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The Uvalde shooting shows that gun laws do matter, says official who worked on report

Texas state Rep. Joe Moody (right) speaks at a Sunday news conference after the Texas House investigative committee released its report on the Uvalde school shooting.
Eric Gay
/
AP
Texas state Rep. Joe Moody (right) speaks at a Sunday news conference after the Texas House investigative committee released its report on the Uvalde school shooting.

Updated July 18, 2022 at 10:58 AM ET

A new report on the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, is shining a light on law enforcement's delayed and disorganized response to the attack that killed 19 children and two teachers in May.

The Texas House committee investigating the shooting at Robb Elementary School released a 77-page preliminary report on Sunday, outlining what it calls the "systemic failures and egregious poor decision making" among local, state and federal officers during the incident. Here are four key takeaways from its findings, which the committee says are incomplete as multiple investigations remain ongoing.

The report didn't place the blame squarely on any one individual, but pointed to a variety of shortcomings on the part of entities including the school, social media platforms and the attacker's family. Still, there appears to have been at least some immediate fallout: Uvalde's mayor said Lt. Mariano Pargas, the acting chief of the Uvalde Police Department on the day of the shooting, had been put on administrative leave after the report's release (another official, school district police chief Pete Arredondo, is on admininstrative leave).

The report offers the clearest picture yet of, among other details, the gunman's motivations and preparations for the attack as well as the response — and lack thereof — by the hundreds of law enforcement officers who arrived on the scene only to wait more than an hour before confronting the shooter.

Notably, its release came days after the Austin American-Statesman, in partnership with KVUE TV, published hallway surveillance video putting the hesitant and haphazard tactical response on public display for the first time.

Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, one of the lawmakers on the committee, sees their job as laying out the facts, and hopes the report will be a "solidifying piece" of evidence that lawmakers can use to improve policy going forward — particularly when it comes to gun control measures.

He hears from critics that if someone really wants to do something dangerous, they will figure out how to do so regardless of gun control laws. But he says the story of the Uvalde shooter shows that these laws really do matter.

The suspect had tried to buy weapons before turning 18 but was unsuccessful, for example.

"I think one of the biggest takeaways here is our laws do work," Moody adds. "If we want to make them more stringent and have that conversation in this situation — I think the attacker doesn't end up with those guns. If we had a 21-year purchase age and not 18, I don't think he ends up with those guns."

Moody spoke with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep about the report's findings and what he hopes will happen next. Below are highlights from their conversation.

On warning signs regarding the attacker:

The report doesn't mention the gunman by name, which Moody says was an intentional choice because "this was someone who was after fame and notoriety." And he adds that the systems around him failed, too.

For example, he noted that while the perpetrator's behavior before Uvalde earned him the nickname "school shooter" on multiple social media platforms, no one on those platforms reported it. And he suggested that wasn't the only missed opportunity to contact authorities.

"There's [an] instance of the attacker making suicidal remarks ... contemporaneous with purchasing weapons," Moody says. "Those are things that should have and could have been reported as well."

On law enforcement's inaction at the scene:

The report says 376 federal, state and local law enforcement officials arrived at the scene but lacked the clear leadership, basic communication and a sense of urgency to engage the shooter.

It faults Arredondo with multiple missteps, including abandoning his radio outside and proceeding to handle the situation as one of a "barricaded subject" rather than an active shooter. But it also says the officers at the school — most of whom were either from U.S. Border Patrol or the state police department — should have done more to try to fill that leadership void.

Moody notes that while nearly 400 officers were present, the number of people who understood what was actually happening in the hallway was much smaller.

"Some people arrive and have no information, bad information or actually outright misinformation given to them," he says.

Some officers were told that the district police chief was in the classroom negotiating with the attacker, for example, which Moody says paints a very different picture from reality.

"It was a failure of the systems that should have been in place to be able to produce a better result in that scenario," he adds.

On the hallway surveillance footage

The release of the leaked surveillance footage has sparked backlash and debate, as NPR has reported.

Moody says the version of the video that the committee sought to release to families did not include the image of the shooter, unlike the one that was made publicly available.

And he says it's especially troubling to see the video of officers standing in the hallway, checking their phones and sanitizing their hands, because he's reviewed so much police body camera footage and other evidence from the day.

"I think it's hard because I have a complete picture of what I know happened in that classroom," he says. "And when you see that reaction, there's something you want to have happen that's different. And I've watched a number of videos where I want something, every time I watch it, to happen differently. But I know that it doesn't. And it's something that I probably will never be able to understand fully or maybe even process fully."

The audio for this interview was produced by Shelby Hawkins and edited by Raquel Maria Dillon and Vince Pearson.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.