Video Deepens Uvalde Families’ Pain as Questions

uvalde-police-video-deepens

A delayed police response to the May 24 school shooting has been described and debated, but a new 77-minute video showing it in painful detail has rekindled outrage.

UVALDE, Texas — Families of those killed in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May voiced a mix of sorrow and anger on Wednesday after seeing a video showing how armed officers stood around waiting before confronting the gunman.

For the first time, the delayed response that had been exhaustively described and debated could be seen in all its agonizing detail, rekindling the outrage at officers who failed to rush to the aid of children inside two classrooms where 19 students were killed, along with two teachers.

The parents, who had fought for weeks to gain clarity on what exactly took place inside Robb Elementary School on May 24, were finally able to watch part of the minute-by-minute police response along with viewers around the country after The Austin American-Statesman and KVUE posted the video on Tuesday.

The decision to do so brought immediate criticism from officials, who had planned to unveil video from the school on Sunday as part of an investigatory report by a special Texas House committee, and underscored what has been weeks of shifting official accounts, partial revelations and resistance to demands — including from the mayor of Uvalde — for information to be made public.

The video published on Tuesday had been previously reviewed by The New York Times as part of its reporting on the police response in Uvalde — a protracted 77 minutes from the time the gunman entered the school to when officers confronted and killed him. It consists primarily of surveillance footage from a single hallway camera inside the school, with muffled sound, at times synchronized with an officer’s body-worn camera.

But dozens of other videos, including from the body cameras of officers inside and outside the school, have yet to be made public. And though the video documents the movements of officers — some of whom were heavily armed and armored — it does not answer the central questions that have haunted many families: Why did those officers wait so long, and who, ultimately, is to blame for the delay?

“It’s horrible, as far as police response,” said State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents the area and has been pressing for more information to be released. The video showing only portions of the police response did nothing to explain the delays, he said, and appeared to be part of an ongoing effort to control public perception of the event.

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“People are asking for transparency, and for this Hollywood version — is this supposed to shut up a bunch of people who are pissed off about the government’s response?” he said. “Because all it does for me is it opens up a whole hell of a lot more questions.”

Questions remained about the role of large agencies at the scene such as the Department of Public Safety and the Border Patrol, which have said their officers were not in command of the scene. “There were systemic failures where nobody listened to anybody,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

The video provided a window into the sheer number of officers who passed through the halls of the school before the gunman was confronted, but gave little clarity as to the orders — or lack of orders — given to those officers, who like most police officers had been trained to rush toward gunfire in the event of a school shooting.

“They went to where they were supposed to be. But they didn’t go in for action,” said Vincent Salazar, whose granddaughter Layla Salazar died in the shooting. “It’s like it didn’t matter about these children, the way they responded. They were just standing there. That’s what I took from it. This is a horrific thing.”

The video does not contain images of the victims. Still, long stretches of time when officers were standing idle, some of them looking at their phones, were also hard to watch, Mr. Salazar said, particularly one moment when an officer in a helmet and a vest strolled to a hand-sanitizer dispenser.

“What I saw, that idiot putting sanitizer on his hands, it was painful to watch,” he said. “They were not there for their own health. They were supposed to be there to protect the families, to protect the babies.”

Joe Moody, a Texas House Democrat and one of three members of the investigatory committee, jumped to the defense of one of the officers seen looking at his phone.

“This is the husband of teacher Eva Mireles, who contacted him on his phone from her classroom while he was on-scene to say that she’d been shot and was dying,” Mr. Moody said Wednesday in a message on Twitter, referring to a teacher who survived for a time but later died. “I’d not planned to speak publicly until the report was released, but I couldn’t say nothing seeing this man, who’s lost everything, maligned as if he was indifferent or actively malicious. Context matters.”

Several relatives of victims said they were glad that the video came out, so that officials could no longer hide behind their own version of events.

But the video does not depict the decision-making at the scene nor the role played by Chief Pete Arredondo, the head of Uvalde’s small school district police force, who the state’s top law enforcement official, Steven McCraw, has said was the incident commander during the massacre.

Mr. McCraw, during a lengthy hearing in the State Senate last month, laid the blame for what he called an “abject failure” of police response squarely at the feet of Chief Arredondo. The chief has not spoken publicly, but he told The Texas Tribune that he did not consider himself the incident commander. He blamed the delay on the need to locate a key to the classroom where the gunman was holed up, though it has never been certain that the door was locked. It was not clear that the chief could be seen at any point in the video.

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Martin Herrera, the grandfather of one of the victims, Jose Flores, said he watched to see the moment he had read about, in which Chief Arredondo claimed to have tried different keys to the door, but did not see it.

What is clear from the video is how easily the gunman entered the school at 11:33 a.m. on May 24 — two days before the end of school — and how quickly he was able to get into a pair of connected classrooms. The door had been “unsecured,” Mr. McCraw, the director of the Department of Public Safety, said during the legislative hearing.

The video showed that most of the shooting occurred between the time the gunman entered the classrooms and when officers, including at least one who had a long gun, arrived minutes later and approached the classroom door. They were met by gunfire and retreated down the hallway, where they remained for more than 40 minutes as more long guns arrived along with ballistic shields.

They only approached the doors again when gunfire erupted. And then, again, they waited.

The video did not contain footage of officers confronting and shooting the gunman, nor any images of victims. Yet several family members said the sight of the officers simply standing in the hallway — and early on, falling back — was upsetting in itself.

They had been steeling themselves to watch the video over the coming weekend, when they were promised by the State House committee that they would see it before the public did. So when the video was published suddenly on Tuesday, it came as a shock.

The mayor of Uvalde, Don McLaughlin, who has urged public release of information about the police response, called the publication “a cheap stunt to sell headlines and TV time.”

Mr. McLaughlin said a member of the Texas House committee told him that he had urged the reporter who obtained the video not to publish it until families had an opportunity to review it.

The Austin American-Statesman published an editorial explaining its reason for publicizing the video, saying it was part of an effort by a group of news organizations, which includes The New York Times, to obtain videos, 911 calls and other records under a public information request.

Those efforts have been denied by the Department of Public Safety, which is leading the state investigation, and other agencies, including the local district attorney, citing various investigative exemptions.

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A link to the Austin newspaper’s article about the video appeared on Jesus Rizo’s phone Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Rizo, who is the uncle of one of the victims, Jacklyn Cazares, started to click the link when his phone rang: “Whatever you do, don’t look at the video,” he recalled another relative telling him.

Mr. Rizo immediately tried to warn other family members. “It was hurtful, to think a video was out and they were not ready for it,” he said. “I just can’t believe that it was rolled out like that,” he added. “I think they need to see the video. But they needed to be warned first.”

Still, he said, he was glad it provided some clarity amid the shifting narratives and finger-pointing between agencies.

As he watched the images of officers rushing into the school hallway and then retreating, Mr. Rizo said he fought his urge to yell, “Why aren’t they going in? What’s taking so long?”

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