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DOJ Report: Law Enforcement Response To Uvalde "A Failure"; DOJ Report: Uvalde Massacre Could Have Been Stopped Sooner; Garland: I Told Uvalde Victims' Families They "Deserved Better"; Garland: Officers Waited 75 Minutes To Enter Room, Confront Shooter; Garland: Uvalde Was A Failure That "Should Not Have Happened"; Garland: Mass Shooting Are A "Terrible Reality" For The Whole Country; DOJ: Families Got Unclear, Conflicting Information After Shooting. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired January 18, 2024 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: CCN obtained a copy of the report detailing, what it calls quote, cascading failures from law enforcement. The hunting conclusion, the gunman who killed 19 children and two adults could have and should have been stopped much sooner. Instead, the shooter was left alone for 77 minutes where he was able to carry out mass murder.
The report says this in part, officers on the scene should have recognized the incident was -- as an active shooter scenario and moved and pushed forward immediately and continuously toward the threat until the room was entered and the threat was eliminated. That did not occur.
CNN has been leading the way on the story exposing details, the authorities tried very hard to keep quiet. That is all, thanks to CNN Shimon Prokupecz and his team, who spent well over a year reporting on so many of the failures that are laid out now in this very government report.
Shimon, you are there back in Uvalde, at this news conference waiting for Merrick Garland to begin. This is all shocking to once again read. But again, it is all information that you pried out of officials right there on the ground in Uvalde.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. It's different when you get to see in such a -- as you say, government report way, right, and the way it's laid out and just how disturbing everything was here on that day. And just from top to bottom, the mistakes from the response to the communication to the way they treated the victims who were inside the room when they finally pulled them out to what they did after.
You know, there's things in this report about the crime scene and how the officials when they got inside, they disturbed the crime scene, they tainted the crime scene, things like that. And the trauma just by the actions of city officials, law enforcement officials, the trauma that they continue to cause on the families by not being transparent, by trying to sort of hide information and no accountability. And that's what this report lays out.
Just everything that went wrong, went wrong on that day and continues to go wrong. And for these families, it's the trauma of all of that. And so finally, they have answers. A lot of this is not new, they tell me. There are things they want to see more of certainly accountability. And they're waiting on the district attorney to make a decision whether any of these officers are going to face criminal charges.
The families are here. We have some of the family members here of the victims. They're here and also local officials are here as well. And I think this -- if you can hear behind me the DOJ is now given us some -- given us the two-minute warning here, Dana. So, we should see the attorney general here soon. And also the investigators who worked with the Department of Justice on this. They're all here as well, Dona.
BASH: OK. Shimon, we're going to let you sit down and prepare for this press conference. We'll get back to you afterwards. I'm going to -- in the meantime, quickly bring in CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller. It's trauma, over trauma, over trauma. I can't imagine.
Well, we know what it's like just as a normal civilian, a parent, a member of the human race to read some of this for you, as somebody who has spent a lifetime in and around law enforcement to see the cascading failures as this report put, it must be just completely mind blowing, John?
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, it is. And if there's any good news, it seems to be an isolated incident. In that we had seen what many better responses to active shooter situations before that. But more importantly, we've seen very courageous responses to active shooters.
Since then, you know, in Louisville, in Atlanta, in Allen, Texas, in particular, where this is the protocol. It's called immediate action, rapid deployment. If you don't wait for SWAT, you're not waiting for the commanders. The first officers on the scene form a contact team and they push to the shooter. And then they engage the shooter to isolate the person, distract the person, neutralize the person, but there's two key goals.
One, stop the killing. You may even have to pass victims who are crying out for help as you push to the shooter because you've got to stop the killing. Two, stop the dying, which is even after the shooter has been neutralized. And while you're searching to clear the rest of the building, there are people who may be bleeding out, who may need help, who may be in that critical few minutes that makes the difference between life or death. You've got to get people in, get them triaged and get them moving to medical care.
Number one didn't happen here. Number two didn't happen here. And the entire theory of immediate action rapid deployment was -- they had the rapid deployment. They didn't have the immediate action. This report is six ----
BASH: John, I'm going to jump in and we're going to go to the attorney general.
MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good morning. Last night, I met with some of the survivors to the loved ones, the victims of the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. I'm here to tell them that the United States Department of Justice has finished its critical incident review.
In undertaking this review at the request of the then-mayor the Justice Department committed to using our expertise and independence to assess the law enforcement response to the shooting and to provide guidance moving forward.
As I told families and survivors last night, the department's review concluded that a series of major failures, failures in leadership, in tactics, in communications, in training and in preparedness were made by law enforcement leaders and others responding to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary.
As a result, 33 students and three of their teachers, many of whom have been shot were trapped in a room with an active shooter for over an hour as law enforcement officials remained outside. I also told the families and survivors how deeply sorry I am for the losses they suffered that day, and for the losses they have suffered every day since.
I told them that the priority for the Justice Department in preparing this report has been to honor the memories of those who were taken from them. And I told the families gathered last night. What I hope is clear among the hundreds of pages and thousands of details in this report. Their loved ones deserve better.
The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, and then the hours and days after was a failure that should not have happened. We hope to honor the victims and the survivors by working together to try to prevent anything like this from ever happening again here or anywhere.
I'm now going to turn to the key observations and recommendations of the report. On May 24, 2022, at 11:33 am, an active shooter wearing body armor and equipped with a high-power AR-15 rifle entered Robb Elementary School and began shooting into classrooms 111 and 112 which shared a connecting door.
Within minutes, 11 law enforcement officers from the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and the Uvalde police department arrived inside the school. Hearing continued gunfire, five officers immediately advanced toward classrooms 111 and 112. Within seconds shots were fired from inside the classroom, shrapnel hit two officers and all responders retreated to cover.
A single officer then made additional attempts to approach the classrooms. But after 11:40 am no more attempts to enter the rooms were made until 12:48 pm more than an hour later. As a consequence of failed leadership, training and policies, injured and scared students and teachers remain trapped with a subject in the classrooms waiting to be rescued.
Survivors later shared that they heard officers gathered outside the classrooms while they waited. The victims trapped in classrooms 111 and 112 were waiting to be rescued at 11:44, am approximately 10 minutes after officers first arrived when the subject fired another shot inside the classrooms. There were still waiting at 11:56 am when an officer on the scene told law enforcement leaders that his wife, a teacher was inside room 111 and 112 and had been shot.
They were still waiting as broadcasts went out on officer radios that a student trapped inside rooms 111 had called 911 at 12:10 pm. To say that the officer was in -- that the student was in a room full of victims. That students stayed on the phone with 911 -- 911 for 16 minutes.
The victims were still waiting to be rescued when the subject fired four more shots inside the classrooms at 12:21 pm, 49 minutes after officers arrived on the scene. And they were still waiting for another 27 minutes after that until finally officers entered the classroom and killed the subject.
As the victims were trapped and waiting for help, many of their families were waiting outside the school, growing increasingly concerned about why law enforcement had not taken action to rescue their loved ones. Law enforcement officers from different agencies who had self-deployed to the scene in overwhelming numbers were themselves waiting for leadership decisions about how to proceed. Many officers reported that they did not know who if anyone was in charge. What they should do for the status of the incident.
Some officers were confused about why there was no attempt to confront the active shooter and rescue the children. Some officers believe the subject has already been killed, or that law enforcement was in the room with a shooter. 75 minutes after the first officers arrived on scene, officers finally entered room 111. The subject engaged the entry room -- entry team with gunfire and the officers responded with fire. 77 minutes after the first officers arrived on the scene, and after 45 rounds had been fired by the active shooter, the shooter was killed.
The massacre at Robb Elementary shattered families throughout this community and devastated our country. 19 children and two teachers were killed, and untold numbers of students, teachers and law enforcement officers were injured. The law enforcement response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary was a failure. As a threat posed to our country by mass shootings has grown and evolved over the past several decades, law enforcement response tactics have also changed.
The massacre at Columbine High School 25 years ago, and the 47 minutes it took for law enforcement to enter that high school marked a major shift in how law enforcement leaders think about responding to mass shootings. It is now widely understood by law enforcement agencies across the country that an active shooter incidents time is not on the side of law enforcement.
Every second counts. And the priority of law enforcement must be to immediately enter the room and stop the shooter with whatever weapons and tools officers have with them. That is the approach responding officers first employed when they arrived at Robb Elementary School. But within minutes of arriving inside the school, officials on scene transitioned from treating the scene as an active shooter situation to treating the shooter as a barricaded subject.
This was the most significant failure. That failure meant that law enforcement officials prioritize the protracted evacuation of students and teachers in other classrooms. Instead of immediately rescuing the victims trapped with the active shooter. It meant that officials spent time trying to negotiate with the subject, instead of entering the room and confronting him.
It meant that officials asked for and waited for additional responders and equipment instead of following generally accepted active shooter practice and moving toward the shooters -- shooter with the resources they had. It meant waiting for a set of keys to open the classroom door, which the report includes was likely unlocked anyway.
And it meant that the victims remained trapped with a shooter for more than an hour after the first officers arrived on scene. There are also other failures in leadership, command and coordination. None of the law enforcement leaders at the scene established an incident command structure to provide timely direction, control and coordination among the enormous number of responders who arrived on scene.
This lack of a command structure exacerbated by communication difficulties, contributed to confusion among responders about who was in charge and how they could help. These failures may also have been influenced by policy and training deficiencies at responding law enforcement agencies. Some lacked any active shooter training at all, some had inappropriate training, some lacked critical incident response training, and the vast majority had never trained together with different agencies.
As Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta will discuss in further detail. The chaos and confusion that define the law enforcement response, while the shooter remained a threat also defined the aftermath of the shooting. For example, surviving victims, some with bullet wounds and other injuries were put on buses without being brought to the attention of medics. Some families were told that their family members had survived when they had not. And victims, families and community members struggled to receive timely and accurate information about what had occurred at Robb Elementary.
The Justice Department's objective in preparing this report was threefold. First, to honor the victims, the survivors and their loved ones. Second, to provide a clear and independent accounting of the law enforcement response to the horrific attack that devastated this community. And third, to provide law enforcement agencies and communities across the country with analysis and recommendations about how what happened at Uvalde should inform efforts to prepare themselves for and respond to mass shootings.
Policing is a noble profession. It is also a hard one. It requires training and constant education about evolving threats. The report includes widely accepted recommendations that have been adopted by law enforcement agencies across the country about how to prepare for and respond to active shooter situations.
Before an active shooter incident occurs, law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to ensure that their leaders and all their officers are trained to focus on rapid response, trained that the first officers on the scene must focus on eliminating the threat and protecting the victims most endanger.
Law enforcement officers responding to an active shooter must be prepared to take charge to establish a unified command and to facilitate communications, operational coordination, and allocation and delivery of resources. They must continually assess and adjust as the incident evolves.
And in the aftermath of a mass shooting, law enforcement and government agencies must provide the public with a sense of trust and confidence by communicating openly, clearly and compassionately during a time in which many are learning the most devastating news that any human being can receive.
The victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2020, to deserve better. First and foremost, the 19 children and their two teachers who were stolen from their loved ones should be here today. They never have -- should never have been targeted by a mass shooter. We must never forget the shooters heinous act that day.
And the victims and survivors should never have been trapped with that shooter for more than an hour as they waited for the rescue. The families of the victims and survivors deserve more than incomplete inaccurate and conflicting communications about the status of their loved ones. This community deserves more than its misinformation from officials during and after the attack.
Responding officers here in Uvalde, who also lost loved ones and who still bear the emotional scars of that day deserve the kind of leadership and training that would have prepared them to do the work that was required. Our children deserve better than to grow up in a country where an 18-year-old has easy access to a weapon that belongs on the battlefield, not in the classroom.
And communities across the country and the law enforcement officers who protect them deserve better than to be forced to respond to one horrific mass shooting after another, but that is the terrible reality that we face. And so, it is a reality that every law enforcement agency in every community across the country must be prepared for. No community and no law enforcement agency should have to face that threat alone. That is why we came to Uvalde and that is why we are releasing this report.
The Justice Department remains committed to working in partnership with communities across the country, and with the law enforcement agencies working to protect those communities every day. In particular, we stand ready to help communities and agencies prepared to respond to a terrible incident, like the one that occurred here.
We have concluded the department's review. But we know that the work of healing here in Uvalde is only beginning. We are humbled and grateful to stand with this community as you remember and honor your loved ones.
I will now turn the podium over to Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. Her leadership has been key to the department's efforts to conduct an independent fair and comprehensive review of the horrific mass shooting of May 24 and its aftermath.
I am also grateful to the entire critical incident review team and to the Department's Cops Office under the leadership of Hugh Clements for their tireless work. Vanita?
VANITA GUPTA, ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you Mr. Attorney General. It is hard to look at the truth that the law enforcement response on May 24 was an unimaginable failure and that a lack of action by adults failed to protect children and their teachers. But we cannot look away from what happened here. We cannot look away from these children. And we cannot look away from what happened in Uvalde.
On May 24, 2022, this community lost 19 beloved children and two cherish teachers at Robb Elementary School. In the days and weeks following, this community also lost a sense of faith and trust in their own neighbors and institutions, as they tried to make sense of what happened on the 24th and were unable to get the answers they needed.
During that time, the then-mayor of Uvalde called me to ask the Justice Department to conduct an independent review of what had happened and what went wrong on May 24 and in the days that followed. Shortly after the Justice Department began its review.
The attorney general just gave a sense of the detailed timeline that we have laid out and the cascading failures that occurred over the course of 77 minutes between when law enforcement arrived on the scene and when they finally entered the classroom.
But we also know the pain and the failures and missteps did not end when law enforcement finally entered the classrooms and rescued the survivors. It continued at minute 78, when it became clear that because there was no leader, there was no plan to triage the 35 victims in classrooms 111 and 112, many of whom had been shot.
Victims were moved away without precautions -- without appropriate precautions. Victims who had already passed away were taken to the hospital in ambulances, while children with bullet wounds were put on school buses without any medical attention. In the commotion, one adult victim was placed on a walkway on the ground outside to be attended to. She died there.
The reunification and notification process for families was similarly chaotic. And as some of the families described truly, deeply painful. During and after the 77 minutes, families and survivors received unclear and sometimes conflicting information about where to go to reunite with their loved ones. Many family members waited at the school for hours without status updates, not knowing where their children were, if they were safe or hurt or even alive.
Families searching desperately for their loved ones were sent to different places all across town, the high school, the civic center, the hospital. Some of these details are gut wrenching. Families hearing about the need for autopsy results as the first indications that their loved ones may not have survived. At one point, hours after the shooting an official incorrectly told families waiting for their children at civic center that an additional bus of survivors was coming. It did not.
Inaccurate and inconsistent public communications including social media posts and press conferences only made things worse. At 12:06 pm law enforcement posted on Facebook, reassuring parents that, quote, "students and staff are safe in the buildings". That false reassurance was never corrected. An hour later, law enforcement inaccurately posted on social media that the shooter was in custody. That post too was never corrected.
Both impromptu and scheduled news conferences and media engagements contained inaccurate, incomplete and at times conflicting information. Mirroring the failures of the law enforcement response, state local agencies failed to coordinate, leading to inaccurate and incomplete information being provided to anxious family and community members and the public.
We also know the pain following a tragedy like this endures and the support this community needs has often been missing. And we cannot talk about what happened at Robb Elementary School without reckoning with the fact that this tragedy took place somewhere all children should feel supported and cared for and safe.
Our report documents missteps in school safety preparation that contributed to this tragedy, including that the campus safety plan was effectively a template and included security measures that were not even available at Robb. That there was a culture of complacency around locked door policies with interior and exterior doors routinely left unlocked, and that confusion over where to find master key to unlock classroom doors constricted to the significant delay in entering classrooms 111 and 112.
As I made clear last April when I came to Uvalde to meet with families and as we reiterated to families last night, this report not only looked backwards but also identifies lessons learned and recommendations for other communities to prevent something like this from happening again.
No law enforcement agency or community can assume that what happened here or in Newtown or in Parkland or in Columbine can't happen in their community. That is our reality. This report offers 273 recommendations for law enforcement agencies and other officials in every community. That includes a series of recommendations for law enforcement and government agencies preparing for and responding to mass shooting incidents and active shooter incidents as they occur.
In the immediate aftermath of an active shooter incident, law enforcement leaders must continue to provide guidance and direction to all first responders, including triage planning to ensure that emergency personnel can access the victims as soon as possible.
Law enforcement and government officials must provide proactive, timely and accurate information notifications, and give community members as much information as appropriate at any given time to help avoid or mitigate rumors, uncertainty and unnecessary worry. If an organization shares incorrect information with the public, it should be open about it and correct that mistake.
In the days, weeks and years after a devastating attack, survivors, the family members of victims, community members, law enforcement and other first responders and their families should continue to be offered both immediate and ongoing trauma support. The Justice Department remains committed to the Uvalde community.
Federal Victims of Crime Act formula funds are being used to support victim services in Uvalde and our Office for Victims of Crime is working with the state of Texas and the Uvalde community. To complete the application for supplemental Justice Department funding that is going to enable continuing services for victims, survivors and their families.
And through our COPS Office, the department has also awarded the local school districts substantial funding over the past two years through our School Violence Prevention Program to help this community continue to improve school safety and security.
Before we started this review, we consulted with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to build out a team of experts, including several law enforcement leaders who have ably led their communities through mass violence events. I am grateful to those leaders who lent their expertise to us and to our COPS Office team for their immense dedication and commitment.
Together the review teams work included reviewing more than 14,000 pieces of data and documentation, including policies and procedures, training logs, body camera and closed-circuit television footage, photographs and more. They made nine visits to Uvalde for a total of 54 days in this community. They conducted more than 260 interviews of individual, for more than 30 organizations and agencies including responding law enforcement and survivors, family members, victim services, providers and school and hospitals.