August 10, 2022

Nearly 400 Officers Raced to Uvalde School Shooting. Why Did It Take 77 Minutes to Confront Gunman?

12 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: Outraged residents of Uvalde, Texas, confronted members of the city’s school board Monday, nearly two months after an 18-year-old gunman shot dead 19 fourth graders and their two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Speakers at the meeting included 17-year-old Jazmin Cazares. Her 9-year-old sister Jackie died in the shooting.

JAZMIN CAZARES: What are you guys going to do to make sure I don’t have to watch my friends die? What are you going to do to make sure I don’t have to wait 77 minutes, bleeding out on my classroom floor, just like my little sister did? I know there’s nothing you can do to bring my sister back, but maybe, just maybe, if you do something to change this, you can prevent the next family from losing their child.

AMY GOODMAN: The school board’s meeting came a day after a Texas House panel released a damning report on the response of local, state, federal law enforcement to the school massacre. The report found officers had committed, quote, “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making.” They found that nearly 400 officers — 400 — rushed to the school, but it took them more than an hour to confront the gunman. Investigators found officers, quote, “failed to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety.” The report also revealed the gunman had earned the nickname “school shooter” in the months before he attacked the elementary school. Daniel Myers, a pastor in Uvalde, also addressed the school board Monday.

PASTOR DANIEL MYERS: Do you want to bring healing to this community, to these families? I would suggest that you, the chief of police, Uvalde chief of police, the Uvalde Sheriff’s Office and McCraw, and all those other law enforcement agencies who were in that hall all come up here and tell these people, these families, “We failed you. We failed you.”

AMY GOODMAN: Other speakers during Monday’s school board meeting included Tina Quintanilla and her 8-year-old daughter, who was friends with many of the victims of the massacre.

TINA QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: My daughter has something to say.

DAUGHTER: This was the last dress that my — all my friends saw me on. Most of those kids were my friends. And that’s not good. And I don’t want to go to your guys’s school if they don’t have protection.

TINA QUINTANILLA-TAYLOR: And she’s encouraging for her friends not to go to school, too.

AMY GOODMAN: This all comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott is facing criticism for not attending one of the 21 victims’ funerals of the massacre.
We’re joined now by Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez. His district includes Uvalde.
State Senator Gutierrez, welcome back to Democracy Now! There’s so much to ask you about. I mean, first of all, the fact that almost 400 police officers, of every level — federal, state, local, school officers — it turns out, were on the site right after, minutes after, the gunman entered that school. Can you talk about what you found further, this report, and what you’re calling for?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, thank you, Amy, for having me on the show.
What I’m calling for, and have been calling for since the third day, is for Greg Abbott to bring us back into the Legislature, to bring us back to call a special session — that is a specific requirement that only he can do, a specific enumerated power that only he can do — so that we can change the age limit to go out and access or buy an AR-15. You have to be 21 to buy a handgun, but you can be 18 years old and walk into a gun shop, like this young man did, like it was a 7-Eleven buying a Slurpee. In Parkland, it took Rick Scott, another Republican governor, 21 days to do that. Here we are 26 days away from school starting, and Greg Abbott has refused to do even the most conservative of things, the one thing — the one thing — that could have avoided this from happening.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Senator Gutierrez, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this report — we all recall how a lot of the initial blame was placed on the chief of the small school district police on the scene, of the Uvalde school district. What does the report confirm for you in terms of your suspicions about the failures at all these other levels of law enforcement?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, Juan, I mean, it confirms exactly that. All of my suspicions from the beginning, everything that I had said — excuse me — from day one, was that there was systemic failure, human error, communications errors. We didn’t have a working radio. The radio system — every officer that was in that building couldn’t hear the 911 dispatch calls, couldn’t hear each other, talk to one another. It just wasn’t even functioning. It was a chaotic scene from the beginning, which is what I had imagined. And certainly, that report confirms that.
The one redeeming quality of this report is that we don’t have any more finger-pointing. We’ve had the Department of Public Safety, since day three, since — really, since day one, begin to point the finger at different law enforcement agencies: first to the local school cop — no doubt, he erred, no doubt; then the schoolteacher, who did nothing wrong, but she was lambasted for a week for putting a rock on a door — which she didn’t do — propping it open; then, you know, they went after the Uvalde Police Department. Clearly, they erred, as well. But as I have said from the beginning, each and every law enforcement unit that was in that hallway — and there were 12 DPS troopers in that hallway, in and out, walking around, milling around — each and every one of those entities is responsible for violating the active shooter protocols. And someone needs to be held accountable.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, also, you’ve suggested that the roots of the problems and the failures here go more to Governor Abbott’s policies, especially in terms of rural districts of the state. Could you expound on that?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: We have a — system failure begins somewhere. And I think that it begins with neglect in Texas. We have been asking in rural Texas for improved Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi was mentioned as a key component as to why communications weren’t happening in a good and effective way, not just radios, but, basically, teachers being able to access the Raptor system properly, being able to communicate well enough. We have a system in rural Texas where this governor has been asked for the last seven years to fix the actual police radio system, which DPS uses the most of. He spent $10 billion on Operation Lone Star — excuse me, something’s come over me this morning — $10 billion on Operation Lone Star. And we can’t go out and spend $10 million to fix the radio system that this community asked for for the last seven years? DPS, again, is the biggest user of that radio system.
As much as this was system failure, it was a story of neglect. You know, Greg Abbott likes to talk about mental health. Well, fund mental health properly. I had a farm mental health bill, a farmer mental health bill, last session that the Republican Congress in the Senate killed. They wouldn’t let it out of committee. I was able to add it on to a bill as an amendment, and it got on, and we were able to get a little bit more funding for rural Texas. But it is a drop in the bucket compared to what we truly need to do. So if we’re going to talk about these other ancillary things and not talk about the key component, which is guns, fund those things properly, fund school hardening, fund mental health.
And also talk about guns — the one thing that this governor and every Republican in that building refuses to talk about, even the people on that committee. You notice that there wasn’t a prop, not once, of an AR-15. There wasn’t all that much mentioned about guns themselves and the power and the devastation of this particular gun.
All you need to do is look at the video. And there’s still one missing. There’s still one very key, important video, which shows construction material flying out of that room over officers’ heads.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator, I wanted to go back to Governor Abbott. You just mentioned Operation Lone Star. I think this is absolutely key to address, because some might think this is a remote city that, you know, just couldn’t deal with what had taken place. In fact, millions and millions of dollars have been poured in to the militarization of the police, of the Border Patrol to deal with the border. And when you have governors like Abbott continually saying, you know, a bad guy with a gun has to be confronted by a good guy with a gun, well, from his perspective, there were almost 400 of them there, and none of that happened. Can you talk about what this means, the level of weapons and military-grade equipment that’s there, not to mention the officers, and yet this happens to a local community in the middle of it?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Right, yes, Amy. So, for those that don’t know what Operation Lone Star is, this is Greg Abbott’s seminal task force to fight this invading horde along the border, you know, the immigrants that he thinks are just the bogeyman, that he’s created. Now, let’s be clear. That’s the federal government’s job. They’re doing a decent job. They’re doing what they can. And the incrementational increase of law enforcement by the Department of Public Safety, which is about 1,800 new cops into the region along the border per year — I mean, per every day along that region, and probably in this area about 150 to 200 — it has done very little to stem the flow of immigration, so let’s be clear about that. You have to spend billions and billions more, but let’s talk about the $10 billion that he spent that’s extra money out of our budget. He has plussed up the border, bought gunboats, bought fancy guns for these people, bought planes, all on no-bid contracts, political stunt after political stunt in the year leading up to this, with regard to Operation Lone Star. Four National Guardsmen dead, one drowned in the water, because apparently Greg Abbott, in all of his no-bid contracts, didn’t have a deal with a guy that sold life preservers.
Now let’s fast-forward to Uvalde. Every one of those officers of the 91 that appeared were all from the Operation Lone Star task force — the majority, according to the testimony of Steve McCraw in my cross-examination of him. It’s important because, as you suggest, they show up with military-grade paramilitary equipment, supposedly, you know, in their flak jackets, in their helmets — you see them on the camera. You see one of them in that hallway is a Texas Ranger. They call him a special agent. On the back of his vest, it says “Texas Ranger.” He’s being followed by a game warden. That’s the guy with the red schematic. That gentleman is in there walking around, on the phone, 10, 15, 20 minutes, just walking around, doing nothing. I want to know, Amy, who that guy is talking to. I want to know who his supervisors are at every level up the food chain. At what point does Steve McCraw, who’s been the greatest critic of every other law enforcement entity in this thing, what does he know when, and why does he not tell his force to act? And that is the biggest hypocrisy of all of this, is that in all of this, the big bad Operation Lone Star task force failed these children in Uvalde. They failed them. And they have to come to terms with that. And this governor has to come to terms with this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Senator Gutierrez, speaking of the governor, his failure to attend any of the funerals of the victims of this massacre and to be able to, in one way or another, have human contact with the victims, could you talk about that, as well?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Greg Abbott came in on the first — on the second day, came back on the 29th, which was Friday, and started telling these mayors — the mayor and the county judge, we had a press conference specifically on the resources that the state of Texas has to offer. And then he came back one more time — yesterday I said that the Friday visit was his last visit. He came back when the president came, on Sunday. Since then, he had not been back to the city of Uvalde. Yesterday he put out a statement that he’s been to the region. Yeah, he went to the region, for sure. He went to the county just south, Maverick County. He had a press conference on — what else? Operation Lone Star, on the invading horde of, you know, immigrants, that he — the bogeyman that he’s created for Texas, while he has continued to neglect all of rural Texas.
Now, he has — not only has he not been there, not only has he not been to a single funeral, they have botched up the resource allocation of benefits, VOCA benefits for families. Families are struggling to pay bills. All of this money that has poured in has not been distributed yet, not at all. Luckily, I think that that’s getting fixed by the nonprofits that have come in to administer the larger funds that were poured in as donations. But the $5 million that Abbott put up has been very difficult in coming out. Finally, the governor — the mayor and I — this is a ultraconservative mayor on the other side of the aisle. He and I get together. We pen a letter to the governor and say, “We need you to move the resource allocation to another entity, because this district attorney that you gave this to is just not doing a good job.” We don’t want to cast too much criticism, but she’s clearly conflicted in doing her investigation and having a pot of money on the other hand. And secondarily, they just weren’t doing a good job. The county came in and gave it to an ecumenical group out of San Antonio, thank goodness.
But here we are. If you were the governor of the state of Texas, and 21 souls lost their lives in this horrible way, and your police force didn’t do its job, what would you do? I would be down there with the only thing that I could do, with condolences and grief and prayers and thoughts and all of that stuff, but I would also give as many resources as I possibly could. And that simply has not happened by this governor.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator, we only have 30 seconds, but we’re talking to you in San Antonio, and I wanted to ask you about the latest on the 53 people who died in that sweltering tractor-trailer truck. Texas Congressmember Joaquin Castro is seeking to protect from deportation the migrants who survived. Apparently, more than 20 members of Congress have joined him in writing a letter to the homeland security secretary that 11 survivors are being treated or have been released from San Antonio state hospitals. Your final comment on what happened there and whether you support this call?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Oh, absolutely. I mean, first off, they should be eligible for a U visa status because they’re victims of crime.
You know, listen, we are in a situation right now with this immigration crisis that it’s an immigration crisis across the world. We don’t need elected officials blowing this up out of proportion, because it isn’t the main problems in Texas. The main problems in Texas are an energy grid that is independent of any other, that killed 200 people under Abbott’s watch in a winter storm, that this summer is being stressed beyond belief. It’s a communications grid in rural Texas where we don’t even have accessible Wi-Fi, where law enforcement agencies can’t even communicate together in an effective way in times of crisis. Those are the real things that are happening in Texas — a transportation problem that you can’t even imagine.
The neglect — they call this the Texas miracle? That’s what the Republicans like to talk about. The fact is, Texas is in a crisis of neglect of infinite proportions, and Greg Abbott is doing nothing about it, except for the same old smoke-and-mirrors show that we’ve grown accustomed to from his side of the aisle for many years. I’m hoping that we can do better in time, and I’m hoping that Texas can get back on track.
AMY GOODMAN: Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez represents Uvalde, speaking to us from San Antonio. Thank you so much.
Coming up, it’s Primary Day in Maryland, and we’re going to look at why AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has spent nearly $6 million in an attempt to defeat former Democratic Congressmember Donna Edwards, and other races around the country. Stay with us.