Uvalde school shooting surveillance video fuels scrutiny over delayed law enforcement response

Uvalde school shooting surveillance video fuels scrutiny over delayed law enforcement response

Published July 13, 2022
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Surveillance video of law enforcement’s response during the Uvalde school massacre gives the clearest account yet of how officers waited outside an elementary classroom as the gunman continued firing, killing 21 students and teachers on May 24.

The video – published by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper Tuesday, in a decision that enraged families of the victims who had yet to see the footage themselves – shows responding officers approaching the door of the classroom within minutes of the shooter entering, yet retreating after the gunman opened fire at them.

After more than an hour – with the hallway growing more crowded with officers from different agencies – the doorway of the classroom was breached by law enforcement and the gunman was shot and killed.

Texas news outlets defend decision to publish shooting video from Uvalde

The leak and subsequent release of the footage was particularly painful for the victims’ families, including a group of parents and relatives who said they were blindsided Tuesday while in Washington, DC, to speak with elected officials. They expected to see the footage Sunday, when the Texas House Committee investigating the shooting planned to show it to the families before releasing it to the public.

“We get blindsided by a leak,” said Angel Garza, whose 10-year-old daughter, Amerie Jo, was killed. “Who do you think you are to release footage like that of our children who can’t even speak for themselves, but you want to go ahead and air their final moments to the entire world? What makes you think that’s OK?”

The video, lightly edited by the American-Statesman to blur at least one child’s identity and to remove the sound of children screaming, still leaves some questions unanswered – in particular, why the law enforcement response was so delayed.

“They just didn’t act. They just didn’t move,” Uvalde County Commissioner Ronald Garza said on CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday. “I just don’t know what was going through those policemen’s minds that tragic day, but … there was just no action on their part.”

The video also does not answer the question of “who, if anybody, was in charge,” state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D) told CNN on Tuesday.

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“Even if we see 77 minutes in a hallway, it’s not going to tell us who was in charge or who should have been in charge. And I think that’s the sad statement of what happened on May 24 is that no one was in charge.”

Gutierrez criticized the Texas Department of Public Safety for having a multitude of officers on site yet not taking control of the situation. The state agency has consistently pointed to Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the Uvalde school district police chief, as the on-scene commander during the attack.

Arredondo was placed on leave as school district police chief in June and has not given substantial public statements about his decision-making that day despite intense public scrutiny, though he told the Texas Tribune that he did not consider himself to be the leader on the scene. On Tuesday, the Uvalde City Council accepted his resignation from his position as councilman.

Families of the victims said they were disturbed by the leaked footage, saying it was just the latest in a long line of examples of their wishes being pushed to the side. Officials say they had planned to show the footage to families this weekend before releasing it publicly.

“There’s no reason for the families to see that,” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said of the leak. “I mean, they were going to see the video, but they didn’t need to see the gunman coming in and hear the gunshots. They don’t need to relive that, they’ve been through enough,” he said.

The Austin American-Statesman’s decision – along with TV partner KVUE – to release the footage was harshly criticized by local officials who echoed the concerns of parents, saying certain graphic audio and images should not have been included.

“While I am glad that a small portion is now available for the public, I do believe watching the entire segment of law enforcement’s response, or lack thereof, is also important,” the chairman of the state House Investigative Committee, state Rep. Dustin Burrows (R) tweeted.

“I am also disappointed the victim’s families and the Uvalde community’s requests to watch the video first, and not have certain images and audio of the violence, were not achieved,” he wrote.

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In the first edited video, which is a little over four minutes long, audio captures frantic teachers screaming as the gunman crosses the parking lot after crashing his truck just outside Robb Elementary School’s campus.

He then enters the school at 11:33 a.m., turns down a hallway carrying a semi-automatic rifle, walks into a classroom and opens fire. As the shots ring out, a student who had been peeking around the hallway corner at the gunman quickly turns and runs away.

Minutes later, officers rush into the hallway and approach the door, but immediately retreat to the end of the hall when the shooter appears to open fire at them at 11:37 a.m. Law enforcement continues to arrive in the crowded hallway but do not approach the door again until 12:21 p.m. and wait until 12:50 p.m. to breach the classroom and kill the gunman.

A second edited video, lasting almost an hour-and-a-half, was also published on the newspaper’s YouTube channel.

In the footage, the sound of children screaming has been edited out, but the stark sounds of gunfire are still clearly audible and the gunman’s face is briefly shown as he comes through the school doors.

“It is unbelievable that this video was posted as part of a news story with images and audio of the violence of this incident without consideration for the families involved,” McLaughlin said in a statement.

The American-Statesman defended its decision, with executive editor Manny Garcia writing in an editorial, “We have to bear witness to history, and transparency and unrelenting reporting is a way to bring change.”

McLaughlin also shared his disappointment that a person close to the investigation would leak the video.

“That was the most chicken way to put this video out today – whether it was released by the DPS or whoever it was. In my opinion, it was very unprofessional, which this investigation has been, in my opinion, since day one,” he said during a city council meeting Tuesday.

Despite the leak of the surveillance footage, the Texas House Investigative Committee still plans to meet with victims’ families on Sunday and provide them with a fact-finding report as originally scheduled, a source close to the committee told CNN.

The report will show that there was not one individual failure on May 24, but instead a group failure of great proportions, the source said. Members of the committee also asked the director of Texas DPS, Col. Steve McCraw, to testify a second time on Monday to get further clarification on earlier sworn testimony before the Texas House and Senate, according to the source.

Meanwhile, some outraged family members took to social media to urge people not to share the video while families come to terms with the footage and the law enforcement behavior it reveals. “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT SHARE THE VIDEO!! We need time to process this!!,” posted Berlinda Arreola, grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza.

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Gloria Cazares, whose daughter Jacklyn was killed, also implored her Facebook family and friends not to share the video, saying it is “the opposite of what the families wanted!”

“If you are a true friend please do not share it, I don’t want to see it in my feed nor do I want to be tagged on any of the news stations that are sharing it. Our hearts are shattered all over again!,” Cazares wrote.

The Uvalde school district has scheduled a meeting on July 18 where McLaughlin said he hopes the City Council and victims’ families will be able to get details about the return to school.

The school district previously announced that Robb Elementary School students will not return to the campus and will be reassigned to other schools.

CNN’s Steve Almasy, Andy Rose, Elizabeth Joseph, Taylor Romine, Shimon Prokupecz, Eric Levenson, Cheri Mossburg, Christina Maxouris, Mary Kay Mallonee, Vanessa Price and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.