning signs, a school district that had strayed from strict adherence to its safety plan and a police response that disregarded its own active-shooter training.
It explains how the gunman, who investigators believe had never fired a gun before May 24, was able to stockpile military-style rifles, accessories and ammunition without arousing suspicion from authorities, enter a supposedly secure school unimpeded and indiscriminately kill children and adults.
In total, 376 law enforcement officers — a force larger than the garrison that defended the Alamo — descended upon the school in a chaotic, uncoordinated scene that lasted for more than an hour. The group was devoid of clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, the report says.
Notably, the investigation is the first so far to criticize the inaction of state and federal law enforcement, while other reports and public accounts by officials have placed the blame squarely on Uvalde school police Chief Pete Arredondo, for his role as incident commander, and other local police who were among the first to arrive.
The report also reveals for the first time that the overwhelming majority of responders were federal and state law enforcement: 149 were U.S. Border Patrol, and 91 were state police — whose responsibilities include responding to “mass attacks in public places.” There were 25 Uvalde police officers and 16 sheriff’s deputies. Arredondo’s school police force accounted for five of the officers on the scene. The rest of the force was made up of neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. Marshals, and federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers.
The investigators said that in the absence of a strong incident commander, another officer could have — and should have — stepped up to the task.
“These local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy,” the report said. “Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police — quickly arrived on the scene.”
The other responders “could have helped to address the unfolding chaos.”
The three committee members — Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock; Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman — said they sought to create a comprehensive account the Legislature can use to craft policies aimed at preventing future massacres. The trio also sought to present an accurate narrative to the public, in contrast to several conflicting and retracted accounts provided by other officials, including the governor and state police, in the seven weeks since the tragedy that have undermined residents’ trust in the ongoing investigations.
They dedicated the document to the 21 people killed in the shooting, and first unveiled their findings during a private meeting with Uvalde residents on Sunday.
“The Committee issues this interim report now, believing the victims, their families, and the entire Uvalde community have already waited too long for answers and transparency,” the report reads.
The report is not yet public, or at least it wasn’t when I drafted this post on Sunday. The chain-of-command failure seems like one for which there ought to be an objective solution, which could be mandated by state law or recommended via a state or federal agency. I mean, we all know there are going to be more of these mass shootings, so the least we can do – the very least we the public can reasonably expect – is that law enforcement agencies have their act together and know who’s in charge when this happens. It makes sense to me that the locals start out in charge, but there ought to be some mechanism and process for either handing that off to another agency or having it taken by them if the situation warrants. I’m no expert and don’t know what the best answer may be, but any idiot can see that what went down in Uvalde was absolutely unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen again.
The report also looked at the shooter, the ways he was failed as a child by those around him, and the warning signs he was giving off before the murders.
A year before the Uvalde school massacre, the gunman had already earned the nickname “school shooter” — a running joke among those he played online games with. He had also started wearing all black and making over-the-top threats, especially toward women, who he terrorized with graphic descriptions of violence and rape.
Salvador Ramos — who the committee is only referring to as “the attacker” so as to deny him the notoriety and fame he desired — also shot and wounded his grandmother, Celia Gonzales, before storming the school.
He was born in Fargo, North Dakota but moved to Uvalde as a child with his sister and mother, who struggled with a long history of drug use. A former girlfriend interviewed by the FBI said she believed the shooter had been sexually assaulted at an early age by one of the mother’s boyfriends but that she didn’t believe him.
Relatives described him as someone shy and quiet who was reluctant to interact with others because he had a speech impediment. When he started school, his pre-K teacher described him as a “wonderful student,” always ready to learn and with a positive attitude.
Then, something changed. He started falling behind in school but never received special education services, despite being identified as “at-risk” and having someone request speech therapy for him, according to the report, citing school records.
Family and friends told the committee he was bullied throughout the fourth grade over his stutter, short haircut and clothing. He often wore the same clothing day after day. One time, a girl tied his shoelaces together causing him to fall on his face, a cousin said.
Beginning in 2018, he was recording more than 100 absences a year, along with failing grades. But the report authors said it was unclear whether a school resource officer ever visited his home. By 2021, when he was 17 years old, he had only completed ninth grade, the report’s authors wrote.
When students started to return to school following the pandemic, he dropped out. Instead of trying to fit in, as he had done in the past, he grew more isolated and retreated to the online world. Uvalde High School officials involuntarily withdrew him on October 28, citing “poor academic performance and lack of attendance.”
Online, the report authors said, he started to show an interest in gore and violent sex, sometimes sharing videos and images of suicides and beheadings. He became enraged and threatened others, especially female players, when he lost games.
Privately, he wrote about his challenges connecting with others or feeling empathy for them, saying he was “not human.” His search history, the authors of the report wrote, suggest he was wondering whether he was a sociopath. His internet searches led to him receiving an email about obtaining psychological treatment for the condition.
Attacking women became a pattern. He was also fired from his job at a Whataburger after a month for threatening a female coworker. And later he was let go of his job at Wendy’s.
Despite losing his jobs, living at home allowed him to save money. By the end of 2021, when clues of his plans first surfaced, he ordered rifle slings, a red dot sight and shin guards, as well as a body armor carrier he wore the day of the Robb Elementary massacre. But because he was still 17 at the time, he wasn’t legally allowed to buy the weapons and at least two people he asked refused.
He started becoming fascinated with school shootings and increasingly seeking notoriety and fame on social media, the report said.
He confided in an older cousin who was also staying with their grandmother that he didn’t want to live anymore. But the cousin told authorities she thought she’d gotten through to him after a lengthy “heart-to-heart.”
Instead, Ramos began to buy more firearm accessories beginning in February, including 60 30-round magazines. As soon as he turned 18, on May 16, he started buying guns and ammunition. In the end he bought two AR-15-style rifles and thousands of rounds. In total, he spent more than $6,000, the committee found.
He had no criminal history nor had he ever been arrested. There was nothing in his background that kept him from owning the weapons. And while multiple gun sales within a short period of time are reported to the ATF, the committee report authors point out that the law only requires purchase of handguns to be reported to the local sheriff.
“Here, the information about the attacker’s gun purchases remained in federal hands,” they wrote.
Online, the shooter started to reference a timeline, foreshadowing his plans.
Emphasis mine. To me, the single biggest failure is that this guy was able to buy all this stuff, without which there could have been no massacre. Why should any minor be able to buy the paraphernalia he bought, and why should anyone at any age be able to buy AR-15s with thousands of rounds of ammunition? I’m not making a constitutional argument here, I’m making a moral one. I say we’d be living in a healthier and safer society right now if no one outside the military had access to such weaponry.
I don’t expect such a statement to be in a report like this, but the much milder suggestion that maybe limiting the sale of most guns and gun accessories to people over the age of 21 is an idea worth exploring would have been appropriate. The longer we refuse to take any kind of proactive steps to reduce mass shootings, the more extreme and extensive the reactive steps we will be forced to take to try to mitigate them. We can fixate all we want on the laxness of door-locking at Robb Elementary, or we can try to make it harder for people to stockpile weapons in sufficient quantities as to intimidate police departments.
Anyway. A brief summary of the highlights from the report is here. The House committee can write a report and make recommendations, but only the Governor can call a special session to pass laws that those recommendations suggest. Don’t expect much of a response from Greg Abbott et al.
UPDATE: Here’s one response: A Uvalde police lieutenant who led the department the day it was part of the fiercely criticized response to the worst school shooting in Texas history has been placed on administrative leave, according to Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin. We’ll see if DPS or any other agency sees similar fallout.