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Justice Department report finds 'cascading failures' in response to Uvalde attack


Nearly two years ago, a gunman walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 children and two teachers. The massacre was one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Well, today, the Justice Department released a scathing report that found cascading failures in the law enforcement response to the shooting. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is covering this. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This is the most comprehensive and detailed look yet at the shooting in Uvalde and how law enforcement agencies responded. It goes hundreds of pages. What did the Justice Department find?

LUCAS: Well, right. A lot was already known about how police responded to the shooting in Uvalde and the problems with it. But this report is, as you said, the most thorough and detailed accounting yet. There's a lot in here. It's 500-plus pages. But here's how Attorney General Merrick Garland kind of summed things up today at a news conference in Uvalde.


MERRICK GARLAND: Law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, and in the hours and days after, was a failure that should not have happened.

LUCAS: Now, this wasn't a single failure here. The report found what it called cascading failures of leadership, failures in tactics, failures in training and communication by law enforcement and other officials who responded to the shooting. There isn't really much of anything that went right in this response, in which you had 33 children and teachers trapped in classrooms with the shooter for more than 70 minutes, while police waited outside in the hallways.

SHAPIRO: Does the report explain how that delay ended up happening?

LUCAS: Well, Garland said the most significant failure was that the police officers who responded should have immediately recognized that this was an active shooter situation and confronted the gunman with the officers and weapons that they had on hand. That's the active shooter training for law enforcement. The priority is to immediately enter the room, stop the shooter, even if it puts officers at risk. Now, in the case of Uvalde, officers arrived at the school minutes after the shooter. They figured out which classrooms the gunman was in and then they moved in.

But they retreated after the gunman fired through the door and the walls, and that was a critical moment, the report says, because the police then treated this as a barricaded gunman situation instead of as an active shooter situation. And that had ripple effects. The police waited for more officers and equipment to arrive. They looked for a master key to gain entry to the classroom. They evacuated other classrooms. But it also meant, critically here, that the kids and teachers who were trapped in the room with the shooter waited for more than 70 minutes for law enforcement to finally enter the room and kill the gunman.

SHAPIRO: You said earlier that leadership failure played a role here. Can you tell us more about that?

LUCAS: Right. The report says that there was no urgency on the part of law enforcement on the scene to set up a command and control structure. So what you had were more than 300 law enforcement officers show up at the school, and nobody really knew who was in charge. Here's Garland again.


GARLAND: Many officers reported that they did not know who, if anyone, was in charge, what they should do, or the status of the incident. Some officers were confused about why there was no attempt to confront the active shooter and rescue the children.

LUCAS: This lack of leadership and command structure contributed to problems with information and communication for officers on the ground. This chaos and confusion in the response actually carried over into the aftermath. Some victims who were shot but survived were put on buses without being given medical attention. Some families were told that their loved ones had survived when they, in fact, had not. Officials in the aftermath continued to provide, at times, contradictory information. As Garland said today, the victims, the families, the whole community of Uvalde deserved better.

SHAPIRO: And if law enforcement had responded better, could lives have been saved?

LUCAS: A question to that effect was asked of Garland today in Uvalde. Here's what he said.


GARLAND: I think the report concludes that had law enforcement agencies followed generally accepted practices in an active shooter situation and gone right after the shooter to stop him, lives would have been saved and people would have survived.

LUCAS: That question of whether lives could have been saved, of course, hangs over all of this and is part of what makes what happened in Uvalde so tragic. This report is about fact-finding, providing recommendations to help prepare for and try to prevent something like this happening again. Now, authorities in Texas have their own investigations into the response in Uvalde, and those are still underway.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
Tyler Bartlam
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.

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