Authorities have been criticized for waiting over an hour to enter the school and confront the shooter. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said law enforcement agencies have promised to cooperate with the federal inquiry.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that the Department of Justice’s investigation into the law enforcement response to the elementary school shooting in Uvalde won’t be criminal in nature.
Garland described the federal investigation as a “critical incident review,” which was done after other mass shootings such as in San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida. The review will assess the law enforcement response and “give guidance for the future,” Garland said. The department will then produce a public report, which will include the investigation’s findings and recommendations.
“Nothing that these [investigators] can do can undo the terrible tragedy that occurred, and that we are just heartbroken about,” Garland said Wednesday. “But we can assess what happened and we can make recommendations for the future.”
Garland said the team reviewing the law enforcement response will conduct site visits to the school and interviews with witnesses, families, law enforcement officers and school officials.
He said that his department expects full cooperation from all law enforcement officers involved in the response to the shooting. Authorities have been criticized in the days after the massacre over their decision to wait over an hour before entering the school and confronting the shooter.
“We have been promised, assured and welcomed with respect to cooperation by every level of law enforcement: state, federal and local,” Garland said. “We will participate in that vein and we don’t expect any problems.”
Garland added that the Justice Department is also “ready to participate to support the bipartisan gun safety negotiations” in Congress. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is the lead GOP negotiator in the Senate’s efforts to pass bipartisan gun safety legislation.
Garland said the investigation is being led by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, as well as officials who have investigated other mass shootings like those at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and Virginia Tech.
The federal review of the law enforcement response is in addition to a separate investigation by the Texas Rangers that looks into the shooting and the law enforcement response.
Less than a week after the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, where 19 students and two teachers were killed in their classrooms during the last week of the school year, the Justice Department announced it would be conducting a review of law enforcement’s response to the incident. The federal probe was requested by Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin soon after authorities started facing criticism over their response to the incident.
The gunman remained in the school with a military-style rifle for 77 minutes before he was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol officer. Meanwhile, students who were still trapped inside with the gunman repeatedly called 911 for help. Police officers didn’t immediately enter the school because they were waiting for backup and equipment, Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw has said.
Experts have said the approach went against modern law enforcement training regarding active shooters, which teaches officers to immediately engage with shooters as soon as possible and not wait for backup, in order to save as many lives as possible. Texas officials have condemned the police response during the shooting as a failure.
McCraw said the decision to wait to confront the shooter, and treat the situation as if he were a barricaded subject instead of an active shooter, was made by Uvalde school district police Chief Pete Arredondo.
The Texas Department of Public Safety previously said Arredondo is not cooperating with state investigators’ requests for information, but Arredondo has contested the claim.
In a Wednesday statement, McLaughlin thanked federal authorities for conducting the review and promised the city will “fully cooperate” with the probe.
“This assessment and the findings are of the utmost importance to the victims and their families, the community of Uvalde, and the Country,” he said. “Our grieving families and our community deserve answers to all their questions.”
Photo: Police blocked off the road leading to the scene of a school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde on Tuesday. Law enforcement officials said all of the shooting victims were in one classroom. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune