6 takeaways from the Uvalde shooting report

A girl stands near the crosses, flowers and other items at the memorial outside Robb Elementary School on May 31 in Uvalde, Tex. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)
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An exhaustive account of an 18-year-old gunman’s rampage at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., found deep “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved, including hundreds of law enforcement officers who waited more than an hour to confront the shooter.

The 77-page report released Sunday by a special Texas House investigative committee presented stunning new details about the “chaos” and “confusion” during the May 24 attack at Robb Elementary School, which killed 19 students and two teachers.

Investigators assailed the “void of leadership” among the nearly 400 local, state and federal law enforcement officers at the scene. And they offered a broad indictment of other failures, including lax security measures that left the school vulnerable and a litany of ignored warning signs from the troubled gunman, Salvador Ramos.

Here are six takeaways from the report, which was based on committee testimony from responding officers, school officials and eyewitnesses along with other evidence including video from the scene.

1

A robust police response, but no leadership

Within minutes of receiving a report of shots fired near the school, officers from the school district and the Uvalde Police Department responded. Others quickly followed.

In all, 376 law enforcement officers across 23 local, state and federal agencies gathered at the scene — a greater number than previously known. The total included 149 Border Patrol officers and 91 Texas state troopers — agencies that are “better trained and better equipped than school district police,” the report noted.

One of the first officers on the scene was Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the school district police chief, who wrote the school’s active-shooter response plan and assigned himself as incident commander in such a scenario. But Arredondo, who rushed inside the school without the two radios he used to communicate with other police and law enforcement agencies, told investigators he considered himself to be “responding as a police officer” and not in charge of the scene.

That led to confusion among other officers, who were captured on body-camera video questioning what they were supposed to be doing. Rather than isolating the blame on Arredondo for missteps that led to a delay in confronting Ramos, the report faults everyone at the scene. “Those other responders, who also had training on active shooter response and the interrelation of law enforcement agencies, could have helped to address the unfolding chaos,” the report says. “Yet in this crisis, no responder seized the initiative.”

2

Children were on the playground as the gunman began firing at the school

A school coach told the committee she saw Ramos jump the fence and begin firing and thought he was aiming at her. She radioed a warning to the front office about the gunman and then ran toward a group of third-graders on the playground, screaming at them to take cover. “She expected to then hear an announcement of a lockdown, but she did not hear one right away,” the report says.

“Bad wi-fi” and poor mobile coverage interfered with staff getting word to lockdown, and no announcement was made over the school intercom. Teachers including Arnulfo Reyes, who was shot but survived, later recalled no notification or alert. Reyes had previously complained that the door to his classroom, Room 111, did not lock properly, and said he had almost no time to react before the gunman opened fire on him and his students, 11 of whom died.

The report faulted lax security at the school, saying the district “did not treat the maintenance of doors and locks with appropriate urgency.” It also cited “relaxed vigilance,” because of frequent security alerts over “bailouts,” or police chases of smuggler vehicles carrying suspected illegal immigrants. The school had been placed on lockdown at least 50 times since February, leading to a diminished sense of urgency among staff.

“Because of these failures of facilities maintenance and advance preparation, the attacker fired most of his shots and likely murdered most of his innocent victims before any responder set foot in the building,” the report said. “Of the approximately 142 rounds the attacker fired inside the building, it is almost certain that he rapidly fired over 100 of those rounds before any officer entered.”

3

An officer requested permission to fire on someone he thought was the gunman, but it was a school coach

The report outlines harrowing new details about the chaos at the scene. One unidentified officer told investigators he “saw children dressed in bright colors in the playground, all running away.” That same officer then saw a person “dressed in black, also running away.”

Believing that person to be the attacker, the officer asked Uvalde Sgt. Daniel Coronado for “permission to shoot,” but Coronado later testified that he “hesitated” because there were children present and “officers are responsible for every round that goes downrange.”

That turned out to be a lifesaving decision. The report identifies the man in black as another coach at the school, who was trying to rush the kids to safety.

4

Officers treated the gunman as a ‘barricaded’ suspect, even as they received word of 911 calls from injured student

According to the report, Arredondo and other officers contended they were justified in treating the attacker as a “barricaded subject” rather than an “active shooter” — which would have required a faster response — because of a lack of visual confirmation of injuries or other information. Arredondo and the officers did not reassess their approach, even as they began to receive reports of 911 calls from at least one injured student and word from the husband of teacher Eva Mireles, who is a school district police officer, that his wife had told him she was shot.

One problem, the report notes, is that the two groups of officers — one convened on the north side of the hallway near the classrooms and the other on the south side, did not appear to be communicating with one another.

Arredondo, who was on the south side, told investigators that he saw empty classrooms near Rooms 111 and 112, where Ramos was holed up, which gave him hope the classrooms occupied by the gunman might be empty, too. He instead focused on trying to evacuate other children. “I guess, if I knew there was somebody in there, I would have — we probably would have rallied a little more, to say, ‘Okay, someone is in there,’” Arredondo testified.

5

A gunman with a troubled family life

The report, which deliberately does not name Ramos, says the gunman was driven by a “desire for notoriety and fame” and that he had displayed signs of mental instability and violent tendencies to family and social media acquaintances. But none of those warning signs were ever reported to authorities.

Authors detail a troubled childhood, in which Ramos had a strained relationship with his parents and few friends. He struggled academically in part because of a speech impediment and complained of bullying. By the time Ramos reached third grade, school officials had identified him as “at risk because of consistently poor test results,” according to the report, and had suggested speech therapy. But Ramos never received special education.

By 2018, Ramos was averaging more than 100 school absences annually, along with failing grades and poor test scores, according to the report. Officials say there is no evidence that school resource officers ever visited his home. By 2021, at age 17, Ramos had completed only the ninth grade. In late October 2021, about six months before the attack, Uvalde High School “involuntarily withdrew him.” After a “blowout” argument with his mother, the gunman moved in with his grandmother, where he slept on the living room floor.

6

Ramos offered ominous clues about his plans, but no one told authorities

Ramos took fast-food jobs, including one at a restaurant, and “hoarded money,” according to relatives who thought he was saving up for an apartment or a car. He asked two relatives to buy him guns before he turned 18, but both refused. He began stockpiling gun supplies, including rifle slings, and on his 18th birthday, he purchased the weapons used in the attack and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

An uncle told authorities that he drove Ramos to a local gun store twice — the first time after Ramos told him he was hungry and wanted to pick up food from the store’s restaurant. Instead, Ramos emerged with a long, narrow box. His uncle claimed not to know what was inside, and said the visit did not cause any red flags, even as Ramos had told his cousin that he “did not want to live anymore.”

Ramos repeatedly dropped hints to online acquaintances that he was planning something ominous — saying that he would make the news and sharing photos of the guns he had purchased. Authorities say he saved news stories about the mass shooting in Buffalo and quizzed his cousin’s son, who attended Robb Elementary, about the school’s schedule, including lunch periods.

Ramos’s grandmother, Celia Gonzales, told him he could not have a gun in her home so the uncle “agreed to store the first rifle at his house,” according to the report. “He believes the attacker snuck it out after staying the night a few days later,” the report states. Ramos hid the second rifle outside his grandmother’s home and brought it inside the night before the shooting, according to text messages obtained from Ramos’s phone.

Ramos shot his grandmother after she threatened to remove him from her mobile phone plan. He then headed toward Robb Elementary, where he had previously attended fourth grade in Room 111, and where he said he had been bullied.

“The attacker had no experience with firearms, and based on other investigators’ interviews of friends and family, the shooting was likely the first time he fired one,” the report says.

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