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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks on the Justice Department’s Report on its Critical Incident Review of the Response to the Mass Shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas


Uvalde, TX
United States

Thank you, Mr. Attorney General.

It is hard to look at the truth — that the law enforcement response on May 24 was an unimaginable failure and that a lack of action by adults failed to protect children and their teachers. But we cannot look away from what happened here. We cannot look away from these children. We cannot look away from Uvalde.

On May 24th, 2022, this community lost 19 beloved children and two cherished teachers at Robb Elementary School. In the days and weeks following, this community also lost a sense of faith and trust in their own neighbors and institutions, as they tried to make sense of what happened on May 24th and were unable to get the answers they needed.

During that time, the then-mayor of Uvalde called me to ask the Justice Department to conduct an independent review of what happened — and what went wrong — on May 24th and in the days that followed.

Shortly after, the Justice Department began this review.

The Attorney General just gave a sense of the detailed timeline we have laid out, and the cascading failures that occurred over the course of the 77 minutes between when law enforcement arrived on the scene and when they finally entered the classroom. But we also know the pain — and the failures and missteps — did not end when law enforcement finally entered the classrooms and rescued the survivors.

It continued at minute 78, when it became clear that because there was no leader, there was no plan to triage the 35 victims in classrooms 111 and 112, many of whom had been shot. Victims were moved without appropriate precautions, victims who had already passed away were taken to the hospital in ambulances, while children with bullet wounds were put on school buses without any medical attention. In the commotion, one adult victim was placed on a walkway — on the ground outside — to be attended to. She died there.

The reunification and notification process for families was similarly chaotic and — as some of the families described — deeply painful.

During and after the 77 minutes, families and survivors received unclear and sometimes conflicting information about where to go to reunite with loved ones. Many family members waited at the school for hours without status updates, not knowing where their children were, if they were safe or hurt, or even alive. Families searching desperately for their loved ones were sent to different places across town — the high school, the civic center, the hospital.

Some of these details are gut-wrenching — families hearing about the need for autopsy results as the first indication that their loved ones may not have survived. At one point, hours after the shooting, an official incorrectly told families waiting for their children at the civic center that an additional bus of survivors was coming. It did not.

Inaccurate and inconsistent public communications, including social media posts and press conferences, made things worse. At 12:06 p.m., law enforcement posted on Facebook, reassuring parents that “students and staff are safe in the buildings.” That false reassurance was never corrected. An hour later, law enforcement inaccurately posted on social media that the shooter was in custody. That post too was never corrected.

Both impromptu and scheduled news conferences and media engagements contained inaccurate, incomplete, and at times conflicting information. Mirroring the failures of the law enforcement response, state and local agencies failed to coordinate, leading to inaccurate and incomplete information being provided to anxious family and community members and the public.

We also know the pain following a tragedy like this endures, and the support this community needs has often been missing.

And we cannot talk about what happened at Robb Elementary School without reckoning with the fact that this tragedy took place somewhere all children should feel supported and cared for and safe. Our report documents missteps in school safety preparation that contributed to this tragedy, including that the Campus Safety Plan was effectively a template and included security measures that were not even available at Robb; that there was a culture of complacency around locked-door policies, with interior and exterior doors routinely left unlocked; and that confusion over where to find a master key to unlock classroom doors contributed to the significant delay in entering classrooms 111 and 112.

As I made clear last April when I came to Uvalde to meet with families, and as we reiterated to families last night, this report not only looks backwards, but also identifies lessons learned and recommendations for other communities, to prevent something like this from happening again.

No law enforcement agency or community can assume that what happened here, or in Newtown, or in Parkland, or in Columbine can’t happen in their community.

That is our reality.

This report offers 273 recommendations for law enforcement agencies and other officials in every community.

That includes a series of recommendations for law enforcement and government agencies preparing for and responding to mass shooting incidents and active shooter incidents as they occur.

In the immediate aftermath of an active shooter incident, law enforcement leaders must continue to provide guidance and direction to all first responders, including triage planning to ensure that emergency personnel can access victims as soon as possible.

Law enforcement and government officials must provide proactive, timely, and accurate notifications, and give community members as much information as appropriate at any given time to help avoid or mitigate rumors, uncertainty, and unnecessary worry. If an organization shares incorrect information with the public, it should be open about it and correct the mistake.

In the days, weeks, and years after a devastating attack, survivors, the family members of victims, community members, law enforcement and other first responders, and their families, should continue to be offered both immediate and ongoing trauma support.

The Justice Department remains committed to the Uvalde community.

Federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) formula funds are being used to support victim services in Uvalde, and our Office for Victims of Crime is working with the State of Texas and the Uvalde community to complete the application for supplemental Justice Department funding that will enable continuing services for victims, survivors, and their families. And through our COPS Office, the Department has also awarded the local school district substantial funding over the past two years through our School Violence Prevention Program, to help this community continue to improve school safety and security.

Before we started this review, we consulted with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to build out a team of experts, including law enforcement leaders who had ably led their communities through mass violence events. I am grateful to those leaders who leant us their expertise, and to our COPS Office team for their dedication and commitment.

Together, the review team’s work included:

  • reviewing more than 14,000 pieces of data and documentation, including policies and procedures, training logs, body camera and closed-circuit television footage, photographs, and more;
  • nine visits to Uvalde, for a total of 54 days in this community;
  • more than 260 interviews of individuals from more than 30 organizations and agencies, including responding law enforcement agencies, other first responders, family members and survivors, victim services providers, and school and hospital staff; and
  • travel throughout the country to review generally accepted practices in contemporary active shooter training courses.

Other organizations and news outlets have documented parts of what happened on that horrific day. But all of this work led to a report that is both the most detailed and the broadest in scope, looking beyond the immediate incident to include the communications, victim services, and school safety aspects of this tragedy I just discussed, as well as the post-incident response and investigation and pre-incident planning and preparation.

The public demands a lot from law enforcement, and we often take their service for granted. Every day, police officers run towards danger to keep people safe. In Uvalde on May 24, 2022, that did not happen until far too late.

Uvalde is a community that is healing, and getting clear on the facts is part of healing. So too are the beautiful, powerful murals all over this city commemorating each child and teacher killed on May 24. And so too is enacting changes in policies and practices to help make sure these failures do not happen again.

While it took time for the Justice Department to examine the facts and put this report together, our commitment to the Uvalde community does not end here. Through available funding, resources, victim services, technical assistance, and training, we will support Uvalde and communities around the country in their efforts to prevent and address violence. Just as we have looked back, we will look forward. We are committed to honoring the memories of the lives that were lost here by working to build a future where all of our children, their loved ones, and their teachers can feel cared for, supported, and protected.

Updated January 18, 2024