Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Sunday morning that it would conduct a review of the law enforcement response to the tragic elementary school shooting in Texas on Tuesday that left 21 people dead.
DOJ Spokesman Anthony Coley said the federal investigation into the May 24 attack on Robb Elementary School was opened at the request of Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, USA Today reported.
The DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing will conduct the review.
Coley said the DOJ has reviewed other critical incident and mass shooting cases, and that its final report will be “fair, transparent, and independent,” USA Today reported.
“The goal of the review is to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events,” he added.
The announcement came just days after Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steve McCraw released new details about the Robb Elementary School massacre, to include acknowledging that the commander at the scene made the “wrong decision” by treating the situation as a barricaded suspect instead of an active shooter.
“The on-scene commander considered a barricaded subject and that there was time and there were no children at risk,” Director McCraw said during a press conference on May 27. “Obviously, you know, based on the information we have, there were children in that classroom that were at risk, and it was, in fact, still an active shooter situation and not a barricaded subject.”
Twenty-one people were killed and 17 more were injured during the May 24 attack, Forbes reported.
Nineteen of the murdered victims were children.
In the wake of the horrific Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999, protocols were developed requiring law enforcement officers to contact active shooters immediately to help prevent loss off life, USA Today reported.
The DOJ investigation is expected to help answer questions regarding the delay that took place at Robb Elementary between the time police arrived at the scene and the moment they fatally shot the gunman.
During that delayed response, children inside the classroom repeatedly called 911, pleading for police to save them, USA Today reported.
Just two months prior to the massacre, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) held an “active shooter scenario training” for local “Peace Officers, School Resource Officers, and campus security officers,” according to FOX News.
The training, titled, “Active Shooter for School-Based Law Enforcement,” took place at Uvalde High School on March 21.
“On Monday the UCISD Police Department hosted an ‘Active Shooter Training’ at the Uvalde High School,” the police department said in a Facebook post. “Our overall goal is to train every Uvalde area law enforcement officer so that we can prepare as best as possible for any situation that may arise.”
According a training course guide for the active shooter training program, a key goal of the course was to make sure attendees walked out with the ability to “compare/contrast an active shooter event and a hostage or barricade crisis,” FOX News reported.
During another press conference on May 26, DPS South Texas Regional Director Victor Escalon said the shooter crashed his grandmother’s truck near the school at 11:28 a.m., shortly after he shot her in her face at her home.
The suspect got out of the passenger side of his grandmother’s wrecked truck with a rifle and a bag that investigators later discovered was filled with ammunition, Director Escalon said.
According to Juan Carranza, a local resident who lives just across the street from Robb Elementary School, the suspect opened fire on two people outside a nearby funeral home after the crash, Forbes reported.
Neither citizen was injured in the attack.
Director Escalon confirmed Carranza’s account during the press conference on May 26.
The gunman headed to the school and hopped a fence before he began shooting at the school building from the parking lot.
Contrary to statements initially made by Director McCraw, the shooter did not encounter a police officer between the time he shot his grandmother and the time he entered Robb Elementary School, Director Escalon said.
“It was reported that a school district police officer confronted the suspect that was making entry,” Director Escalon explained on May 26. “Not accurate. He walked in unobstructed initially.”
In fact, he said no law enforcement officers were present at the school at all when the shooter arrived.
Director McCraw said a CISD officer responded to reports of gunfire and began pursuing someone he believed was the suspect, but that person actually wound up being a teacher, WPXI reported.
“In doing so, he drove right by the suspect who was hunkered down by a vehicle, where he began shooting at the school,” the director said.
Director Escalon said on May 26 that the shooter entered the school at 11:40 a.m. and that police arrived at 11:44 a.m.
One day later, Director McCraw said that the shooter walked into the building at 11:33 a.m. and that police arrived at 11:35 a.m., WPXI reported.
It is unclear which timeline is accurate.
Director McCraw said the shooter barged into one of the classrooms through an open door and opened fire immediately after entering the building.
He said the shooting began in either room 111 or 112, which were adjoining.
Three Uvalde Police Department (UPD) officers entered the school building at 11:35 a.m., Director McCraw said.
Director Escalon said the officers immediately came under fire when they entered the school.
“They hear gunfire. They take rounds. They move back [to] get cover,” he said. “They don’t make entry initially because of the gunfire they’re receiving.”
The officers immediately called for “additional resources,” such as tactical teams, specialty equipment, body armor, negotiators, and “precision riflemen,” Director Escalon said.
“So, during the time that they’re making those calls to bring in help…they’re also evacuating personnel…students, teachers. There’s a lot going on,” he added.
Meanwhile, the gunman locked himself inside the classroom and barricaded himself.
Director McCraw said there were 19 officers waiting in the hallway outside the classroom by 12:03 p.m.
Members of the U.S. Border Patrol tactical team began arriving at 12:15 p.m.
Director McCraw said that the on-scene commander, who he later identified as UCISD Chief Pete Arredondo, determined the incident had “transitioned” into a “barricaded subject situation” as opposed to an active shooter situation and believed the children were not at risk.
During the terrifying ordeal, at least one little girl inside the classroom called 911 repeatedly, begging dispatchers to send police, WPXI reported.
Negotiators attempted to communicate with the gunman at some point, but he would not respond, according to Director Escalon.
Officers waited for a janitor to bring keys to the classroom so they could make entry, which occurred at 12:50 p.m., WPXI reported.
Parents outside the school were seen arguing with officers and pleading with them to go inside the building as the shooting occurred, but officials said additional officers were already inside the building at the time.
Some officers went inside, some pulled children from windows, some came under fire, and some established and maintained a perimeter, DPS Spokesperson Lieutenant Chris Olivares said on May 26, according to CNN.
Director McCraw said the officers heard gunfire before they breached the room and fatally shot the suspect.
He said that with “the benefit of hindsight,” he can say the on-site commander made a grave mistake by not storming the room sooner, NBC News reported.
“Of course, it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. Period,” Director McCraw said. “There were children in that classroom that were still at risk.”
The director said the on-site incident commander also held back U.S. Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement officers from engaging the gunman prior to the breach, WPXI reported.
The shooter fired off nearly 150 rounds between the time he entered the school and the time he was shot, according to WPXI.
A total of 315 rounds – 142 of which were spent – were found inside the school, Director McCraw said.
Police said the gunman had purchased a total of 1,657 rounds of ammunition.
Investigators said they recovered 58 magazines at the school in the wake of the shooting, including three that the gunman had on his body, five that were on the ground, one that was in his weapon, and eight that were inside the classroom and the adjoining room, NBC News reported.
Another 32 magazines were found outside the building on school property, WPXI reported.
Fifteen were in the crashed truck, and two more were found at the suspect’s residence, according to police.
Director McCraw said there were 35 spent law enforcement cartridges found inside the school.