365 Days After the Uvalde Bloodletting: Little Has Changed
In the wake of the devastating tragedy that unfolded at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the nation was shaken to its core. The lives of 19 innocent students and two teachers were tragically cut short in one of the most heart-wrenching school shootings in American history. But what made the Uvalde attack even more alarming was the staggering number of law enforcement officers—over 370 from various agencies—who responded to the scene, yet failed to prevent the gunman from holding students hostage for a harrowing 77 minutes.
This horrific event raised numerous pressing questions, not only about the need for stricter gun control laws, but also about the preparedness and response of the police, emergency protocols, school security measures, and the urgent matter of accountability at multiple levels.
As the one-year anniversary of the attack approached, people in Uvalde were eagerly awaiting meaningful change. Yet, to their dismay, little progress had been made. Jesse Rizo, the uncle of one of the victims, voiced his disappointment before the Uvalde school board, expressing the painful truth that almost a year had passed, and yet nothing substantial had been done to prevent another mass shooting.
The events of May 24, when the gunman entered the school through an unlocked door, while students in Rooms 111 and 112 were engrossed in movies, revealed a series of failures. Despite several officers, including the chief of the school police force, arriving promptly, they hesitated as gunshots echoed through the halls. Some officers were grazed by bullets when they approached one of the classroom doors but quickly withdrew. Instead of treating the situation as an active shooting, the chief decided to categorize it as a barricaded subject incident, opting to wait for a specialized tactical team to arrive and breach the classroom.
The blame for the delay fell primarily on the shoulders of Chief Arredondo, according to Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, a comprehensive report by a special Texas House committee investigating the shooting concluded that the failure was systemic. It highlighted the fact that numerous officers were present, yet none took decisive action, even as children desperately dialed 911 from within the classrooms. The lingering question remained: Could a swifter response have saved lives? While no definitive answer emerged, the report suggested that some victims might have survived had rescue efforts not been delayed.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, several individuals faced consequences for their actions—or lack thereof. Chief Arredondo was swiftly fired by the school board, met with resounding applause in the packed auditorium. He protested his dismissal, claiming that officers were reasonably focused on preventing the escalation of violence to other classrooms. The school district went even further, dismantling its entire police force, comprised of five officers, and embarked on the arduous task of rebuilding it with new hires. The city police force also saw a change in leadership, as Lieutenant Mariano Pargas Jr., who had been in charge during the shooting, resigned after 18 years of service.
Under mounting pressure from the families of the victims, Hal Harrell, the school superintendent, retired. He was succeeded on an interim basis by Gary Patterson, a former superintendent from San Antonio. Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Public Safety initiated efforts to remove two of the seven officers who were under investigation for their role in the response.
Christina Mitchell, the local district attorney, continued her investigation into possible criminal charges against the police responders. She vowed to present any evidence of wrongdoing to a grand jury, but a decision was not expected for months. Additionally, the Justice Department and the City of Uvalde initiated their own investigations, hiring an independent investigator to ensure a thorough examination of the events.
Mayor Don McLaughlin of Uvalde insisted that everyone present on that fateful day must be held accountable for their actions. However, while these inquiries proceeded, no immediate changes were made to police training in Texas. Last year, the state public safety director, Mr. McCraw, promised to provide proper training and guidelines to address poor command decisions during active shooter situations, but no new training programs had been implemented based on this directive. Instead, the focus had shifted towards enhancing safety precautions and acquiring better equipment. Local police in Uvalde received additional ballistic shields, helmets, and tools for breaching barricaded doors. Schools in the district also implemented security enhancements such as taller fences, door sensors, and increased surveillance.
The physical remnants of the tragedy were a constant reminder of the lives lost. Robb Elementary School, now enclosed by chain-link fencing and boarded-up windows, was scheduled for demolition once the pending investigations and lawsuits concluded. However, the district attorney and many of the victims’ families, eager to preserve evidence from the crime scene, took legal action to halt the demolition. Plans for a permanent memorial were being discussed, but no decisions had been made regarding its form or location. In the meantime, a new elementary school was to be built three miles away, set to open its doors in 2024. The design of the new campus would pay homage to Uvalde’s rich Hispanic culture, incorporating the vibrant colors of papel picado, a traditional Mexican folk art.
In the realm of gun laws, Texas had taken steps to expand firearm accessibility in the year following the shooting. Permit requirements for carrying handguns were abolished, and the age for carrying a handgun was effectively lowered to 18 from 21. Legislation aimed at raising the age to purchase AR-15-style rifles to 21 did receive some favorable support in a House committee but ultimately failed to pass.
Across the country, the response to gun control laws varied depending on the political landscape. States such as Washington, where Democrats held power, joined efforts to restrict the distribution of powerful rifles commonly used in mass shootings. However, Republicans in several states introduced legislation to expand concealed carry rights and eliminate gun-free zones.
Last summer, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill reinstating a federal ban on assault weapons, but its progress in the Senate stalled. Congress did manage to pass a federal gun bill that enhanced background checks, allowed law enforcement agencies to access juvenile records, allocated funding for mental health crisis intervention, and facilitated the implementation of red flag laws. President Biden signed the bill into law, providing a glimmer of hope for gun violence activists, including the Uvalde families, who pledged to continue their fight for a total ban on assault weapons.
In Uvalde, the wounds inflicted by the tragic events of May 24 were still raw, and the promised changes felt distant and insufficient. The road to healing, accountability, and effective gun control seemed arduous, but the passionate voices of the Uvalde community refused to be silenced. They stood united, demanding that their pain be acknowledged, their loved ones remembered, and the necessary measures taken to prevent such heartbreak from recurring.