What to know about the Justice Department’s report on police failures in the Uvalde school shooting

Jan 18, 2024, 1:31 PM | Updated: 1:59 pm

FILE - Flowers are piled around crosses with the names of the victims killed in a school shooting a...

FILE - Flowers are piled around crosses with the names of the victims killed in a school shooting as people visit a memorial at Robb Elementary School to pay their respects May 31, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Families in Uvalde, Texas, are digging in for a new test of legal protections for the gun industry as they mark one year since the Robb Elementary School shooting. (Jae C. Hong, Associated Press)

(Jae C. Hong, Associated Press)

A Justice Department report released Thursday details a myriad of failures by police who responded to the shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, when children waited desperately for over an hour before officers stormed a classroom to take the gunman down.

The federal review, which was launched just days after the May 2022 shooting, provides a damning look at the missteps by police after a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School. It was not a criminal investigation but one of the most exhaustive reviews of law enforcement’s failure to stop the attack. Nineteen students and two teachers died in the shooting.

“The victims and survivors of the shooting at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022, deserved better,” Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters in Uvalde.

Local officials are still weighing whether to bring charges.

Here are some of the major takeaways from the report:

The most significant failure

The Justice Department concluded that the chief failure was that police didn’t treat the crisis as an active shooter situation and engage the gunman quickly. Initially, several officers did approach the classrooms where students were trapped inside with the gunman, but retreated after he fired at them.

Law enforcement then treated the situation as if the gunman was barricaded, dead or otherwise contained, focusing on calling for more SWAT equipment and evacuating surrounding classrooms instead of engaging the shooter and saving lives.

“First responders on the scene, including those with specific leadership responsibilities, did not coordinate immediate entry into the classrooms, running counter to generally accepted practices for active shooter response to immediately engage the subject to further save lives,” the report said.

The report includes excerpts from a 911 call from terrified 9- and 10-year-old children trapped with the shooter while law enforcement waited just outside the classrooms. “I don’t want to die. My teacher is dead,” one of them said. At that point, the students and their teachers had been trapped in classrooms with the shooter for 37 minutes. It was another 13 minutes after the call ended before survivors were rescued.

There were numerous signs that should have prompted police leaders to send officers in sooner, the report states, including the victims’ injuries and the gunman firing about 45 rounds “in law enforcement officer presence.”

“For 77 agonizing, harrowing minutes, children and staff were trapped with an active shooter,” the report said, “They experienced unimaginable horror. The survivors witnessed unspeakable violence and the death of classmates and teachers.”

The recommendations

The report includes a slew of recommendations, including that officers responding to such a crisis must prioritize neutralizing the shooter and aiding victims in harm’s way.

“An active shooter with access to victims should never be considered and treated as a barricaded subject,” it says. Evacuations should be limited to those who are immediately in danger and “not at the expense of the priority to eliminate the threat,” the Justice Department said. And officers must be prepared to engage the shooter “using just the tools they have with them,” even if they only have a standard issue firearm, it said.

Garland said if law enforcement had followed best practices, “lives would have been saved and people would have survived.”

Other recommendations address coordination between agencies responding to shootings, the release of information to the public, and providing proper support and trauma services.

Errors compounding trauma

The Justice Department also outlined failures in communication, including instances of incomplete, inaccurate or disjointed releases of information that led to lingering distrust in the community.

The report cites the county district attorney telling family members that authorities had to wait for autopsy reports before death notifications could be made. Family members who had not been told that children had died, yelled back: “What, our kids are dead? No, no!”

Other examples included injured children, some with bullet wounds, being loaded onto a bus as the building was being cleared; parents spending hours removing glass shards from their children because they had not been screened before being released; an adult victim who was carried to a walkaway outside the school to receive medical attention who then died; and untrained hospital staff telling family members that their loved ones had died.

The report also highlights misinformation from authorities, including blaming a staff member for an open door that allowed the shooter to enter the building — later proving false. Some officers told frantic families that a shooter was in custody when that was not the case.

What are victims’ families saying?

Family members, many of whom had been briefed on the federal report before its release, had mixed reactions. Some told news outlets they were grateful that the federal investigation supported their criticisms, but many had hoped the report would include a recommendation for federal charges against those criticized most heavily.

President Joe Biden, when asked about the report Thursday, said the federal government would do its best to implement the recommendations, “But I don’t know that there’s any criminal liability.”

Velma Lisa Duran, whose sister Irma Garcia was one of the teachers killed, told The Associated Press Thursday that she was grateful for the federal agency’s work but disappointed that local prosecutors have yet to bring any charges.

“A report doesn’t matter when there are no consequences for actions that are so vile and murderous and evil,” said Duran. “What do you want us to do with another report? … Bring it to court,” she said.
Richer reported from Boston and Lauer reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press reporters Lindsay Whitehurst and Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C.; Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; and Acacia Coronado in Uvalde, Texas, contributed to this report.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

United States

FILE: Seen from an aerial view, people pass through razor wire after crossing the U.S.-Mexico borde...


Judge blocks Texas law allowing police power to arrest illegal migrants

The ruling is a victory for the Justice Department. It argued that the law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last year was unconstitutional.

23 hours ago

president biden shown, he and former president trump are visiting the border in texas...


Biden and Trump touch down in Texas, highlighting immigration as a major election issue

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump arrived Thursday in Texas, for dueling trips to the U.S.-Mexico border in a sign of how central immigration has become to the 2024 election

24 hours ago

texas wildfires...

Associated Press

Wildfire grows into one of largest in Texas history as flames menace multiple small towns

Known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest blaze expanded to more than 1,300 square miles and jumped into parts of neighboring Oklahoma.

2 days ago

execution chamber in idaho prison...

Associated Press

Idaho halts execution by lethal injection after 8 failed attempts to insert IV line

Thomas Eugene Creech Creech, one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the U.S., was wheeled into the execution chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution on a gurney at 10 a.m.

2 days ago

DEARBORN, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 27: A sign for Republican presidential candidate former President Don...

Marshall Cohen, CNN

Illinois judge removes Trump from ballot, cites ‘insurrectionist ban’

Wednesday’s unexpected decision comes as a similar challenge from Colorado is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

2 days ago

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks to reporters following the weekly Senate Republ...

MICHAEL TACKETT Associated Press

McConnell to step down as Senate Republican leader in November

In a copy of his prepared remarks, McConnell stressed the importance of knowing when to move on. "to life's next chapter."

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

What to know about the Justice Department’s report on police failures in the Uvalde school shooting