Some Uvalde families await conclusion of district attorney’s investigation a year after shooting
Written by ABC Audio ALL RIGHTS RESERVED on May 25, 2023
(UVALDE, Texas) — A year after the shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 21 people dead, some families in Uvalde, Texas, are troubled that the authorities still have not finished investigating the events of that day, including the botched police response.
“We feel there’s no justice for the fallen 21 — accountability,” said Jessica Orona, whose 10-year-old son, Noah, was shot but survived the attack. “I think that’s what hurts the most.”
Local District Attorney Christina Mitchell said she is still waiting on an investigative report from the Texas Department of Public Safety before presenting the case to a grand jury. In a statement released Wednesday, Mitchell said she had been “optimistic” that the investigation would be completed by the one-year mark, but it is “not surprising” that it’s still ongoing due to its magnitude.
“Ultimately what we want is to know who was there, where they were, and what they were doing,” said Assistant District Attorney Scott Durfee. “And then the grand jury will make the final decision as to what crimes have been committed and whether indictments should ensue.”
In total, 376 officers responded to the elementary school that day from 23 departments. Uvalde Police Chief Danny Rodriguez was on vacation that day, but he says that responding law enforcement, which included 25 of his officers, failed. His department is conducting its own administrative review, but he does not know when that will be complete.
“I think there was maybe a mixture of things that– that occurred that day. Maybe there was too many different agencies– too many leaders from different various agencies,” said Rodriguez.
Body and hallway cameras obtained by ABC News show that top police officials, including Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde schools police chief at the time, and Mariano Pargas, the city’s acting police chief, arrived on the scene while the gunman continued to shoot.
Instead of engaging the gunman in the classroom, video shows law enforcement retreating back down the hallways. Investigators tell ABC News that, though there were many mistakes that day, these early moments are the focus of the scrutiny.
Despite phone calls from two students inside the classroom begging dispatchers for help and explaining that there were victims shot but still alive, police waited in the hallway for a specialized border patrol team to arrive.
Dispatch audio shows that Pargas knew about those 911 calls from inside more than 30 minutes before going in to rescue the students.
“An abject failure is being kind,” said Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Steve McCraw, whose own department had 91 officers on scene that day. Since the shooting, one DPS officer has been fired, another has resigned, and a third is appealing dismissal.
Whether that “abject failure” will be charged as a crime will be up to the grand jury, which has yet to be convened.
Arredondo has repeatedly defended his actions, saying he thought the gunman was “cornered.” He was fired by the school district and has not responded to ABC News requests for an interview.
Pargas retired from the police department after officials said they would move to fire him. He is seeking to have his retirement status changed to “honorable” and told ABC News he could not do an interview while the investigation is ongoing.
Uvalde:365 is a continuing ABC News series reported from Uvalde and focused on the Texas community and how it forges on in the shadow of tragedy.
Pargas’ former boss, Chief Rodriguez, is waiting for that administrative review to be complete before making any policy changes to the Uvalde Police Department. While the investigation is ongoing, he says the morale amongst his officers varies.
“The morale, it’s a roller-coaster,” said Rodriguez. “what they went through — it’s going to affect them for the rest of their lives. There’s no doubt about that.”
But the parents of some of the students who were also there that day, like Jessica and Oscar Orona, continue to wait for officials to be held responsible for the botched response.
“The atrocity that he not only experienced, but the length of time that he had to sit there amongst all of that you know, devastation,” said Oscar Orona, of his son. “The thought of him having to go through that, it just haunts me and haunts us.”
Since the shooting, six officers have left the Uvalde police force. Most of them were not on scene the day of the shooting, said Rodriguez, but the national and local criticism of the police response was overwhelming. A year after Uvalde’s worst day, Rodriguez is faced with leading the department forward.
“We have to gain that community’s trust, the way it was on May 23rd,” said Rodriguez. “And we’ll do it. We’re going to do it. And and I’m going to be right there with my officers doing it. it’s a group effort. And we all have to do this together.”
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