The last week of school at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde evolved into a nightmare on May 24.
In what should have been a day of festivities, or eagerness to jump-start the summer break, 21 lives were cut short by an 18-year-old gunman.
Seven months ago, the gunman entered the school and holed himself up in two adjoining classrooms, where he opened fire and remained for 77 minutes before law enforcement intervened. Two teachers and 19 students died in the attack.
As families grieved, they fought for change as they joined an ever-expanding group they never wanted to be part of — relatives who lost their loved ones to gun violence.
Since the shooting, law enforcement agencies opened investigations, media outlets published harrowing surveillance videos, politicians pushed for or against tighter gun laws, and no entity or person took the blame for the jumbled response. Despite their frustrations and sorrows, victims’ families and their supporters have remained steadfast in their pursuit of accountability.
KSAT 12 aired “21 Taken: Uvalde’s Path to Healing,” a one-hour special report on the six-month anniversary of the Robb Elementary School shooting in December.
In the primetime special, KSAT journalists looked at how the city of Uvalde changed in the months after the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. Steve Spriester, Stephania Jimenez, Leigh Waldman and Alicia Barrera anchored the special.
You can watch “21 Taken: Uvalde’s Path to Healing” in the video player above.
Here’s a look at where we’re at in the aftermath of the shooting.
The ‘determination’ of Lives Robbed
The families of those killed have continued to fight for justice and transparency from the law enforcement officers who responded to the attack but didn’t act.
Lives Robbed — a group created by the Cross, Rubio, Cazares and Garza families, who lost their children on May 24 — and supporters have rallied in Uvalde, Austin, Washington D.C. and other cities to bring attention to police inactions at Robb Elementary and the gun violence epidemic.
Brett Cross, the guardian of student Uziyah Garcia, is one of the founders of Lives Robbed and has not backed down in the face of Uvalde CISD, the Department of Public Safety, or others.
In October, Cross protested at the Uvalde CISD headquarters for more than 10 days, demanding that the district suspend the officers who stood idly in the hallway as the gunman remained holed up in the classrooms.
On Twitter, Cross repeatedly made himself clear: “I’m not going anywhere.”
He didn’t — and after 245 hours, the district decided to suspend its entire police force as “developments” over the massacre response emerged.
“245 hr update!!! We did it! And we are going home!” Cross Tweeted when the district announced the suspension.
In a plan for 2023, the group said they are fundraising to continue traveling to the Texas Capitol to lobby for accountability and change. They also want to hire lawyers and contractors.
“We want justice for our children,” a message from the Lives Robbed board states. “We want our children to feel safe in their schools. We want comprehensive gun violence prevention laws. We want social and cultural change, not only for our community, but for our country. We want to see promises that were made to us by our elected officials fulfilled. We want to help our community come back together.”
The group states that they met with elected local and state officials, school board members and Gov. Greg Abbott to discuss their concerns with school safety, but they believe their questions went unanswered.
“Our anger, our conviction, and our determination drive us to fight for our country, for our community. Most importantly, we fight for our children, for your children, so there are no more Lives Robbed,” the board states.
The group, as well as Texas Democrats and some Republicans, have asked for the governor to call a special session to change gun laws, but he has yet to do so.
What’s happening with investigations into the shooting response?
Multiple investigations are still underway for law enforcement agencies who responded to the attack.
In an Oct. 27 hearing during a Public Safety Commission meeting, DPS Director Steve McCraw said its criminal investigation was slated to be finished by the end of the year. KSAT has reached out to DPS for an update.
DPS is investigating the actions of seven of its 91 officers who responded to the shooting. Lt. Col. Jeoff Williams, DPS deputy director of law enforcement services, informed DPS leaders on July 25 that he recommended a list of officers to be placed under investigation.
“The Committee assigned to review the DPS employee response to the Uvalde school shooting has met and reviewed videos and statements. Upon initial review of the material, the Committee has identified actions which may be inconsistent with training and Department requirements. Consequently, I recommend the Office of Inspector General investigate the response/actions of the following officers,” Williams wrote.
DPS redacted the names of the officers, but their identities came to light in reports by KSAT and other media outlets. The list included trooper Crimson Elizondo, who resigned from DPS due to the investigation but was hired as an officer by Uvalde CISD.
The agency is reportedly taking action on those officers pending the outcome of each individual investigation.
That Oct. 27 hearing was the first time victims’ families spoke publicly and face-to-face with McCraw. Parents have urged McCraw and others to resign over the incident, even to his face.
McCraw refused, saying he would only resign if DPS “as an institution” failed, not individual officers.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, reiterated his beliefs that McCraw and DPS are withholding information from the families.
The City of Uvalde hired an investigator, former Austin Police Department detective Jesse Prado, to review its police department’s actions during the shooting, but it’s unknown when it will be finished.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin announced the formal review this summer after a blistering report from the Texas House committee detailed some of the failures in the overall response. That Texas House report resulted in active Uvalde Police chief Lt. Mariano Pargas being placed on administrative leave.
City officials initially told residents that the review would take 60-90 days to complete, but McLaughlin recently told KSAT that there’s no longer a timeline.
When Uvalde CISD suspended its police department in early October, the district said The Texas Police Chiefs Association and JPPI Investigations are still reviewing the officers’ response. Prado is the owner of JPPI Investigations.
Uvalde officials, through a spokesperson, said the investigator has been unable to get access to information from other government entities involved in examining the shooting.
On Dec. 1, the city sued District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee over records related to the shooting.
“The city has been denied access,” the mayor told KSAT.
The Texas House special investigating committee released a comprehensive report on the response in July after speaking with law enforcement officers and victims’ relatives, looking at the shooter’s cell phone data, watching videos, and hearing audio and testimony.
The report said that the 376 law enforcement officers did not have clear leadership, communication and urgency in the massacre, and they instead waited for backup.
While the finger was mostly blamed on then-Uvalde CISD police Chief Pete Arrendondo immediately after the tragedy, the report states the failures go beyond one person or entity. Read the entire report here.
The committee also released a 77-minute video from inside the school.
The 81-page report was the most comprehensive view of what took place leading up to and during the shooting, and at the six-month anniversary mark, it was the only official review detailing the massacre and its jumbled response.
On Dec. 20, a news report from the Texas Tribune, Washington Post and ProPublica states that chaos during the response delayed treatment for victims. The report stated that at least three victims may have had a chance of survival if treated sooner. Read that report here.
On Dec. 21, a special Texas Senate committee that investigated the massacre released policy recommendations about school and gun safety, mental health, social media and police training.
The Special Committee to Protect All Texans recommends increasing the number of school marshals, changing the amount of money each district is allotted for school safety, and creating safety review teams that include on-site vulnerability checks.
The review also recommends making straw purchases of firearms a state-level felony.
KSAT is part of a media coalition, which includes the New York Times, that is suing DPS, the City of Uvalde, the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office and the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District over unfulfilled public records requests.
A flurry of shakeups in law enforcement, district leadership
Who has been fired or suspended, who has retired, and who has resigned?
Despite no official public review from DPS, Uvalde police or Uvalde CISD, the entities are taking action on the employment status of some officers or leaders who may have shown wrongdoing.
Uvalde CISD police and City of Uvalde police have since fired their leaders due to alleged inaction. Here are some of the shakeups reported by KSAT and media outlets.
- Texas Rangers Chief Chance Collins retired in September amid the investigation, according to Ericka Miller, a spokesperson for DPS. The Texas Rangers is a criminal investigation branch under DPS.
- Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell, who was under review for his response to the shooting, was suspended in October. According to a CNN report, sources said he was suspended because he failed to take action and he had no discussions about options to breach the classroom, as a person in his position would have been expected to do.
- Sgt. Juan Maldonado, one of the first DPS troopers to arrive at the scene of the shooting, was fired by DPS in October. Security camera footage revealed that Maldonado held the door to the school open and stood idly by when another officer ran out of the building bleeding, begging others to go in. Maldonado was accused of not following active shooter protocol.
- Then-DPS trooper Crimson Elizondo was under investigation by DPS when she was hired by Uvalde CISD for its police force. News of her hiring was first reported by CNN and ABC News in early October after she was recognized by parents as being one of the first DPS troopers to arrive at the scene of the May 24 shooting. On that day, body cam video showed her in her trooper uniform, standing outside the school and then briefly walking in the hallway near where the gunman was holed up. She mainly remained outside and once the gunman was killed, helped escort other students outside. Body camera footage captured her saying, “If my son had been in there, I would not have been outside. I promise you that,” CNN reported. She left the agency in the summer and was then hired by UCISD. She was fired from the district on Oct. 6. Since Elizondo left DPS, she is no longer subject to any internal discipline or penalties.
- The day after Elizondo was fired, Superintendent Hal Harrell announced his retirement and the district suspended all activities of its police force. The school board selected Gary Patterson as the interim while the board-approved law firm Walsh Gallegos works to find someone to fill the position permanently. The application window for superintendent closes in March, according to a timeline from the district.
- UCISD also put Ken Mueller, the director of student services, on administrative leave following the revelation about Elizondo, but he chose to retire.
- Lt. Miguel Hernandez was placed on administrative leave on Oct. 7 — when the district suspended the police force — “as a result of the recent developments” regarding Elizondo. Records obtained by KSAT showed that Hernandez knew about Elizondo being under investigation by DPS, but UCISD hired her anyway. The letter dated July 28 from DPS to Hernandez stated Elizondo was under investigation for “actions inconsistent with training and Department requirements.” The district apologized “for the pain that this revelation has caused.”
- Pete Arredondo, the police chief for Uvalde CISD, was fired on the three-month anniversary of the shooting. Arredondo took much of the initial blame as McCraw identified him as the incident commander who didn’t properly act. In a Texas Senate hearing in June, McCraw lit into Arredondo, saying: “The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering Room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.” Arredondo was placed on leave nearly a month after the shooting, at first with pay and then without. In July, he resigned from City Council (he was secretly sworn in as District 3 councilman on May 31.) A New York Times investigation released in October showed that McCraw’s narrative of Arredondo as the sole scapegoat for the botched response was not accurate.
- Ruben Ruiz, the husband of slain teacher Eva Mireles, resigned from UCISD police, the district confirmed on Nov. 20. Officials could not confirm when Ruiz’s resignation became effective. Ruiz was among one of the first officers who arrived at Robb Elementary on the day of the mass shooting. Ruiz was seen looking at his phone in the surveillance video of the police response during the shooting. Mireles had called her husband from inside her classroom, saying she “had been shot and was dying” after the gunman’s attack.
Uvalde Police Department
- Mariano Pargas was the acting interim Uvalde Police Chief at the time of the massacre. Following the release of the Texas House committee report, the city suspended him because he failed to take command, the mayor said in July. “The City has a responsibility to evaluate the response to the incident by the Uvalde Police Department, which includes Lt. Pargas’ role as the acting Chief. This administrative leave is to investigate whether Lt. Pargas was responsible for taking command on May 24th, what specific actions Lt. Pargas took to establish that command, and whether it was even feasible given all the agencies involved and other possible policy violations,” McLaughlin wrote. While he was still on leave, Pargas campaigned for — and won — his reelection for Uvalde County Commissioner, Precinct 2 on Nov. 8. Nearly a week after election day, CNN released a report on Pargas’ response to the attack, which showed he knew the the classroom the gunman was in was “full of kids.” The mayor hinted that Pargas would be fired, but Pargas retired on Nov. 17, two days before the council was scheduled to discuss his employment.
Texas’ gun laws remain the same — but lawmakers target change
Abbott has refused to call a special session despite several pushes to do so from Uvalde parents, state Democrats, a handful of state Republicans, Uvalde CISD, Uvalde City Council and Uvalde County Commissioners.
Instead, he convened a special legislative committee, which has no lawmaking authority, and said he wanted to focus on mental health resources.
The only way new rules or laws can be made in Texas right now is through a special legislative session. The only person with the authority to call a special session is Abbott.
The 88th Texas Legislature begins in January 2023.
Since the shooting, state Democrats and Uvalde CISD board members, council members and commissioners asked for a similar solution: raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 years old.
The Uvalde gunman had just turned 18 years old when he legally purchased two assault rifles from a local store.
Senate Democrats have said they also wanted to discuss universal background checks, red flag laws, “cooling off” periods after gun purchases and regulations for high-capacity magazines.
According to the Texas Tribune, Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde and has advocated for stricter gun laws, introduced SB 145 that’s related to raising the age limit to purchase certain weapons.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, filed similar bills related to requiring the reporting of multiple firearm sales.
Bernal also introduced HB 244, which could limit the places where a person may carry a firearm other than a handgun.
Earlier this year, a judge ruled that a state law that banned young adults from publicly carrying handguns was unconstitutional.
While Texas was planning on appealing that ruling, the Texas Tribune reported in mid-December, that it was no longer fighting it.
A rally for political change in Uvalde that fell short
The families rallied for gubernatorial challenger Beto O’Rourke in the mid-term election as they urged state politics to enact stricter gun laws. But the results from the November election showed that local voters weren’t ready for change.
Despite the tragedy, Uvalde County voters showed they overwhelmingly supported Abbott in his reelection — he had 60% of votes — and Republicans in every statewide office.
The few Democrats who were elected have held their seats for a long time.
Voting data showed Pargas, who was initially uncontested for the position he’s held for more than 15 years, received 45% of the vote for Precinct 2 commissioner.
He was challenged by three write-in candidates who said they wanted to see a change in Uvalde. One of those candidates was Javier J. Cazares, the father of Jackie, a Robb Elementary victim.
Cazares received 16% of the vote. Diana Olvedo-Karau and Julio Valdez were the other write-in challengers.
On election night, despite his loss, Cazares remained hopeful about the future of Uvalde.
“Whatever help they need from me and my family, I will help as much as I can,” Cazares said. “I just want them to do the right thing. You know, Uvalde has been stagnant for a long time, win or lose you know I hope this person does the best for our community.”
The future of Robb Elementary
The mayor announced in June that Robb Elementary will be closed to students and staff for the 2022 school year and be demolished.
“We could never ask a child to go back, or a teacher to go back into that school ever,” McLaughlin said during a City Council meeting.
The district realigned the campuses so students and teachers who previously attended Robb could learn and teach at other campuses.
Students in Pre-k through second grade moved to Dalton Elementary, students in third through fourth grade moved to Uvalde Elementary, and students in fifth and sixth grades moved to Flores Elementary, Harrell said.
Teachers, administrators and other staff from Robb Elementary moved to Uvalde Elementary.
UCISD installed perimeter fencing at all the schools, thanks to a $1 million donation by the Las Vegas Raiders, and added security cameras, upgrades for doors, door locks and access points.
On Nov. 16, the school board decided on a site and design for a new elementary school. The Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation and Uvalde CISD Community Advisory Committee agreed for the new school to be built near Dalton and are working on fundraising efforts for the campus.
According to the foundation, a nonprofit organization not affiliated with the district, they are moving forward with the schematic design phase of the project. It will hold students in grades second through fourth.
View Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation’s presentation below:
In its end-of-year safety and security report, UCISD said it spent about $5 million on security upgrades so far.
Those changes include fencing, police equipment upgrades, cameras, new doors and salaries, but some upgrades on doors and vestibules have not been completed due to supply-chain issues.