The Justice Department announced Sunday that it will review the law enforcement response to last week’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, a massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead. “The goal of the review is 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,” DOJ spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement.
“As with previous Justice Department after-action reviews of mass shootings and other critical incidents, this assessment will be fair, transparent, and independent,” said Coley. “The Justice Department will publish a report with its findings at the conclusion of its review.”
It’s not the first time that the Justice Department has reviewed law enforcement responses to a mass shooting in the wake of such events, the New York Times notes, as was the case after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
The reviews, conducted by the recently revamped Collaborative Reform Initiative, are generally “not criminal investigations but a response to a request for help made by local governments to the Justice Department,” per the Times, which reports that “a criminal investigation into the Uvalde law enforcement response would not be opened unless evidence emerged that the officers involved violated the law.”
But in Texas and across the nation, the police response to the school shooting, and conflicting accounts about how it played out, have become a central part of the story. The grieving parents of slain children and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to know if more people could have been saved if officers had confronted the gunman sooner.
It is now known the first officers arrived on the scene more than an hour before the 18-year-old gunman was killed, but the head of the school district police, Chief Pete Arredondo, had ordered officers to hold off on storming the classrooms until backup and equipment arrived. Meanwhile, 911 calls documented multiple students pleading for help as parents gathered outside the school and begged the police to stop the massacre. “It was the wrong decision, period,” Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said of the police errors.
According to the Times, the Texas Rangers are leading an investigation into the shooting and the police response. The probe is expected to include “looking into whether an attempt was made to take incident command away from Chief Arredondo during the standoff.”
Texas Republicans and Democrats continued to criticize the shortfall over the weekend. On Saturday, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the state’s second most powerful elected official, told Fox News that state officials were “not told the truth” about the time it took police to neutralize the shooter. The decision to wait to breach the classroom “was a bad decision, and that decision cost lives,” the Republican said—a statement he backpedaled hours later.
On Sunday, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican and former Navy SEAL, weighed in. “It does seem clear protocols weren’t followed,” he said. “The fact that it took Border Patrol an hour later to come in and actually do the job for the police is pretty embarrassing,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “Let’s let the investigation play out, but it’s hard not to see how someone doesn’t get fired for this, for these very, very bad calls.”
A mother whose daughter died of a single gunshot was told by a first responder “that their child likely bled out,” Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez said Sunday, as Politico reported. “In that span of 30 or 40 minutes extra, that little girl might have lived. That little girl might have lived.”