AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas House Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary shooting discussed policy responses relating to school security, law enforcement training, handling of public information, and early threat intervention in a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival on Friday.
State representatives Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) and Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman identified these priorities after their July investigative report revealed systemic failures on behalf of law enforcement and school administrators during the May shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers.
“The state takes some of the blame in not foreseeing this better and having policies trying to prevent it,” Burrows said. “There is no simple solution. No one thing that would have done it. We went through this in 2018, coming up with plans after the Santa Fe shooting. Those systems failed.”
“It is human nature for us to find a simple answer to something. That is not reality,” Moody said. “These are not things that just existed and are problems in Uvalde. These are things that exist across systems. You need to touch on all of this stuff as we move forward.”
The committee alluded to the need for improved security of school campuses, such as hardening entrances and ensuring compliance when staffers are required to lock doors.
“The big takeaway is the morning of the attack, the people of Uvalde believed they were safe. Those families took their children to that school and trusted they would be returned safely. We found systemic failures at all levels,” Burrows said.
At an earlier panel at the Texas Tribune Festival, Rep. Burrows said he will work to place armed security personnel on every school campus.
After a botched response from dozens of law enforcement agencies left children dead and dying while 376 officers waited more than an hour to confront the attacker, state leaders said they will review training and procedural requirements.
Rep. Moody said the public can likely expect a more detailed timeline that outlines the actions of every individual officer on that day.
Investigations into the shooting continue at the state and local level. While the House committee said they cannot say for certain what the focus of those probes is, they find it likely they are scrutinizing the police response.
“There’s only so much you can investigate here. The suspect was acting alone. He is deceased. The process of elimination tells me they are looking at law enforcement activity. That’s the only plausible explanation,” Moody said.
Since the committee published their report in July, the Uvalde school board has fired their police chief, Pete Arredondo. The Texas Department of Public Safety has suspended multiple troopers, and DPS Director Steve McCraw left open the possibility of more troopers losing their jobs.
The committee said the state will need to review proper protocols for handling and sharing information after the early days of the Uvalde investigation were clouded with misleading and incorrect information from officials
“There was a lot of confusion out there, a lot of misinformation,” Burrows said.
“Something needs to be done about how information was handled, because it was not handled well,” Moody said. “It contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust.”
The Texas Tribune was among several entities suing the Department of Public Safety to gain access to certain information.
The panel said they took special care to strike a difficult balance between transparency and respect for the victims.
“You have to balance that with the humanity and the dignity of those who were lost .. ultimately public information is public information, but it is not an easy balance,” Moody said.
The investigators also took issue with the way in which the hallway surveillance video was released by media outlets. They said both lawmakers and journalists should consider how they publicize attackers’ information.
Rep. Burrows said he wanted to ensure “evil” online communities do not “glorify [the attacker] the same way they did after the Columbine shooting.
“He wanted his name out there. He does not deserve that,” he said.
“History tells us that someone, somewhere, is planning,” Guzman said.
The panel agreed that the state failed to identify the attacker as a threat and should ensure troubled people like him have a better chance of receiving mental health services.
“There is no doubt we need to invest in mental health,” Burrows said. “What I don’t know as a policymaker, and I’m frustrated, is how do we get the people who knew… to say something?”
The panel did not address the prospects of a red-flag law. They were split on whether Texas should increase the age to purchase assault weapons.
The panel’s moderator, Texas Tribune’s Zach Despart, raised the argument that perhaps the response to Uvalde has focused too much on the failures of law enforcement. It is uncertain that their delayed response actually increased the death toll, he posited, and that the loss of life is instead a more direct consequence of policies on the front end of the tragedy.
“I think an important part of this conversation is guns. It’s as simple as that,” Despart said.
Rep. Moody explicitly called for the legislature to raise the age to purchase an assault weapon to 21.
“An 18-year-old was able to arm himself to the teeth in very short order… once the legal impediment of age was removed. If we walk away from the legislature not addressing that issue, then we have failed not only the people of Uvalde but the people of Texas.”
Justice Guzman and Rep. Burrows worried that judicial precedent and constitutional requirements preclude that policy possibility.
“I don’t see how you could do that. I understand where people are in Uvalde – I will say that one person’s voice probably doesn’t reflect the entire community’s,” Burrows said, alluding to demands to raise the purchase age from some victims’ families. “We have made a decision that the age of majority at which your rights vest is 18 – I don’t see how the courts or us can discriminate between the ages of 18 and 21. I know that might not be the popular sentiment.”
Rep. Burrows cited recent court cases that struck down provisions limiting the rights to carry firearms to those 21 and over.
“Drinking is a privilege. Constitutional rights are different,” he said.
The Texas Legislature was set to reconvene for the 88th legislative session in January.
“What I want everybody to do is reject the idea that this is the status quo,” Moody said. “We have to be better than that. We shouldn’t accept the fact that this will happen again.”