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Justice Department report finds failures in the response to the Uvalde attack

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A failure that should not have happened. That's how U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland described how police responded to the mass shooting two years ago at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The Justice Department released a detailed report yesterday reviewing the shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers. The Texas Newsroom's Sergio Martinez-Beltran joins us this morning from Uvalde. Sergio, the DOJ report is a brick - 500 pages long, lots there. Anything at all, though, that grieving families can hold on to for answers?

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: I mean, the biggest takeaway, A, and one of the most heartbreaking ones for the families is the fact that law enforcement agents who responded to the shooting treated it initially as a barricaded subject situation and not as an active shooter. And that's huge, because when there's a barricaded subject, police are encouraged to negotiate. But when there's a shooter, police are trained to use all their tools and do whatever they have to do to stop it. But in Uvalde, the police retreated for a while after the shooter injured two officers and then waited 77 minutes to confront the shooter and ultimately kill him. Attorney General Merrick Garland was in Uvalde, and he told families of the victims that their loved ones deserved better.

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MERRICK GARLAND: The victims and survivors should never have been trapped with that shooter for more than an hour as they waited for their rescue.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Garland said some victims would have survived if law enforcement agencies had followed active shooter protocols, the tactics in place since the Columbine shooter - school massacre nearly 25 years ago. And he blamed the botched response on the failed leadership of the incident commander, former Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo.

MARTÍNEZ: Did the Justice Department ID anyone else as responsible for the failed response?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Besides Arredondo, the report does mention former Uvalde police acting chief Mariano Pargas. The Justice Department says Pargas was not trained to be an incident commander and didn't demonstrate adequate command leadership during the shooting. But the report doesn't name many other names, and that's something that disappointed many of the victims' family members. The fact is, there's still deep frustration here with law enforcement. Here's Vincent Salazar, the grandfather of 11-year-old Layla Salazar, who was killed at Robb Elementary.

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VINCENT SALAZAR: If you cannot serve and protect the people - these were children. All they wanted to do was play. There's no reason this should have happened. They ignored the training that was supposed to be since Columbine, and they ignored it.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: A key recommendation in the report is following those protocols, like prioritizing taking the shooter out and never treating an active shooter as a barricaded situation.

MARTÍNEZ: Sergio, you're there. You know how overwhelming the grief is there, and it probably will never end. But has this investigation delivered maybe a little bit of closure, any at all, for the people of Uvalde?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: I mean, that's a difficult question, and it's one I've asked those who lost a loved one at Robb Elementary, and the answer is no. Kimberly Rubio lost her 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, and you can hear the pain in her voice.

KIMBERLY RUBIO: I hope that the failures end today, and the local officials do what wasn't done that day, do right by the victims and survivors of Robb Elementary - terminations, criminal prosecutions.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: But family members believe this report is a good step in trying to get some accountability. And they're again calling on lawmakers to end future law enforcement failures by improving police training and passing gun control laws that could help prevent the next mass shooting.

MARTÍNEZ: Sergio Martinez-Beltran - he's a reporter with The Texas Newsroom. Sergio, nice to hear your voice again.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Good to hear you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán