Uvalde 2 years later: Where the investigation stands

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(UVALDE, Texas.) To Veronica Mata, mother of 10-year-old Uvalde, Texas, victim Tess Marie Mata, the second year after her daughter's death feels even "more real."

"The reality is hitting that Tess is no longer here with us," she said. "She's gone and is never coming back."

In the two years since 19 students and two teachers were killed in the Robb Elementary School mass shooting, some families of the 21 victims killed continue to search for answers and seek justice.

The city of Uvalde and the federal government are among the agencies that investigated the shooting, leading to an overhaul of the city police department's policies and the implementation of training. Some families say that is not enough, demanding accountability for the first city officers to arrive on scene at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022.

"How much more can we take?" Mata said. "Our girl [was] taken in the most horrific way possible, and we just want people to understand that we are fighting for what is right. And we feel so defeated."

Here's where the investigation stands:

Among multiple agency investigations, the only open investigation is a criminal case brought by Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell. A grand jury started reviewing evidence against hundreds of officers in January.

The DA began her criminal investigation into the law enforcement failures shortly after the shooting. Mitchell said in May 2023 that she had been "optimistic" that the investigation would be completed by the one-year mark, but added that it was "not surprising" that it was still ongoing "given the magnitude of this investigation."

The investigation has since extended into 2024.

In January, the Justice Department released a scathing report after it found "critical failures" before, during and after the shooting, and major departures from established active-shooter protocols.

The school district was woefully unprepared, the report found. Most officers "lacked specialized, advanced training and preparation to handle such situations" and the school district had cultivated "a culture of complacency regarding locked-door policies" -- both of which contributed to the challenges in responding to the shooting.

The report stressed that the "most significant failure" was when the officers who arrived first on scene retreated from the classroom and treated the gunman as a barricaded subject, not an active shooter.

Officers from Uvalde police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Texas Department of Public Safety were among those who rushed to the school. But law enforcement waited some 77 minutes before breaching a classroom and killing the gunman.

The officers "should have immediately recognized the incident as an active shooter situation, using the resources and equipment that were sufficient to push forward immediately and continuously toward the threat until entry was made into classrooms 111/112 and the threat was eliminated," the report said.

During the shooting, 10-year-old Khloie Torres made several phone calls to 911, begging law enforcement through whispers to come and rescue her and her classmates.

"Please hurry, there's a lot of dead bodies," Khloie told the dispatcher. "I know how to handle these situations. My dad taught me when I was a little girl. Send help for my teachers. They're still alive, but they're shot."

After the shooting ended, investigators described a chaotic scene in which dead bodies were transported in ambulances and injured students were loaded onto buses.

"[Some] families received incorrect information suggesting their family members had survived when they had not," the Department of Justice report said. "Others were notified of the deaths of their family members by personnel untrained in delivering such news."

"The extent of misinformation, misguided and misleading narratives, leaks, and lack of communication about what happened on May 24 is unprecedented and has had an extensive, negative impact on the mental health and recovery of the family members and other victims, as well as the entire community of Uvalde," the report said.

The purpose of the Justice Department's probe was not a criminal investigation, but rather an exhaustive review of law enforcement's response at Robb Elementary. This Critical Incident Review made many recommendations in its report, including: officers should be trained on active shooter courses in one-, two-, three- and four-person groups; responders "must be prepared to approach the threat and breach or enter a room using just the tools they have with them, which is often a standard-issue firearm"; intelligence should be shared immediately with all law enforcement; if an active shooter has access to victims, they "should never be ... treated as a barricaded subject"; and each victim's family should be assigned an advocate to work with them consistently.

After the Justice Department report, the city of Uvalde immediately announced it was putting in place new training, equipment and personnel for its police force.

In March, an independent investigative report commissioned by the city of Uvalde found that none of the initial five Uvalde Police Department officers who responded to the shooting violated policy or committed serious acts of misconduct.

But the report did find many failures in the police response, including a lack of communication, a lack of records and a lack of selecting a clear leader.

The report recommended that the SWAT team in Uvalde be disbanded and for the Uvalde officers to join a regional SWAT team until they gained more experience.

Weeks after the city council report was released, the new Uvalde police chief, Homer Delgado, unveiled a plan to "overhaul" the police department, with changes including: acquiring modern equipment; prioritizing and expanding community outreach; and dedicating time and funds to new training. Delgado said he'll also hold department-wide reviews of past actions, including one-on-one interviews with every Uvalde police officer.

Gloria Cazares, whose 9-year-old daughter, Jackie, was killed, said she's not confident that any policy changes will make a difference, noting that the first officers who responded to the shooting are still employed by the department.

Veronica Mata and Gloria Cazares attended an April 23 city council meeting and pleaded with Uvalde mayor pro-tem Everardo Zamora to take action against the Uvalde police officers who responded that day.

"You are not in our shoes," Veronica Mata told Zamora. "So for you to sit here and say that you understand and that you are trying to do things, you are not. You are not. How can you sit here and look at us -- day, after day, after day -- and do nothing. Nothing to help us. Our children sat in there for 77 minutes -- and y'all did nothing and you continue to do nothing."

Based on what the Cazareses had been told about their daughter's injuries and the extent of the blood she lost, they said they believe Jackie could have survived if police hadn't waited 77 minutes to confront the shooter.

"What I want is those officers that were in the hallway, those officers that were immediately in the hallway, there has to be some kind of consequences," Cazares told ABC News. "I would like to see them lose their job."

Zamora said the Uvalde police policies were outdated and officers didn't have proper training, according to the independent investigative report commissioned by the city. The pro-tem mayor promised there'd be new training and new equipment.

This week, 19 families reached a settlement with the city of Uvalde. The city will pay out a total of $2 million from its insurance coverage.

As a part of the settlement, the families said they were involved in the efforts to improve the Uvalde Police Department. The settlement also mandates ways the city should support the community as residents heal, including creating a committee to design a permanent memorial funded by the city.

The families this week also announced lawsuits against 92 Texas Department of Public Safety officers. The lawsuit names the Uvalde School District and several of its employees as defendants, including the then-principal and then-school district police chief.

The families also plan to sue the federal government, their attorney said, noting that over 150 federal officers were at the school.

"We're fighting for the things that we believe are right and to remember our loved ones," Cazares said. "There's not a day that goes by that we don't remember them or that we don't remember what happened. And I just don't want the world to forget that, either."

Friday, May 24, 2024 at 11:03AM by Hannah Prince, Jenny Wagnon Courts, Emily Shapiro, and Ismael Estrada, ABC News Permalink