DOJ opens probe into school shooting response

Multiple agencies have criticized law enforcement’s handling of the Uvalde elementary school tragedy

The US Department of Justice has announced it will investigate law enforcement’s response to the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde after witness reports painted a troubling picture of the police response to the incident which left 19 children and two teachers dead. A DOJ spokesman announced the probe on Sunday.

Requested by Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin, the review aims to “provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events,” according to a statement from DOJ spokesman Anthony Coley. The agency will publish its conclusions after the review is complete.

The alleged shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, entered the building through an unlocked door and spent more than an hour inside, fatally shooting 19 children and two teachers as law enforcement officers waited outside.

Some parents, horrified by the officers’ inaction while precious minutes were lost, were actually handcuffed when they tried to rush into the school to save the children themselves. At least one Border Patrol officer reportedly ran inside to rescue his own child before the shooter was killed, raising questions about why others were not rescued at the same time. 

At the same time, some 19 officers were actually inside the building, standing outside the fourth-grade classroom where Ramos had reportedly barricaded himself. Rather than break down the door themselves, they waited for more than an hour after gunfire began for the school janitor to arrive with a key. At least one child inside a classroom where students were being killed called 911 and begged for police assistance.

School shooting protocols adopted in the wake of the Columbine massacre in 1999 require officers to confront attackers as soon as possible. It is not clear why the officers in Uvalde waited until reinforcements had arrived to go after Ramos. The delay becomes increasingly difficult to explain taking into account the more recent revelation that a witness had called 911 before Ramos even entered the campus, having spotted the teen carrying a gun towards the school after crashing his grandmother’s pickup truck into a ditch.

Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Steven McCraw finally acknowledged on Friday that officers were wrong to wait so long after the start of Ramos’ rampage to confront him. “From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. There’s no excuse for that,” he said.

Former Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism chief John Cohen denounced the response as a “failure,” stating “we had people potentially die while law enforcement was on scene.” Over 100 federal officers eventually responded to the shooting, according to an official from Customs and Border Protection.

“When you put on that badge, you make a commitment to safeguard the community and protect those who cannot protect themselves,” Cohen continued, adding that “on that day, law enforcement failed.”

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