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Special Texas House investigative committee releases Uvalde school shooting report -Statesman

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Special Texas House investigative committee releases Uvalde school shooting report -Statesman

UVALDE — The first in-depth report on the Uvalde school shooting, released to the public and victims’ families Sunday, determined that top-to-bottom failures combined to turn the May 24 attack into the worst school shooting in Texas history.

“Systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” included school officials who failed to follow established safety plans and responding law officers who failed to follow their training for active-shooter situations and delayed confronting the gunman for more than an hour, the 77-page report by a specially created Texas House committee concluded.

“They failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety,” the report said of law officers.

After a closed-door meeting with family members of the victims where they viewed an edited video of the police response to the shooting, the committee met publicly and laid out the details of the report.

More:Uvalde families deserve the Texas House Committee report in Spanish. Here it is.

During an hourlong question-and-answer session with reporters, members declined to address policy questions such as whether lawmakers should restrict access to assault-style weapons and who, if anyone, should be held accountable for what the committee found was a catastrophic and systematic breakdown.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock and chairman of the special committee, also said that no community should assume it is safe or immune from the violence and death that visited Uvalde on May 24.

“I think some of the same systems that we found here that failed that day are (in place) across the entire state and country,” Burrows said. “I do not want to say because of one thing or one person (at Robb Elementary), it could not happen elsewhere. I think that’s a disservice and not the respectful thing to do.”

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Members of the panel, Burrow said, “have strong opinions about changes to policy that needs to be done.”

“Today is not the day we’re going to share our strong feelings and convictions about that,” he said.

The lack of specificity about what steps are needed to better defend Texans from mass gun violence left many of the people inside the Uvalde civic center frustrated. Several shouted insults, including “cowards,” and asked “what about guns?” as the committee members filed out.

“You are a bunch of cowards,” shouted Ruben Mata, who said his great-granddaughter was among the children who were killed. “We already knew what was in the report,” he told reporters a short time later.

Vicente Salazar, whose granddaughter Layla was killed in the attack, made no effort to mask his anger after picking up a copy of the report just after noon at the Uvalde community center.

Vicente Salazar, grandfather of Layla Salazar, a victim of the Uvalde mass shooting, holds up a copy of a preliminary report from the special House investigative commitee on the massacre at Robb Elementary in May. Families were allowed to pick up copies of the report Sunday at the Uvalde Civic Center.

“It’s a solid cover-up. It’s a joke,” he said. “Texas failed the students. Law enforcement failed the students.”

The report by the three-member House Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting compiled details gleaned from interviews with 33 witnesses, all conducted in private during eight hearings in Uvalde and at the Capitol, and 39 other informal interviews. Its release was a milestone in efforts to understand events that grew muddled as the official version of the shooting — relayed by political leaders and law enforcement — shifted radically in the chaotic days after the attack that left 19 fourth-graders and two teachers dead.

The committee report focused primarily on actions taken by school employees before the shooting and law enforcement during the attack, finding significant deficiencies in both.

The committee also released an edited version of the hallway video footage previously published by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV. The committee’s video did not include sound or images of the gunman walking into the school and firing his military-style assault rifle. Neither video showed children, teachers or the gunman being shot.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, said the report confirms many of the shortcomings and procedural breakdowns he’s been pointing out since the earliest days after the shooting.

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“It’s clear from the report that no one was in control,” said the lawmaker, who was unable to attend Sunday’s briefing because of an illness. “There were experienced law enforcement officers on the scene, but they didn’t take charge. It was a complete and total breakdown.”

Also Sunday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced that the city was releasing bodycam footage from Uvalde police officers related to the Robb Elementary shooting. 

The city held off releasing the footage at the district attorney’s direction, he said, adding: “However, with the release of the school district’s hallway video, we believe these body camera videos provide further, necessary context.”

The audio and video was edited to protect the victims, and the families of the shooting victims were given the opportunity to review the video, McLaughlin said.

More:Why the Austin American-Statesman chose to publish video from inside Robb Elementary

‘Regrettable culture of noncompliance’

Robb Elementary did not adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder, the committee’s report said.

A 5-foot-tall exterior fence was inadequate to impede an intruder, and “there was a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel,” who frequently ignored security procedures by propping doors open and deliberately circumventing locks, the report said.

Administrators and police were aware of the situation but did not treat the infractions as serious. “In fact, the school actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys,” the report said.

The door to Room 111, where the gunman entered and was killed more than 70 minutes later, had a faulty lock that needed extra effort to ensure that it was engaged, but nobody ordered a repair, the report said.

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And although school policy required that outside doors be locked, none of the three doors into the school’s west building were locked, giving the gunman unimpeded access.

Uvalde school shooting:Special Texas House committee releases first in-depth report

The committee acknowledged that locking the doors might not have been enough. “But had school personnel locked the doors as the school’s policy required, that could have slowed his progress for a few precious minutes — long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker,” the report said.

The first police officers entered the school only minutes after the gunman, and any delay for the gunman could have saved lives, the committee said.

“The attacker fired most of his shots and likely murdered most of his innocent victims before any responder set foot in the building. 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,” the report said.

‘Void of leadership’ in police response

The committee outlined what it identified as faulty assumptions and poor decisions by responding law officers, including a failure in leadership.

Trouble began when law enforcement leaders — including Pete Arredondo, chief of the school district’s police department, and the commander of the Uvalde Police Department SWAT team, whose name was not included — arrived at the school early in the attack, yet failed to take adequate command of the situation, the report said.

The Uvalde district’s active-shooter plan directed Arredondo to assume command at the school, but “he failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander” as directed by the plan.

“The void of leadership could have contributed to the loss of life as injured victims waited over an hour for help, and the attacker continued to sporadically fire his weapon,” the report said.

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Officers are held back from the classroom where the gunman was holed up at Robb Elementary School on May 24.

In addition, the committee said, a command post could have transformed chaos into order, but nobody ensured that officers inside the school knew that students and teachers had survived the initial burst of gunfire, were trapped in the connected Rooms 111 and 112, and had called 911 seeking help, the report said.

Law enforcement personnel from state and federal agencies also failed to step forward and provide needed leadership, the committee found.

“Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police — quickly arrived on the scene” and could have “helped to address the unfolding chaos,” the report said.

In all, 376 law officers responded to the school shooting, including 91 members of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the report said, concluding, “In this sense, the entirety of law enforcement and its training, preparation, and response shares systemic responsibility for many missed opportunities on that tragic day.”

Families and community members still questioned the acts of police, and why it took more than an hour to storm the classroom. Burrows said he shared many of their frustrations on that score.

“If someone knew there were victims inside dying and did nothing about it then those agencies will have to hold those officers accountable,” he said.

After the committee’s press briefing, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said in response to questions from community members that the committee’s report would be translated and available in Spanish in two weeks, and told the public that “he would try to get it sooner.”

‘Same shortcomings’ found across Texas

The committee said the impact of its report needs to be felt beyond Uvalde.

“We acknowledge that the same shortcomings could be found throughout the State of Texas. We must not delude ourselves into a false sense of security by believing that ‘this would not happen where we live.’ The people of Uvalde undoubtedly felt the same way,” the report said.

The committee also said its work is not done because it has not questioned all witnesses, the medical examiner reports have not been issued, and other investigations are still pending, including by the Texas Rangers and U.S. Department of Justice.

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Even so, the committee said it believes its report is the most comprehensive look at the events in Robb Elementary, an important touchstone after the official version of events shifted.

Speaking to reporters and Uvalde residents at a news conference May 25, Gov. Greg Abbott praised officers, saying their swift action “to respond to … and eliminate the gunman” saved lives at Robb Elementary. After news to the contrary trickled out, Abbott said he was livid that his briefing by law enforcement made no mention of the delay.

Another key detail that was mistaken included law enforcement reports that a Robb teacher had propped open an exterior door and left it that way, giving the gunman access to the school. Later reports revealed that the teacher shut the door but that it did not lock.

Preliminary reports that a school resource officer arrived on campus to confront the gunman outside the school also proved to be wrong as further details showed that the officer initially mistook a teacher for the shooter behind the building.

Relying on the Texas Public Information Act, multiple news organizations sought records related to the shooting, including video taken from inside the school and officer bodycam footage. Many of the open-records requests, including those from the American-Statesman, have been denied or are awaiting a decision by the state attorney general’s office.

Officers wait in a hallway at Robb Elementary while a gunman remains in a classroom where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

Hallway video edited by House committee

The hallway video that captured the long delay in confronting the gunman was a key piece of evidence, and its release to the public was supported by Abbott; DPS officials; McLaughlin; Rep. Dustin Burrows, the Lubbock Republican who leads the investigative committee; and others who said the footage was essential in understanding what took place during the attack.

But Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee opposed releasing the video, according to a DPS official. Busbee also sent letters to Uvalde officials ordering them to keep the video and other records confidential while investigations continued.

The hallway video, disclosed to the American-Statesman and KVUE, was published last week after extensive internal deliberations by news leaders who determined that the newspaper and TV station would not follow the government’s lead in keeping the information private. That decision was criticized by those who said it should have first been made available to the families of victims.

The report was publicly released after families of the Uvalde victims were given the opportunity to review the committee’s findings earlier Sunday. Committee members, along with some Uvalde community leaders, then met privately with the families and the committee’s version of the video was shown.

The video released by the committee Sunday did not include the first several minutes of footage released by the American-Statesman and KVUE last week showing the gunman walking on the campus and into the school. That video also showed the attacker calmly walking down the hallway before firing into the classroom carrying his AR-15. The video released Sunday, which the report called “prudently edited” also did not have audio. 

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The report said the footage omitted any images of the gunman because he desired fame. 

“We regret that others, under the cloak of anonymity, and for their own motives, have sensationalized evidence of this horrible tragedy at the risk of glorifying a monster,” the report said. 

More than seven weeks after the Robb Elementary shooting, flowers, candles, photos and other mementos were still piled in front of the school sign. The memorial at the town square was drawn back, but photos of the children and teachers were attached to some of the trees with signs reading “no justice, no peace.”

Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat and member of the three-person committee, said he would make the same promise to those in Uvalde as he made to residents of his hometown after a mass shooter there targeted Hispanics at a popular shopping center nearly three years ago: “Help the Legislature understand what happened and why,” and that he would fight for better solutions.

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Texas’ diversity, equity and inclusion ban has led to more than 100 job cuts at state universities

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Texas’ diversity, equity and inclusion ban has led to more than 100 job cuts at state universities

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A ban on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in higher education has led to more than 100 job cuts across university campuses in Texas, a hit echoed or anticipated in numerous other states where lawmakers are rolling out similar policies during an important election year.

Universities throughout Texas rushed to make changes after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law last year. On April 2, the president of the 52,000-student University of Texas at Austin — one of the largest college campuses in the U.S. — sent an email saying the school was shuttering the Division of Campus and Community Engagement and eliminating jobs in order to comply with the ban, which went into effect on Jan. 1.

More than 60 University of Texas at Austin staff members were terminated as a result of the law, according to the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors. The group said it compiled the list based on affected employees who had reached out and that the number could be greater. University officials declined to confirm the number of positions eliminated.

Officials at other schools, in response to inquiries from The Associated Press, indicated that a total of 36 positions were eliminated between Texas A&M University in College Station; Texas Tech University in Lubbock; Texas State University in San Marcos; The University of Houston; Sam Houston State University in Huntsville; and Sul Ross State University in Alpine. Officials said no one was let go; people were assigned to new jobs, some resigned and vacant positions were closed.

Earlier this week, University of Texas at Dallas officials announced that approximately 20 associate jobs would be eliminated in compliance with the law. University officials declined to comment on how many of those positions are currently filled.

Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, applauded the University of Texas actions in a post on the social media platform X. “It is a victory for common sense and proof that the Legislature’s actions are working,” Phelan wrote.

Texas is among five states that have recently passed legislation targeting DEI programs. At least 20 others are considering it.

Florida was the first to implement a ban, last year, with the vocal backing of then-Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis, who often derides DEI and similar diversity efforts as “woke” policies of the left. In response to the law, the University of Florida last month announced more than a dozen terminations.

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FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, photo, ivy grows near the lettering of an entrance to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. A ban on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in higher education has led to more than 100 job cuts across university campuses in Texas, a hit echoed or anticipated in numerous other states where lawmakers are rolling out similar policies during an important election year. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

 

FILE – In this Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, photo, ivy grows near the lettering of an entrance to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

 

Universities of Wisconsin regents reached a deal with Republican lawmakers in December to limit DEI positions at the system’s two dozen campuses in exchange for getting funds for staff raises and construction projects. The deal imposed a hiring freeze on diversity positions through 2026, and shifted more than 40 diversity-related positions to focus on “student success.”

Republican legislators who oppose DEI programs say they are discriminatory and promote left-wing ideology. Some are counting on the issue to resonate with voters during this election year. Democratic DEI supporters say the programs are necessary to ensure that institutions meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations. Lawmakers from the party have filed about two dozen bills in 11 states that would require or promote DEI initiatives.

Texas’ anti-DEI law, which Abbott enthusiastically signed last year, prohibits training and activities conducted “in reference to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” Additionally, the law, also known by its legislative title, SB17, forbids staff members from making hiring decisions that are influenced by race, sex, color or ethnicity, and prohibits promoting “differential” or “preferential” treatment or “special” benefits for people based on these categories.

SB17 states that the ban doesn’t apply to academic course instruction and scholarly research. That’s why professor Aquasia Shaw was so surprised to hear last week that her supervisor was not going to renew her contract. Shaw said she was not given a reason for the termination, but considering the timing, she suspects it’s the new law.

 
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FILE - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference Friday, March 1, 2024, in Borger, Texas. Texas' ban on diversity, equity and inclusion instruction has resulted in more than 100 jobs being cut at University of Texas campuses across the state — providing a glimpse of the potential impact of such bans being implemented in other Republican-controlled states. Abbott signed a law last year prohibiting DEI initiatives in public higher education. (Elías Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News via AP, File)

 

FILE – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference Friday, March 1, 2024, in Borger, Texas. (Elías Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News via AP, File)

 

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Shaw taught courses on the intersection of sociology, sports and cultural studies in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Her faculty page on the university’s website states her focus as “sociology of sport and cultural studies, sport management and diversity, inclusion and social justice.” A course she taught this semester was titled Race and Sports in African American Life. But she said she had not been involved in any DEI initiatives outside of her teaching.

“I was under the impression that teaching and research was protected so … I am trying to grapple with the idea and in denial that this can’t be the reason I was targeted,” she said.

In March, Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton, who authored SB17, sent a letter to public university boards of regents across the state, inviting them to testify in May about the changes that have been made to achieve compliance. He included a warning that renaming programs, rather than changing their intent, would not be sufficient.

Creighton’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The law’s impact was felt in Texas even before it went into effect. In anticipation, University of Texas at Austin officials last year changed the school’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement to the Division of Campus and Community Engagement. The name change didn’t save it — it was closed this month. School officials said some of the division’s projects would be relocated, while others would be shut down. They did not provide specifics.

Shaw said she was the only person of color in her department. She said she saw on X that other university employees had been let go and began connecting with them. At least 10 of the other terminated faculty and staff members whom she contacted are also from minority groups, she said.

The loss of her job was a big blow to Shaw, who had already scheduled classes for this summer and fall. She said her superiors had previously told her they hoped to renew her contract.

“I am so disheartened to see that exactly what I was concerned about ended up happening anyway,” Shaw said.

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Dallas doctor convicted of tampering with IV bags linked to coworker’s death and other emergencies

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Dallas doctor convicted of tampering with IV bags linked to coworker’s death and other emergencies

DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas anesthesiologist was convicted Friday for injecting a nerve-blocking agent and other drugs into bags of intravenous fluid at a surgical center where he worked, which led to the death of a coworker and caused cardiac emergencies for several patients, federal prosecutors said.

A jury convicted Raynaldo Riviera Ortiz Jr., 60, of four counts of tampering with consumer products resulting in serious bodily injury, one count of tampering with a consumer product and five counts of intentional adulteration of a drug, prosecutors said. A sentencing date has not yet been set for Ortiz, who faces up to 190 years in prison.

“Dr. Ortiz cloaked himself in the white coat of a healer, but instead of curing pain, he inflicted it,” U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton for the northern district of Texas said in a video statement.

Prosecutors said that evidence presented at trial showed that numerous patients at Surgicare North Dallas suffered cardiac emergencies during routine medical procedures performed by various doctors between May 2022 and August 2022. During that time, an anesthesiologist who had worked at the facility earlier that day died while treating herself for dehydration using an IV bag.

Prosecutors said Ortiz, who was arrested in September 2022, had surreptitiously placed the tainted IV bags into a warming bin at the facility and waited for them to be used in his colleagues’ surgeries.

Evidence presented at trial showed that at the time of the emergencies, Ortiz was facing disciplinary action for an alleged medical mistake made in one of his own surgeries, prosecutors said.

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Texas woman sues prosecutors who charged her with murder after she self-managed an abortion

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Texas woman sues prosecutors who charged her with murder after she self-managed an abortion

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A Texas woman who was charged with murder over self-managing an abortion and spent two nights in jail has sued prosecutors along the U.S.-Mexico border who put the criminal case in motion before it was later dropped.

The lawsuit filed by Lizelle Gonzalez in federal court Thursday comes a month after the State Bar of Texas fined and disciplined the district attorney in rural Starr County over the case in 2022, when Gonzalez was charged with murder in “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.”

Under the abortion restrictions in Texas and other states, women who seek abortion are exempt from criminal charges.

The lawsuit argues Gonzalez suffered harm from the arrest and subsequent media coverage. She is seeking $1 million in damages.

“The fallout from Defendants’ illegal and unconstitutional actions has forever changed the Plaintiff’s life,” the lawsuit stated.

Starr County District Attorney Gocha Ramirez said Friday that he had not yet been served the lawsuit and declined comment. Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, the county’s top elected official, also declined comment.

According to the lawsuit, Gonzalez was 19 weeks pregnant when she used misoprostol, one of two drugs used in medication abortions. Misoprostol is also used to treat stomach ulcers.

After taking the pills, Gonzalez received an obstetrical examination at the hospital emergency room and was discharged with abdominal pain. She returned with bleeding the next day and an exam found no fetal heartbeat. Doctors performed a caesarian section to deliver a stillborn baby.

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The lawsuit argues that the hospital violated the patient’s privacy rights when they reported the abortion to the district attorney’s office, which then carried out its own investigation and produced a murder charge against Gonzalez.

Cecilia Garza, an attorney for Gonzalez, said prosecutors pursued an indictment despite knowing that a woman receiving the abortion is exempted from a murder charge by state law.

Ramirez announced the charges would be dropped just days after the woman’s arrest but not before she’d spent two nights in jail and was identified by name as a murder suspect.

In February, Ramirez agreed to pay a $1,250 fine and have his license held in a probated suspension for 12 months in a settlement reached with the State Bar of Texas. He told The Associated Press at the time that he “made a mistake” and agreed to the punishment because it allows his office to keep running and him to keep prosecuting cases.

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