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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Texas Official: "It was The Wrong Decision" Not To Breach Classroom; Remembering The 21 Victims Of The Uvalde Shooting; Governor And Texas Officials Give Update On School Shooting. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired May 27, 2022 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: It was the wrong decision, period.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Young children trapped in a classroom with a killer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This decision made not to go in and rescue these children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: They admitted bad judgment and communication. Did it cost lives?
Plus, the kids who called for help. One little girl who called 911 at least five times. What she told dispatchers while locked inside that classroom with gunshots going off.
And the trauma this entire ordeal is leaving on such young children. Their parents and a nation wishing to wipe away the pain.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.
And we start today with an absolutely devastating admission about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COL. STEVEN MCCRAW, DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: For the benefit of hindsight, where I'm sitting now, of course, it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision, period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: That statement coming from the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Colonel Steven McCraw this afternoon. He said officers on the scene should have breached the classroom door immediately.
Instead, Colonel McCraw says the commander on scene decided no more children were at risk. And they allowed the shooter to stay inside the classroom for more than an hour, despite the fact that kids inside the room were calling 911 and begging for police to help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROKUPECZ: What efforts were the officers making to try and break through either that door or another door to get inside that classroom?
MCCRAW: None at that time.
MCCRAW: The on-scene commander at the time believed it had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject.
PROKUPECZ: Sir, you have people who are alive, children who are calling 911, saying please send the police. They are alive, in that classroom. There are lives that are at risk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: That admission likely to make it even harder for the families burying their loved ones and the children who survived and are now struggling with confusion, guilt, and fear. One of them, 11-year-old Miah Cirrillo. In a conversation with CNN producer Nora Neus, recounted watching her teachers and classmates being killed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NORA NEUS, CNN PRODUCER: Their teacher got word there was a shooter in and the building and went out to lock the door, but Miah says the shooter was right there. And he shot out the window in the door. She describes it all happening so fast from there. Her teacher backing into the classroom and the gunman following. She says the shooter looked one of her teachers in the eye, said good night, and then shot her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Another survivor, Jayden Perez, who told CNN's Adrienne Broaddus he could hear gunfire from where he was hiding with his classmates and he learns later some of them were killed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you ever want to go to school?
JAYDEN PEREZ, SURVIVOR: No, because I don't want anything to do with another shooting, and me in the school.
BROADDUS: You're scared it might happen again?
PEREZ: Mm-hmm. And I know it might happen again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And the sad part of that is there are no assurances we can give to that little boy that it will not happen again.
CNN's Jason Carroll starts out of coverage with new details on the investigation and the again shifting timeline of how the rampage unfolded.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Disturbing new details on the shooter's actions.
MCCRAW: The exterior door, suspected where we knew the shooter entered, Ramos, was propped open by a teacher.
CARROLL: Investigators clarifying the timeline.
MCCRAW: 11:28, the suspect vehicle crashes into the ditch. 11:31, suspect reached the last row of vehicles to the school parking lot. At 11:33 is when the suspect entered the school. 11:33, the suspect begins shooting into room 111 or room 112.
It's not possible to determine from the video angle that we have at this point in time. We do know this. That he shot more than 100 rounds based on the audio evidence at that time.
CARROLL: Officials said gunfire continued while agents were in the school hallway but did not enter the room until a janitor provided keys.
MCCRAW: They breached the door using keys that they were able to get from the janitor, because both doors were locked. Both of the classrooms he shot into were locked when officers arrived. They killed the suspect at that time.
CARROLL: Officials admitting the incident commander made the call not to enter the classroom while the shooter was inside.
MCCRAW: Plenty of officers to do whatever needed to be done, with one exception is that the incident commander inside believed they needed more equipment and more officers to do a tactical breach at that point. It was the wrong decision, period.
CARROLL: In that crucial time, survivors inside both classrooms made desperate calls to 911.
MCCRAW: Again, at 12:16, she's called back and said there's eight to nine students alive. She asked 911 to please send the police now.
CARROLL: Alfred Garza says his daughter Amerie may have been one of the students who tried to call 911. She was killed during the shooting. Now that Garza knows first responders made a tragic respect in waiting to breach the door, it has triggered a range of emotions.
ALFRED GARZA, PARENT: Something has to be done now. Where do we go from here? You were wrong. What do we do now? You know, it's my question. What are we going to do now?
CARROLL: The accountability.
GARZA: Right, the accountability. Somebody has to be responsible.
CARROLL: Those who survived and endured their wait for rescue now left to deal with the trauma.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Miah got some blood and put it on herself and pretended she was dead.
CARROLL (on camera): And, Pamela, now so many people here left with a lot of sobering questions, namely, could more children have been saved had these officers acted sooner? And for parents like Alfred Garza, who you just heard from, for him, it's a question of accountability. He's asking who should be held accountable and how they will be held accountable -- Pamela.
BROWN: Just so agonizing for these parents. Jason Carroll in Uvalde, Texas -- thank you.
And police have been pressed for answers all day long, specifically on how did officers not go in to help the children trapped in that classroom with the killer for so long, for an hour?
I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.
So, Shimon, clearly, there was a potentially deadly disconnect between 911 dispatch and officers on the ground or I don't know what to think of this, right?
I mean, what explanation is there for this?
PROKUPECZ: Well, we don't have really an explanation for this. Other police departments communicate regularly, sadly, in these types of situations, an active shooting situation, where 911 dispatchers are able to communicate with police officers on the ground when they see something, when they hear something, when they're getting calls from people inside. So we're not getting that kind of explanation.
Despite the director here taking, you know, a fair number of questions, those kind of details we still don't have. They are important. Specifically like that one piece of detail as to why the head of the school police here decided that this was going to be a barricaded situation with people's lives, children, teachers inside this classroom whose lives were in danger, but decided he wasn't going to treat this as an active shooter investigation.
So those are the answers that we need, Pam, and that's why, you know, officials still need to continue to answer questions.
BROWN: I just can't get over, Shimon, all of these little kids in the room calling 911, desperate for police to help. And the fact that there were 19 police officers in the hallway as the officials said today. I mean, it's just devastating.
You asked law enforcement about accountability going forward. What liability could these officers and decision-makers have?
PROKUPECZ: Well, so there are certainly state legislators and members of Congress who now want the FBI to investigate. They want an independent investigation. Certainly, the chief of police here, his name is Peter Arredondo, he spoke in the hours after the shooting, giving a statement, but we have not heard from him since.
He wasn't at this press conference. I asked why he wasn't here. They didn't give any reason. I also asked the FBI if this is something, the reaction to this shooting, the tactics that were used here, if that was something they were going to investigate.
They don't have jurisdiction right now. They're serving, as you know in these situations, they serve as an assistant. They offer assistance. They try to help with whatever resources the local needs. That's what they do here and what they're continuing to do.
But clearly, the families are going to want this and legislators and community members are going to want some answers.
And people are calling for an independent investigation.
BROWN: Shimon Prokupecz in Uvalde, Texas, excellent reporting. Thank you, Shimon.
Joining me to discuss is CNN law enforcement analyst and former Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Officer Michael Fanone.
So, Michael, the commander on the scene decided this was no longer an active shooter situation, despite the gunman being inside that room, kids still being alive and calling 911, and sounds of sporadic gunfire. Your reaction?
MICHAEL FANONE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, as someone who is trained and actually trained other officers in the active shooter protocol, an active shooter remains an active shooter until the threat is neutralized. You know, police officers' primary responsibility is the preservation of life. In this particular circumstance, that required the taking of the suspect's life. So I think, like the director said earlier today in the press conference, the wrong decision was made.
BROWN: And we don't know how many lives that cost, right? Because we don't know if some of the kids bled out or if some of the kids were killed later on during that hour. I mean, you know, there were nine 911 calls coming in.
Walk us through what should have happened exactly. I mean, we have some of the details. There were 19 officers in the hallway. The gunman was in that classroom, the adjoined classroom. What should have happened? FANONE: Well, first, I think it's important to understand an active
shooter is a threat classification. The tactics that are utilized to neutralize that threat have changed dramatically since I first started as a police officer. And now, they require only a singular officer on the scene, and their job is to pursue that threat, to identify that threat, and to neutralize the threat, and not to stop until they have done so. Even if they are receiving fire -- I mean, unfortunately, it's not a job for everyone, but that is the job.
BROWN: That's what it requires in that moment. Do you think the commander, this chief of police, should turn in his badge?
FANONE: I'd say, you know, emotions are high, and I certainly understand -- I mean, I'm a parent myself. I have three children who are elementary school age. It's important that we wait until the completion of the incident report and understand exactly what was going through the incident commander's mind at the time, what he or she and the other officers were seeing and experiencing on the ground before we pass judgment.
But ultimately, I think if it is shown that he was at fault, absolutely. I think termination is a potential, probably a reasonable outcome.
BROWN: All right, I do want to ask you one more question before we let you go. At one point, the commander on the scene reportedly decided they needed more men and more gear to breach the classroom. But the Department of Public Safety now says there weren't any barricades. The door was just locked.
There was a window on the door apparent apparently, too, from one of the wince accounts. Surely police have the tools and training to break down a door that's locked instead of having to wait for a janitor to bring the key.
FANONE: Well, first and foremost, I would say that, you know, resources available to varying departments, including the training necessary to perform under stress, I mean, that does vary from department to department. But knowing what we know now, I don't need any special training to get into a locked room where an individual is killing children. I'll figure out a way to accomplish that task. Period.
BROWN: Michael Fanone, thank you.
FANONE: Thank you.
BROWN: The missteps by police, the victims so young in age. How do we process so much pain? And what do we tell our own children? We're going to get some expert advice up next.
Plus, Donald Trump will be speaking soon as the NRA convention meets in Texas. The tone we're already hearing as the event begins just a few hours drive from Uvalde.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:19:12]
BROWN: We're back with our national lead.
Funeral homes in Uvalde, Texas, have announced the first visitation and funeral plans for victims of Tuesday's horrific attack.
CNN's Boris Sanchez reports now on the new details we're learning about those who didn't survive and the beautiful legacies they leave behind.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A community in mourning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel so bad.
SANCHEZ: Three days after 21 innocent lives were taken, we're learning more about the loved ones this small town is grieving.
DORA MENDOZA, GRANDMOTHER OF AMERIE JO GARZA: Don't forget them, please. Do something about it, I beg you.
SANCHEZ: Miranda Mathis was 11 years old, a friend of her mother's told "The Washington Post," Miranda was a fun, spunky, bright girl.
Ten-year-old Rogelio Torres, his aunt telling CNN affiliate KSET, he was a, quote, very intelligent, hardworking and helpful person.
He'll be missed and never forgotten.
Maite Rodriguez, also 10 years old. Her mother Anna says Maite dreamed of becoming a marine biologist and wanted to attend college at Texas A&M. In a touching Facebook tribute, Anna calls her daughter, quote, sweet, charismatic, loving, caring, loyal, free, ambitious, funny, silly, goal driven, and her best friend.
Other victims' names have also been confirmed. Layla Salazar, 11 years old. Mekenna Lee Elrod, Alithia Ramirez, and Jayce Luevanos, all 10 years old.
And in a tragic twist, the husband of Irma Garcia, one of the murdered teachers, has also died. According to the archdiocese of San Antonio, Joe Garcia suffered a heart attack after news of his wife's death and passed away on Thursday. The couple had been married more than 24 years and were high school sweethearts.
EDUARDO MORALES, SACRED HEART UVALDE: They came to mass every Sunday.
SANCHEZ: Father Eduardo Morales of Sacred Heart Church in Uvalde knew the family well.
MORALES: I told the community that in my own family when we have had a death, that it's church and prayer that has gotten us through all this. Not that it takes the pain away.
SANCHEZ: The Garcias among a list of names of lives cut too short. Eva Mireles, Amerie Garza, Uziyah Garcia, Xavier Lopez, Jose Flores Jr., Lexi Rubio, Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, Jacklyn Casarez, Tess Mata, Nevaeh Bravo, Ellie Garcia, Jailah Silguero, Elijah Torres, names that will forever be etched in the memories of those touched and affected by this horrible tragedy.
GEORGE RODRIGUEZ, GRANDFATHER OF JOSE FLORES JR.: The state, the nation, show him to the world. I want everybody to know him. When he died, I died with him.
SANCHEZ (on camera): And, Pam, as you have noted, we confirmed multiple funerals have now been scheduled are victims in the coming weeks. We also learned two funeral homes here locally have decided to cover the cost of their services to make this heart-wrenching process for these families a little easier -- Pam.
BROWN: Boris Sanchez in Uvalde, Texas, thank you.
And new images from the "Uvalde Leader" newspaper show images in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's shooting and chilling first-hand accounts from children who survived are starting to emerge.
Children like 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, who spoke exclusively to a female CNN producer off camera, traumatized after watching the gunman shoot her teacher and classmates. Miah smeared the blood of a dead class mate all over herself and played dead. Now, even routine noises trigger pain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Your alarm went off accidentally on your cell phone while you were talking to her. What happened?
NEUS: I felt so bad. I mean, it was just an accident, and she just kind of -- she clearly was kind of triggered by that. And her mom said, you know that's been happening a lot. They were at a car wash yesterday and went to vacuum out the car, and she -- it completely set her off.
She's not sleeping right now. She's in the whole interview, she brought a blanket with her, and the whole interview, she was covering herself in this blanket, and it was hot. It felt like she was trying to keep herself covered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: I'm going to bring in Sari Kaufman, a survivor of the Parkland massacre. She's a volunteer with Students Demand Action.
Hi, Sari. I'm sure this is so tough for you in many ways.
Of course, we want to hear about how this makes you feel after everything you went through and then hearing what this child experienced.
SARI KAUFMAN, SURVIVOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HS SHOOTING IN PARKLAND: Yeah, just devastating. It's hard not to cry, especially listening to that experience. And after four years since parkland and then this still happening, and for me to see the videos of police running into the school, it just brings back a lot of memories. And it's re-traumatizing.
It's already too late to act, but this time, we really need to do something before it happens again.
BROWN: I think we can all agree with that. We never want to see this again.
What were those early days like for you after the shooting at your school?
KAUFMAN: Yeah, it was really difficult to process, honestly. I was confused, I was heartbroken. I remember trying to figure out which friend of mine passed away, which teacher was okay. And there's thoughts at a 15-year-old no one should have to go through, especially these elementary students, what they're going through is unimaginable.
Sadly, I have some insight. And it's just incredibly disappointing, really difficult after going through a shooting, no one ever should go through that. Especially at school, where we're supposed to be learning. It's just -- their innocence was stripped away and I know how they feel. I'm heartbroken for them.
BROWN: What is your advice to them?
KAUFMAN: I think my advice is, you know, since they're young, to try to process it now. I have learned that if you wait and then try to figure out what just happened at my school, how did I lose my friends, my classmates and teachers, it gets harder and harder after each year goes by. So, hopefully those students will have the help and be table try to connect their emotions to what just happened because like I said, as more and more youth are going through this, it's just -- there's no words. And especially as someone who has gone through it.
BROWN: And you know, hopefully their families are there for them. Families across the country are also facing some very tough conversations about what happened in Uvalde. Would you recommend parents initiate those talks or wait for the child to come to them with questions? Of course, in some cases, they don't have that choice because the kids learn about it at school or from their friends. But what would you advise?
KAUFMAN: Yeah, I think it just depends on the child and on the parent. You know, if the student is willing to talk about it, I think it's important. But if they need time, they need time. Each person, I learned, especially at such a big school like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, different people process it different ways. It really depends on the students. You know, just even having this conversation, oh, how should we tell students to process a shooting? That should not be a conversation and it's really frustrating that I need to give advice on, oh, what do you do if you went to school and your friends got shot and killed? It's extremely frustrating and angering to have to answer these questions. It should not be happening.
BROWN: It should not be happening. Couldn't agree with you more.
Sari Kaufman, thank you for your insights, unfortunately that you have from your own experience with a mass shooting at your school. Thank you.
KAUFMAN: Thank you.
BROWN: Well, the NRA convention gets under way in Texas amid protests and questions of bad timing. More politicians are pulling out of the event, but not all of them. We're going to take you there, up next.
BROWN: In our national lead, just three days after the massacre in Texas, where 19 children and 2 teachers were murdered with an AR-15, the National Rifle Association annual meeting is under way in Houston just a few hours' drive from Uvalde. Texas Governor Greg Abbott chose not to attend in person and instead his remarks were pre-recorded.
Other high profile politicians such as former President Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, and Governor Kristi Noem will still speak. And others such as the lieutenant governor of Texas and Texas lawmakers Dan Crenshaw and John Cornyn have canceled their appearances.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Houston at the NRA convention.
So, Jeff, what has this first day of this event been like so far?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, this is just a remarkable split screen, as you said, three days and just under 300 miles away from Uvalde, Texas, here to downtown Houston, where there is the annual meeting of the NRA. There are thousands of people attending the meeting inside, and it's largely business as usual. There's a massive exposition hall where thousands of new guns of all varieties from antique pistols to new AR-15s and others are for sale and on display.
I mean, outside this convention hall, there was just a massive protest. Thousands of people were gathered, people of all walks of life, all ages, mothers and daughters and sons and fathers holding signs, urging politicians to do something, anything about this epidemic of gun violence. So, Pamela, really, it's a tale of two Americas here in Houston, again, just less than 300 miles from Uvalde.
BROWN: Okay, Jeff. Governor Greg Abbott and other officials holding a news conference right now. GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: The community of Uvalde, that obviously
includes the families of the victims, the friends of the victims, the victims including anybody who was in that school who made it out alive, but also benefits that would aid anybody who lives in Uvalde. The entire community has been affected by this horrific crime. And through these state agencies that you'll be hearing more about here shortly, you'll see that we have as a state tremendous benefits that can aid those who are suffering and those who will continue to suffer, sometimes for many years.
One thing I must emphasize, and that is we're going through short-term challenges right now. The reality is many of the challenges will be long-term challenges. Texas stands with Uvalde for the long term in helping every single person in this community be able to piece their lives back together, to heal as much as they possibly can.
We will be here as long as it takes. Among other things, I know that there have already been some offerings to insure that costs of funerals will be taken care of. During the course of the meeting, there was an anonymous donor who attended the meeting and provided $175,000 to insure that every cost of every family concerning anything about the funeral services is going to be taken care of.
We appreciate that anonymous donor for his generosity, and we will insure that those resources get into the right hands to make sure that no family who is suffering from incalculable heartbreak at this time will have to worry about a single cost with regard to anything concerning this travesty.
Now, in addition to that, there are all kinds of needs, as well as all kinds of services. One of the needs is need for mental health care. And we have an abundance of mental health care services we're going to provide. That includes state and private providers that will be providing mental health assistance to anyone in the community who needs it. When I say anyone, that means the totality of anybody who lives in this community.
We believe that you would benefit from mental health care services. Those mental health care services are free. We just want you to ask for them. The way that you can ask for them, whether it'd be today, tomorrow, next month, or next year, is this number: 888-690-0799. Mental health care can be reached by calling 888-690-0799. That help line will be answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, whenever you need it.
In addition to that, I am announcing the establishment of a One Star Foundation fund to assist with ongoing challenges that will be faced by the victims of this crime. To put this into perspective, to help you understand how this works, we opened up a fund like this in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to assist all of the thousands of victims of hurricane Harvey and received millions of dollars in support that went to those who faced challenges because of Hurricane Harvey. The exact same thing applies here. Right here is the address,
onestarfoundation.org. Onestarfoundation.org. To be more precise, if you go to onestarfoundation.org/uvalde. You make a contribution at that site that is already a preregistered 501c3 organization, provide a donation to that site, there's no overhead cost, 100 percent of the money that you donate is going to be going directly to victims of this horrible crime to help them with their lives.
One of the pre-designated donation sites that it will be going to is the Robb School Memorial Fund. So again, the onestarfoundation.org/uvalde. You can do your part to help out the people in this community that are suffering in incalculable ways.
In addition to that, we have set up a central headquarters for victim assistance services at the family assistance center, located at the Uvalde County Fairplex, as we'll discuss momentarily, there may be a relocation of that site and we'll keep everybody fully informed about where the relocation site will be.
Every family impacted by the shooting has been assigned an advocate to help them with their needs. Among other things, there will be airfare, for example, whether it be through United Airlines, United Airlines or JetBlue airlines that will provide victims' families with flights free of charge so they can get here and be with their family members. The family assistance center will cover the travel and lodging costs of families who have been -- who have lost loved ones.
Health care costs families impacted by this tragedy will also be covered by Texas insurance companies and donations from private citizens.
The Texas Housing and Community Affairs, for example, they have a fund to pay for needed supplies right now, whether it be food or gas or other essential needs. And that money is available right now as we speak. Also, at the Family Assistance Center, the Health and Human Services commission, who you'll be hearing from more here in a second, they'll assist families in finding health and human benefit programs. Aside from the Texas Department of Insurance, the Teachers Retirement System, the Employees Retirement System will provide access to benefits including workers compensation. Staff from the work Texas Workforce Commission are available to families childcare and unemployment benefits, and state staff are available to provide assistance to business owners impacted by this tragedy.
Healing the broken hearts is going to take a long time. But through the generosity of our fellow Texans and the good works of neighbors helping neighbors, we can begin to stitch back together the fabric of Uvalde. Helping us to do that is the leader of Uvalde himself, and that is the mayor of Uvalde, who I would like to ask to speak at this time.
MAYOR DON MCLAUGHLIN, UVALDE, TX: Governor, I would like to thank you for bringing all these state agencies here and the services you have offered our community, our citizens, because these families are going to need this help, not just today but in the long term, as you mentioned. For that, Governor, I appreciate you.
And all I can say is I have seen you the last two days and the compassion that you felt along with these families and that, I just really admire it. I thank you.
And like I said, we appreciate everybody all over the world and the country that has sent messages of encouragement and so forth. I mean, our hearts are broken here in Uvalde. It's a very -- I mean, you know, nobody ever wants to have to go through this, especially as a mayor. I never thought this was something I would have to go through. My heart is broken for these families.
But the one good thing about our community is Uvalde is a strong community. I think if some of you reporters have been here long enough, you'll see there's a lot of unity in our community, and it will take time, but we'll get over this and Uvalde will be back stronger and better than ever. So, God bless you and thank you very much.
ABBOTT: Thank you very much. And someone who has been actively engaged in helping the victims of crime already and will remain engaged all the way through is the district attorney, Christina Mitchell.
CHRISTINA MITCHELL BUSBEE, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Thank you, Governor, for being here. We want to thank everybody that's reached out to us in Uvalde from across the state, from across the country, and across the world. We greatly appreciate all of the support and kind words and prayers and assistance that has been sent to us.
And like the mayor said, here in Uvalde County, we are down to earth people. We are salt of the earth people. And we are a family. And like a family, we're going to get through this together with each other and for each other, and we're asking everybody across the world to continue to support us.
So I -- the district attorney, along with the FBI victims assistance people, the DPS victim assistance people, the attorney general's office, we have set up a family assistance center at the Uvalde County Fairplex here in Uvalde. At that center it's a one-stop shop for all the victims. And we say victims, we mean everybody associated with Robb Elementary School.
When you come there, you're going to meet with a counselor, you're going to meet with all of the services the state has to offer, funeral services, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Mexican consulate is there, the Red Cross is there. And we're there to provide all the services any family may need. And if you need something that's not there, let me know, and we will find it for you.
And that's going to be open and continue until June 1st. We are open from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. there's also food there and a play center for children. And please come and see us. Any victims, anybody that needs help, please come there. It's a resource for everybody.
There's also a victim services center at the civic center that's run by the school district. And that's for anybody affected in the school district. And they have that service there.
So, we thank everybody. We appreciate your support, and please, keep our victims in your prayers. These families of the deceased children and school teachers, and keep us strong. Thank you.
ABBOTT: Thank you, and now I'm going to call up seven leaders of seven different state agencies to give you a very brief explanation of what their particular agency does.
There are more than seven that are involved in this process. But we're calling up these seven.
First is the Health and Human Services Commissioner, Cecily Young.
CECILE YOUNG, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES COMMISSIONER: Good afternoon. I'm Cecily Young, and I'm the executive commissioner at Health and Human Services Commission. We do Medicaid, CHIP, and SNAP, and we have eligibility assistance available at the family assistance center, and we'll continue to have eligibility assistance available on an ongoing basis once we move into the next phase of this.
Additionally, as the governor mentioned, we have an 888 number. It's for mental health services, 888-690-0799. This is run by Hill Country local mental health authorities. So it is local, it is a 24-hours, 7 days a week call center that is able to connect people with services, counseling, medication, telecounseling services, and telepsychiatry services.
And they will be able to insure that anyone in the community that calls in will be connected to other available mental health services. So it is a way to triage, again, to try to make it as easy as possible for the members of the community.
ABBOTT: Thank you. Next is the Texas Department of Insurance commissioner, Cassie Brown.
CASSIE BROWN, COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE FOR THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE: Good afternoon. I'm Cassie Brown. I serve as the commissioner of insurance for the Texas Department of Insurance.
TDI is here to insure that insurance companies are appropriately and quickly handling claims. What our department does is oversee the health insurance as well as the workers compensation insurance claims. So if you are going to -- if you're a private sector employee, I'm sorry, if you're a public sector employee, those employed by the school district or first responders, they'll have workers compensation coverage. Private sector employees should check with their employer to see if they carry workers comp.
Workers comp covers mental illness and PTSD, so please make sure that you are taking advantage of that benefit for you.
We have staff available at the Fairplex Center to help you start the process, for processing your workers compensation claims and to explain all of the benefits available to you under the system. Thank you.
ABBOTT: Thank you.
And now for the Teachers Retirement System, Brian Guthrie.
BRIAN GUTHRIE, TEACHERS RETIREMENT SYSTEM: Thank you. Good afternoon. My name is Brian Guthrie. I'm the executive director of the Teachers Retirement System of Texas.
We're here today to not only help the families of the two teachers who tragically lost their lives and provide them the benefits they are due, but also to help all the employees of not only this school district but all the surrounding school districts to make sure they have access to mental health and behavioral health services. We also recognize that not all the employees of these districts are members of our system. And offer our health care program, but we want to thank our partners Blue Cross Blue Shield and Teladoc for extending those benefits to everyone who is employed in this district or any of the surrounding districts. Thank you.
ABBOTT: Thank you.
And now for the Texas Employees Retirement System, Porter Wilson.
PORTER WILSON, TEXAS EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM: I am Porter Wilson, executive director of the Employee Retirement System of Texas.
We provide retirement benefits and more importantly, health insurance benefits to state employees and also to employees of higher education in the community, so the local community college employees will get health insurance from health select of Texas which is provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. We have activated 24-hour crisis hotline to help connect medical and mental health services, and we have that information available on the flier.
ABBOTT: Thank you. And now from the Texas Workforce Commission, Ed Serna.
ED SERNA, TEXAS WORKFORCE COMMISSION: My name is Ed Serna. I'm the executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission.
The Workforce Commission has a local presence on main street in our local workforce development office. Through that office, we'll provide child care services for not only the families of the victims but also anyone who is associated in the school or first responders. We'll also look to protect any TANF or SNAP benefits an individual is receiving, so that they don't lose those benefits because they're unable to work or to continue their training.
We'll also assist with anyone needing priority concerning unemployment benefits or businesses that need assistance during this time.
We're available locally, so please, and we're also out at the assistance center as well. Thank you. ABBOTT: Thank you. And now the head of the TDHCA.
BOBBY WILKINSON, TDHCA: Good afternoon. I'm Bobby Wilkinson, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
We have a very flexible pot of grant funding that we're funding our local partner, the Community Council of South Central Texas. They have field office. They're at the assistance center. They're already passing out grocery and gas cards. They can help with lodging expenses, even some extended family.
Maybe your grandma or someone is here and she needs help with gas, with lodging. It's very flexible and we're looking forward to helping as many people as we can. Thank you.
ABBOTT: Thank you.
And last is the head of the Texas Education Agency, Mike Morath.
MIKE MORATH, TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY: Thank you.
Tea has been working in close coordination with the school system. I want to say thank you publicly to Hal Herrell for your leadership and for all the work our educators have done.
The agency provides support directly in the form of grant funds. We have offered several mental counseling services. Those have been provided really around the clock, since this began. And we'll continue to provide support as the school district prepares its responses for both summer and this fall.
ABBOTT: Thank you.
So once again, whether it be the services you heard about or there are many more that we talked about earlier providing briefing to local officials. The state of Texas has robust resources to insure that these families who have been devastated by this horrific crime, as well as the entire community, we will be able to help them with any and all of their needs.
I cannot overemphasize enough that everybody, students, teachers, law enforcement, everybody in this community, please avail yourself of absolutely free mental health care. It will pay off in the long run.
With that, I would be happy to take a few questions.
ABBOTT: Sure, so --
ABBOTT: I'll directly answer your questions. Before I start answering questions unrelated to the discussion that we have about the benefits we're providing the community, let's take those questions first. Then I'll come back to you first.
ABBOTT: I'll put you second in the queue.
Let's do -- let me make clear, maybe I wasn't clear. Before I start taking questions unrelated to the benefits that we're providing to the community, we have an obligation as a state to communicate to the people of this community the benefits that are available to them. Their lives are crushed. They have no idea what's going on and may have no idea whatsoever how they're going to pay a bill.
Let me give you an easy example of something explained to me. There was a parent who lost some glasses that were crushed in everything that happened. And he told someone he had no money to pay for it. We have money to pay for that stuff.
There are people who have no idea about getting food. We have money that can buy them food.
Let's discuss, if you have any questions about these benefits, if you don't have questions, that's fine, but if there's anybody here --
REPORTER: Officers had acted with amazing courage. Today, we learned 19 officers stood in the hallway of that school for nearly an hour. Which goes against the way they have been trained.
ABBOTT: Sure. I'm going to be answered that.
REPORTER: Did you know these facts at the time or were you trying to create a favorable narrative?
ABBOTT: I'm going to fully answer it because that's what he asked and I told him I'm going to answer his question first.
REPORTER: I think that's what's people in this community are most interested in.
ABBOTT: Is there anybody who has a question about the benefits that are being provided to anybody here who has suffered because of the crime?
REPORTER: There are no hands going up.
ABBOTT: All right. Let me answer your question. So your question. No, I remember it.
Short answer, yes. I was misled. I am livid about what happened. I was on this very stage two days ago, and I was telling the public information that had been told to me in a room just a few yards behind where we're located right now.
I wrote down hand notes in detail about what everybody in that room told me in sequential order about what happened. And when I came out here on this stage and told the public what happened, it was a recitation of what people in that room told me, whether it be law enforcement officials or non-law enforcement officials, whatever the case may be.
And as everybody has learned, the information that I was given turned out in part to be inaccurate. And I'm absolutely livid about that.
And here is my expectation. My expectation is that the law enforcement leaders that are leading the investigations, which includes the Texas Rangers and the FBI, they get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty.
There are people who deserve answers the most. And those are the families whose lives have been destroyed. They need answers that are accurate, and it is inexcusable that they may have suffered from any inaccurate information whatsoever.
And it is imperative that the leaders of the investigations about exactly what happened get down to the very second of exactly what happened with 100 percent accuracy and explain it to the public but most importantly to the victims who have been devastated.
REPORTER: Could you support a ban --
ABBOTT: He had a backup question. I'm coming to you next.
ABBOTT: My expectation is that as we speak and every minute going forward, law enforcement is going to earn the trust of the public by doing exactly what they're supposed to do from this point on. And that is making sure that they thoroughly, exhaustively investigate exactly what happened and explain to you and the public and the victims of the crime exactly what happened.
I told this guy I was coming to him next.
Is there going to be any specific legislation? For example, will we roll back some of the liberalizations you made in gun ownership and gun usage, such as the so-called constitutional carry? That's a big issue for a lot of people.
ABBOTT: Sure. Let me answer your second question first. And then I'll answer your first question. In your second question, you talked about the rollback of any legislation that I signed this past session.
Let's be clear about one thing: none of the laws I signed this past session had any intersection with this crime at all. No law that I signed allowed him to get a gun, the gun that he did get. And so again, there was nothing about the laws from this past session that has any relevancy to the crime that occurred here.
With regard to special session, let me just say this, and that is, first of all, all options are on the table. Second, most importantly, to your point, do we expect laws to come out of this devastating crime? The answer is absolutely yes. There will be laws in multiple different subject areas.
For example, I do fully expect to have every law that we pass in the aftermath of the Santa Fe shooting to be completely revisited. First, we need to gain the information about exactly what happened at the school to find out the extent to which those laws were complied with, to the extent that they were not complied with, to find what shortcomings allowed this travesty to occur.