UVALDE, Texas (KXAN) — Thursday morning, the U.S. Department of Justice released its highly anticipated critical incident review of the active shooting at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two teachers on May 24, 2022.
As KXAN continues to comb through the 610-page document, themes related to leadership failures on the day the shooting took place, as well as a lack of communication, collaboration and cooperation in the days and months following became more apparent.
The failure to establish an incident command post and secure the crime scene
Only two law enforcement officers in leadership positions with the main responding agencies had training in Incident Command Systems (ICS) and National Incident Management Sytems (NIMS), according to the DOJ report.
“In critical incidents, particularly events involving multiple jurisdictions and disciplines, the understanding and use of NIMS and ICS are essential to the successful sharing of information and coordination of resources, tactics, and investigations,” the DOJ report states.
Those two officers were Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who had completed 32 hours of training, and the Texas Department of Public Safety South Texas Regional Director Victor Escalon, who arrived shortly before the classroom was entered, had completed 88 hours, according to the report.
“There were also failures in leadership, command, and coordination. None of the law enforcement leaders at the scene established an incident command structure to provide timely direction, control, and coordination,” the report states.
According to the report, the lack of structure not only contributed to the confusion and chaos during the incident, but also affected law enforcement’s post-incident response to preserving the integrity of the crime scene.
Neither Arredondo nor Escalon took steps to provide leadership to those in the room, according to the report.
Once children were finally rescued from the classrooms, a perimeter should have been established and direction with other leadership in the hallway should have been given by the Texas DPS South Texas regional director, according to the DOJ.
“The TXDPS regional director, and some other officers, walked past the law enforcement officers bringing injured and deceased victims out of the classrooms and entered classrooms 111 and 112 with no identifiable purpose or action, therefore compromising the crime scene,” the report states.
It wasn’t until a few minutes later that a Texas Ranger on scene took control and ordered all law enforcement out of the crime scene, according to the DOJ.
“The Texas Ranger appeared to be one of the few leaders on scene who attempted to coordinate with other agency personnel and ended up in different interactions with all the major responding agencies,” the report states.
According to the report, a Texas DPS captain present at the crime scene ordered another officer to create a log of names for anyone who enters the crime scene, however, “none of the officials filed reports after their walk-throughs, as is reportedly required by TXDPS.”
Texas DPS refusing assistance and delaying investigations
In addition to the integrity of the crime scene inside the school being jeopardized by leadership shortfalls, the DOJ report states DPS declined the FBI’s offer to assist with the collection of evidence from the car wrecked by the shooter. The report states there was an urgent need to preserve the crime scene with a forecasted major storm moving in.
As a result, “the storm brought heavy rainfall and winds that washed out the crime scene and compromised the evidence, which included one of the subject’s two rifles, casings from shooting at the funeral home employees, and other personal items inside the vehicle,” according to the DOJ.
KXAN found this wasn’t the only instance DPS refused help or denied other agencies information further delaying the investigative process, the report states.
The DOJ’s report states the FBI offered its victim specialists to help with the death notification process but were denied the ability to assist.
“They were told “we got this” by TXDPS, even though the TXDPS staff was untrained in this process,” according to the DOJ report.
Furthermore, the report states local investigations have been delayed due to the unwillingness to cooperate with a request by the City of Uvalde for evidence necessary to their internal review.
“UPD’s internal investigation has been hampered by a lack of access to evidence that TXDPS was in possession of and not willing to share,” the report states.
Official re-enacted Uvalde shooting in front of victims’ families
The report states Texas DPS and other law enforcement agencies failed to communicate in a culturally sensitive manner with victims’ family members.
Key among these failures was a lack of information released in Spanish, death notices delivered by undertrained personnel and insensitive leadership, the report said.
During a May 27, 2022 family briefing held by DPS Regional Director Escalon and Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell, the first to occur after the shooting, a Texas DPS official reportedly “re-enacted the incident” in front of families who lost loved ones four days earlier.
“The families were asking what happened to their loved ones, and after a lot of back and forth with no direct answers, a DPS official stood up and re-enacted the incident including taking steps and holding their finger like a gun,” the DOJ report read. “This information was of no real use to the families, did not answer the questions they did have about what happened to their children, and was not delivered in a trauma-sensitive manner.”
According to the report, a witness to the briefing said it was “inflict[ing] secondary traumatic stress.” Other witnesses described it to DOJ investigators as “awful,” and that “families walked out.”