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Far more could have been done to save Uvalde massacre victims, report says

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A new report shows police officers missed several opportunities to stop the Uvalde school shooter.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Twenty-one people were killed - 19 of them children - as the armed officers at the scene failed to pull the trigger at the shooter until it was too late.

FADEL: NPR's Ashley Lopez is with us to share more of what was in this report. Good morning, Ashley.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Ashley, for weeks, community members, parents have been asking - what happened? What took so long to help these teachers and kids? So tell us who commissioned this report and why.

LOPEZ: So this is a review that was commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety soon after the shooting, largely in response to all that frustration that has been aimed at the police response that day. State officials asked the folks who run the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program at Texas State University to look into what happened from the time police first got to the school to when they finally took the shooter down well over an hour later.

FADEL: And what did it find?

LOPEZ: According to the report, there was an officer with a rifle from the Uvalde Police Department who watched the gunman walk into the school that morning. The officer apparently asked his supervisor for permission to shoot the gunman, but the supervisor either did not hear them, or they responded too late. As we know, the shooter was eventually able to slip into the school because of issues mostly with locks on some of the doors in the school. Investigators say it's estimated that more than 100 rounds were shot in about three minutes in the two classrooms where the shooting took place. And by the time those initial rounds of gunfire ended, there were seven police officers in the school. They had body armor on, and they had rifles and pistols. Investigators also found that, in less than 20 minutes, law enforcement from at least seven different agencies were on the ground as well.

FADEL: Wow. So many resources - somebody spotting him before he even got into the school that was armed and might have been able to intercept - why did it take so long?

LOPEZ: Right. So investigators say there were multiple mistakes made by police. For one, they say any reasonable police officer would have found reason to engage the shooter as he approached the school with or without a go-ahead from a supervisor.

FADEL: Right.

LOPEZ: Another big mistake, experts say, is that police lost momentum when they got to those classrooms that were under fire. They say, when gunfire started up again, two teams of officers who were near the classrooms actually retreated from the doors when they were being shot at. Experts say, in a situation like this, ideally, officers would have gone in there and then returned fire on the attacker. Investigators say it should have been their first priority to save the lives of any victims or potential victims, even at risk to their own lives. CNN recently aired an interview with Arnie Reyes, who was a teacher in the classroom where all the students died. When asked, he said he felt like law enforcement forgot about them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARNIE REYES: (Crying) If they would have gotten in before, some of them probably would have made it.

LOPEZ: Investigators wrote that police early on had all the resources, guns and manpower they needed. They wrote they believed the door to the first classroom was actually unlocked that whole time, but the police never checked.

FADEL: Wow. So what did investigators have to say about what Arnie Reyes said? Did these mistakes actually cost lives that day?

LOPEZ: You know, this is kind of an impossible question to answer definitively. But investigators wrote that, if some things had happened differently, the shooter could have been taken down earlier, and some victims might have been able to get medical care sooner. According to the report, dispatchers received numerous 911 calls from a child in one of those classrooms. The child said a lot of children and a teacher had died, but they also said there were still a lot of people alive.

FADEL: NPR's Ashley Lopez. Thank you for your reporting.

LOPEZ: Yeah, thank you, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.
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