U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas urged the FBI on Thursday to investigate law enforcement’s response to the deadly elementary school shooting in Uvalde, a demand that came as local police officers faced growing scrutiny and anger over their actions during the massacre and contradictory statements in its wake.
“The people of Uvalde, of Texas, and of the nation deserve an accurate account of what transpired,” Castro, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “However, state officials have provided conflicting accounts that are at odds with those provided by witnesses.”
“Onlookers allege that parents unsuccessfully urged law enforcement to enter the building during this time and confront the shooter.”
Castro pointed specifically to officials’ divergent, muddled, and fast-changing narratives on “whether the school security officer and the gunman exchanged fire outside the school” and “how long law enforcement officers were in adjoining classrooms while the gunman barricaded himself in a classroom with students and teachers.”
Shortly following Tuesday’s shooting—during which a gunman identified as Salvador Ramos killed 19 children and two teachers—a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) claimed that a school police officer exchanged gunfire with Ramos before the shooter entered the building through an unlocked door.
The director of DPS later altered that account, saying a school police officer “engaged” Ramos but there was no gunfire exchange.
On Thursday, Victor Escalon Jr.—a regional director of DPS—said that, in fact, no officer confronted Ramos before he entered Robb Elementary School and killed more than 20 people.
Escalon also revealed during a press conference Thursday that the gunman—who crashed his grandmother’s vehicle in a nearby ditch—was outside the school for roughly 12 minutes, firing shots at passersby, before he entered the building, an account that conflicted with earlier statements from local authorities.
The gunman was inside the school building for about an hour before a Border Patrol agent shot and killed him.
In his letter on Thursday, Castro noted that “a block of time between 11:30 am and 1 pm local time has yet to be fully accounted for.”
“Onlookers allege that parents unsuccessfully urged law enforcement to enter the building during this time and confront the shooter,” Castro wrote. “I urge the FBI to use its maximum authority to thoroughly examine the timeline of events and the law enforcement response and to produce a full, timely, and transparent report on your findings.”
“Your agency must ensure that the American people have a complete and comprehensive account of how this tragedy occurred,” he added.
State authorities have provided the public with conflicting accounts of how the tragedy in Uvalde unfolded. I’m calling on the @FBI to use their maximum authority to investigate and provide a full report on the timeline, the law enforcement response and how 21 Texans were killed.— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) May 26, 2022
It’s hardly surprising that the details of such a chaotic and horrific incident would come into clearer focus in subsequent days, but the deep contradictions and false messages from state officials have been jarring, particularly to grieving parents who were on the scene as the massacre unfolded.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that “people who arrived at the school while Ramos locked himself in a classroom, or saw videos of police waiting outside, were furious.”
“The police were doing nothing,” Angeli Rose Gomez, a parent of two children at Robb Elementary School, told thenewspaper. “They were just standing outside the fence. They weren’t going in there or running anywhere.”
The Journal reported that Gomez “was one of numerous parents who began encouraging—first politely, and then with more urgency—police and other law enforcement to enter the school sooner.”
“After a few minutes, she said, U.S. Marshals put her in handcuffs, telling her she was being arrested for intervening in an active investigation,” according to the Journal. “She said she saw a father tackled and thrown to the ground by police and a third pepper-sprayed. Once freed from her cuffs, Ms. Gomez made her distance from the crowd, jumped the school fence, and ran inside to grab her two children. She sprinted out of the school with them.”
During a briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre didn’t provide a clear answer when asked whether President Joe Biden would support an investigation into law enforcement’s conduct during the Uvalde massacre.
“I know that right now authorities are working to piece together more details of what happened in Uvalde, so we won’t prejudge the results from here at this time,” Jean-Pierre said. “It is always a good idea to look back and try to find any lessons we can learn, especially from tragedies like this, so that we can prevent them from moving forward, including law enforcement response.”
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