Department of Justice outlines broad inquiry into Uvalde school shooting response
- Justice review requested by Uvalde mayor
- Local police waited more than hour before storming the classrooms
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department outlined a broad inquiry Wednesday into the delayed police response to the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead in one of the worst campus attacks in U.S. history.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said a team, led by a contingent of outside law enforcement experts, would seek information from all responding police agencies, school officials, family members of the victims and witnesses.
"We have been promised, assured and welcomed by every level of law enforcement," Garland said.
The attorney general said the inquiry would be "comprehensive, transparent and independent."
"Nothing can undo the pain that has been inflicted on the loved ones of the victims, the survivors, and the entire community of Uvalde,” Garland said. “But the Justice Department can and will use its expertise and independence to assess what happened and to provide guidance moving forward.”
The team named by attorney general includes nine current and former officials who have responded to past mass shootings: the 2016 nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida; the 2012 movie theater assault in Aurora, Colorado; and the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Officials are expected to examine local training, communications, deployment and incident command, tactics, and practices "as they relate to preparing for and responding to active shooter events," the department said.
The federal action was requested by Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, as questions about law enforcement's actions have shrouded the deadly attack.
Justice's action comes as Congress struggles to address fresh calls for gun control following a series of mass shootings and as parents of a young Uvalde victim recounted the horrific assault before a House committee.
Last month, state police officials outlined a damning account of law enforcement inaction in which authorities waited more than an hour before storming adjoining classrooms at Robb Elementary School to take out the 18-year-old gunman, even as children made repeated 911 calls pleading for help.
Texas Department of Public Safety chief Steven McCraw said the local school district's police chief, serving as the on-scene commander, waited on reinforcements because he believed the shooter represented no further threat, a decision that may have cost more young lives.
The breakdown immediately recalled past missteps by law enforcement that have haunted responses to similar deadly attacks.
"With the benefit of hindsight, of course, it was the wrong decision," a shaken McCraw told reporters days after the attack. He said police would try to determine how many died while 19 officers waited outside the locked classroom doors where the gunman continued shooting. "There is no excuse for that."
McCraw has said that the first officers entered the school just two minutes after the shooter slipped through an open side door and began his attack at 11:33 a.m. By about 11:51 a.m., McCraw said, 19 officers were in an outside hallway when the school district police chief decided to not pursue the shooter.
That decision is now at the heart of criticism, along with investigations by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. McCraw said the chief believed the gunman had barricaded himself in the classroom and the threat had passed.
'It was the wrong decision.':For 79 minutes, police failed to act as children died at Uvalde school
At the same time, a barrage of 911 calls from students, beginning at 12:03 p.m., was telling a more desperate story as one caller whispered their location to the dispatcher. And in a series of 911 contacts just before police breached the door at 12:50 p.m., McCraw said, the caller said, "Please send police now!"
The acknowledged lapse in time represented a departure from long-standing law enforcement strategy developed after the deadly 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. The latest protocols direct first responders to immediately confront active shooters to prevent loss of life.