UVALDE, TEXAS–As families in this rural town prepare to bury the 19 children and two adults gunned down in a brutal school massacre this week, they are left shell-shocked by not only the devastation the gunman wrought, but by the revelation that, as they see it, those who were sworn to protect and serve them did just the opposite.
“While those babies were in there dying, they stood there with their thumbs in their asses trying to figure out what to do,” said Roger Garza, a friend of the family of teacher Irma Garcia, who was killed by the gunman as she tried to shield her fourth-grade students.
“I mean don’t we pay them to rush in and protect people? Somebody needs to be held accountable for this,” Garza told The Daily Beast.
Tragically, Irma’s husband, Joe Garcia, died of a heart attack a day after the shooting. Garza, who worked with Joe Garcia, believes Joe died of a broken heart, as does the rest of the family.
“I went to mass with Joe and Irma every single Sunday and they made me a better person,” Garza said. “Peter needs to answer for his actions and show up and talk to us,” he said, referring to Peter Arradondo, the chief of the Uvalde Consolidated ISD Police Department who was the initial incident commander on Tuesday as the murders were taking place. The Daily Beast has made numerous attempts to contact Arradondo but have been unable to reach him. Neither has anyone else in this community who is seeking answers.
“I know they were scared but so were those babies,” said Suzie Morales, who used to work at Robb Elementary School and knew both of the adult victims very well. “Line up and go in there and shoot the bad guy.”
Morales and Garza’s comments come after revelations Friday that even the most basic of protocols for an active shooter situation at the school wasn’t followed. The director of the Texas Department of Safety, Steven McCraw, admitted at a news conference Friday that authorities made “the wrong decision” and delayed confronting the gunman, leaving the children at his mercy for more than 40 minutes, until tactical units finally shot him. In another devastating admission, McCraw said more than a dozen police officers were actually standing in a school hallway even as desperate 911 calls were made from the besieged classroom.
“We were waiting outside and yelling about how we wanted to go in and storm the classroom,” said Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack. “I came running and the police were in a panic trying to figure out what to do. Now we know children, including my daughter, were dying in there. That is what hurts. Knowing they could have maybe protected her and those other kids.”
Cazares wants to know why they didn’t do anything; it is a question that everyone here is asking.
“While those children sat in there with this madman, as many as 19 officers had to think about what to do,” said Ignacio Perez, who was doing his best to comfort Cazares. “I promise you these parents had a plan and were ready to act on it. Where was the bravery? In those kids. That is where it was.”
Equally baffling to families is why Chief Arradondo wasn’t able to use some sort of master key to open the door of the classroom after discovering that it had been locked. McCraw told reporters on Friday that Border Patrol Agents had to secure a key from a janitor before being able to access the classrooms.
“I feel like they are setting this up to have law enforcement walk away like heroes and some of them are,” said Garza. “But the rest who didn’t do anything are nothing more than cowards. The parents were braver than that and they at least had an idea of what to do.”
Cazares wants answers and no more excuses.
“I appreciate them at least telling us what happened, knowing that it would make us even more angry,” he said. “I just want to know that my baby girl didn’t die while they stood there and did nothing. I mean nothing but think.”
“Why did they wait so long?” Cazares said. “They will get to go home to their family and mine will never come home again.”
Amid the growing outrage over the botched police response, authorities in Uvalde have reportedly called in reinforcements from around the state to protect the local officers from potential threats.
The additional cops, from various agencies in other jurisdictions, will supplement Uvalde’s ranks for an unspecified period, and will also provide security for the mayor, officials with the Texas Police Chiefs Association told CBS DFW.
In the immediate aftermath of the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary, Gov. Greg Abbott lauded the police response, insisting that officers had acted heroically and saved numerous lives. But he lashed out angrily when a different narrative later emerged, saying he was “livid” over having been “misled.” Federal agents on the scene said no one seemed to be in charge, and at one point, agonized parents waiting outside considered rushing the school themselves.
One Uvalde cop claimed there “was almost a mutiny,” telling People magazine that he and his colleagues “felt like cowards” for not storming the building earlier.
“It was the most frustrating situation of my entire career,” the unnamed officer said, adding, “It felt cowardly to stand off and let this punk, this kid, this 18-year-old asshole just go in and do whatever he wanted to do. There was a lot of arguing, a lot of cussing, a lot of people who were saying that we should just say fuck it and go in, but then what? We needed to have a plan, and the commander didn’t have a plan.”
In an interview Friday afternoon, one Robb Elementary teacher who survived the massacre told The Daily Beast that she’s focusing her blame specifically on the shooter, identified by authorities as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.
“The only person I blame is that person that came into my school and killed my friends,” Nicole Ogburn said. “That’s the only person I am going to blame, because mistakes will be made in every panic situation.”
Ogburn, who was born in Uvalde and attended Robb Elementary, as did her own two kids, said she’s feeling protective of her hometown as its police force is lambasted by the press and on social media.
“Quit bashing and putting down others, because first and foremost, they’re just trying to put blame on somebody,” Ogburn said. “And the one person I blame is that young man, and I will not say his name because he does not deserve to be remembered. And he is. He’s gonna be remembered, his name is out there, his face is out there. But I will not have his name come out of my mouth.”