One year on from the Uvaldi massacre: Has anything changed?

The shooting at Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May changed the conversation about gun violence in America again in a way: 19 fourth graders and two teachers in deadliest school shooting in U.S. history killed in one of the incidents.

But it wasn’t just the death toll that made Uvaldi’s attack extraordinary. In fact, more than 370 officials from local, state and federal agencies responded to the scene — some of them standing in the school hallway — but allowed the gunman to hide with students inside the school for 77 minutes before storming into the killing area. he.

In hindsight, that leaves many questions, not just about the laws governing gun access, but also about police training, emergency response, school safety and preparedness, and ultimately who will be held accountable for failures that occur on so many levels.

In the year since the attack, many have resigned or lost their jobs. New laws have been debated and some have been passed. A criminal investigation has been launched.survivors have After several months of physical therapy.

those who did not survive has been buried.

Did it reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting? In Uvaldi, there were doubts.

“It’s been almost a year, and honestly, nothing has changed,” said Jesse Rizo, the uncle of a massacre victim. Tell the Uvalde School Board Weeks before the anniversary of Wednesday’s shooting.

Students in classrooms 111 and 112, the main target, were watching a movie when the gunman climbed over a low fence and entered the school through an unlocked door at around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Within minutes, several officers, including Small School Police Chief Pete Arredondo, arrived and followed the shots to two classrooms. Two officers were grazed by bullets as they approached one of the classroom doors and backed away.

Mr. Arredondo decided not to view the situation as an active shooting, but rather as a barricade-themed incident, and decided to wait until a heavily armed tactical team from the Border Patrol arrived with better gear before breaking into the classroom.

Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, immediately put much of the blame for the delay on Mr. Arredondo, but Texas House Select Committee Report It found the failure to be “systematic” during the shooting, noting that dozens of officers were present and they failed to act, even as children called 911 in classrooms.

Would a faster police response save lives? There is still no clear answer to this question. The victims were seriously injured and most appeared to have died instantly. But some died on the way to hospital, and in the report’s final footnote, the committee concluded that some victims might have survived “if they hadn’t had to wait” for help.

Don Arredondo was one of the first to leave, when the school board votes unanimously in august He was fired, to cheers and applause in the packed school hall. Mr. Arredondo’s lawyers have said officers were justifiably focused on preventing the bloodshed from spreading to other classrooms, calling his firing an “unconstitutional public lynching.”

school district later disbanded the entire police forceconsisting of five officers, is still recruiting new staff for the renovation.

There were no changes in the city police force either: Lieutenant Mariano Pargas Jr., who was in charge on May 24 while the police chief was on leave, Retire in mid-November After 18 years in the military.

Under pressure from the families of the 21 victims, school superintendent Hal Harrell retired in the fall. During that time, he was replaced by former San Antonio executive Gary Patterson.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, a state police agency that includes the Texas Rangers, also took steps to deport at least two of the seven officers who is being investigated for their role in the response, including Sgt. Juan Maldonado and Texas Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell, though some of those investigations are still ongoing.

Local District Attorney Christina Mitchell is still investigating whether criminal charges should be filed against any of the police responders. Ms. Mitchell has said she intends to present any evidence of criminal wrongdoing to the grand jury. A decision is not expected for months.

Investigations are also ongoing by the Justice Department and the city of Uvalde, which has hired an independent investigator.

“Everyone who was there that day must take responsibility,” said Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin.

Uvalde officials’ response was widely condemned. But that didn’t immediately change the way Texas police are trained. Last July, Mr. McGraw, the State Director of Public Safety, said his agency would “Provide appropriate training and instruction to identify and overcome erroneous command decisions in active fire scenarios.”

But several policing experts said conducting such training was a challenge because rescinding the incident commander’s order went against the direction of most police departments. And the state has yet to roll out new training under last year’s directive.

At the same time, the focus has been on strengthening safety precautions and improving equipment. In Uvaldi, local police now have extra bulletproof shields and helmets, as well as new tools for breaking and entering. At Uvalde’s school, administrators installed new 8-foot-high fencing, sensors that alert staff if doors aren’t properly locked, and more security cameras to monitor all activity outside the school.

The school where the attack took place is behind a chain-link fence and its windows are boarded up, and will be demolished once litigation and pending investigations are concluded. Ms. Mitchell, the district attorney and the families of many of the victims are taking legal action to prevent the demolition of the school until evidence gathering from the crime scene is no longer necessary. Interim superintendent Mr Patterson said plans for a permanent memorial were under discussion, but no decision had yet been made on its content and location.

A new elementary school will be built three miles from the current location of Robb Elementary School. The new school, which does not yet have a name, is scheduled to open in 2024, said Eulalio Diaz Jr., a member of the advisory committee overseeing planning for the new campus. Early designs included the colors of papel picado, a traditional Mexican folk art featuring multicolored paper—a nod to the Hispanic culture that has long been a large part of Uvalde, and the family of Robb Elementary School.

Currently, students at Robb Elementary School have been dispersed to other schools.

Texas has Take action to expand access to guns In the year after shooting.

Months before the attack, Texas lawmakers Licensing requirement removed Carry a pistol.The state also effectively lowered the age to carry a handgun from 21 to 18 after the attack, once officials Stop defending higher age limits in court in December.

The legislature moved slightly in early May when it received a bill that would raise the age to buy an AR-15-style rifle from 18 to 21 voted yes in a house committee. The legislation could prevent Uvalde’s 18-year-old gunman from buying the weapons he used in the massacre.

But the bill missed a key deadline to pass unanimously in the Texas House of Representatives.

Elsewhere in the country, gun control laws proposed since Uvaldi have had a mixed record, restricting or expanding access depending on which side takes control.

Washington state, where Democrats take control of the state government, last month become at least a ninth state The concerted effort to prevent the distribution of AR-15s and other powerful rifles often used by mass shooters follows early leadership from states including California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Republicans have gone in the opposite direction, with lawmakers in several states introducing legislation to expand the ability to carry concealed weapons without a permit and eliminate things like gun-free zones.

Last summer, the U.S. House of Representatives Passed a bill to restore federal prohibition About assault weapons, but it stalled in the Senate.

Also last summer, Congress passes new federal gun bill That united an often divided legislature, buoyed by Uvaldi’s tragedy. Democrats and enough Republicans approved a measure to strengthen background checks for potential gun buyers under the age of 21, allowing law enforcement agencies to check juvenile records, including mental health records, starting at age 16. President Biden signed it into law.

The law also provides millions of dollars to states to enforce red flag laws, strengthen laws against straw-buying and gun-trafficking, and fund mental health crisis intervention.

Gun violence activists, including the Uvaldi family, said they plan to return to Washington, D.C., to lobby for a total ban on assault weapons.

J David Goodman Contribution report.

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