‘Not good enough’: Uvalde victims’ families react to report on police failures

Wearing a shirt bearing his granddaughter’s name and a button with her face, Vincent Salazar arrived at the Uvalde civic center around noon Sunday to learn what a Texas legislative committee had determined about the day she died.

He didn’t expect answers to his most pressing questions, like exactly how it happened and who was accountable for not preventing the tragedy, but still wanted to be there for Layla, the 10-year-old girl who loved to swim and run and dance before the day a gunman walked into her fourth grade classroom in May.

“I feel like this every day,” the mourning Salazar said. “Every single day. The report doesn’t change anything.”

The committee had prepared a 77-page report that detailed failure after failure from the authorities during the 24 May attack. All morning on Sunday, relatives trickled in to the small south Texas city to pick up their copy.

Among those conclusions: red flags about the gunman prior to the attack went unreported or ignored by friends and family. Doors that should have been locked were unlocked. Poor wifi kept some teachers from getting emergency alerts. Officers from multiple agencies failed to confront the gunman for 73 minutes.

Relatives of victims, like Salazar, say they can’t trust the findings of investigations done behind closed doors.

The committee’s chairman, state representative and Lubbock Republican Dustin Burrows, said the report was a small step forward, a shared set of facts. There will be more reports after the deadliest school shooting in the state’s history.

“There were multiple systemic failures,” Burrows said Sunday, adding that other state house committees could do more to investigate who is to blame for some of those failures.

“That is not what we were tasked with in this report,” he said.

That lack of accountability and trust in the authorities in the town of around 16,000 people, made Salazar skeptical.

“I’ll tell you right now, it’s not the truth,” Salazar said. “It’s a joke. Texas failed those children,” he said.

While a steady stream of families came to pick up copies of the report, others from all over Texas visited the makeshift memorial outside Robb elementary school.

After two months in the heat of a brutal Texas summer, the memorial outside has started to change.

The fur on the teddy bears has become matted and gray. After weeks of 100F heat, prayer candles have melted. Hundreds of bouquets stacked up have wilted, giving a scent of dried rose petal in the dusty schoolyard.

Layers of toys, letters, hand-drawn posters and other mementos are stacked nearly 4ft high in front of 21 white crosses informally marking the killings of the 19 young children and two teachers.

Individual victims have their own references.

The pile for Annabelle Rodriguez, 10, has a straw cowboy hat and plush lamb. The one for Alithia Ramirez, 10, has a kangaroo and pink plastic flowers. That for Layla Salazar, 10, has a faded bear dressed as a bee, a pony now with matted fur and a Barbie doll half-buried under dried-up flowers. Other visible reminders of the massacre are everywhere in town.

Just past the city limits, a sign saying “Uvalde Strong” is right next to a billboard for a local gun shop.

The father and step-mother of Uziyah Sergio Garcia, a 10-year-old who died at the school, live in San Angelo, Texas, and were in town on Sunday to see a mural honoring him.

When they heard about the newly-released report, they drove to the civic center. Crystal Garcia, Uziyah’s step-mother, hoped it would provide some kind of clarity into what happened that day.

“I hope it does, I hope it does,” Garcia told the Guardian. “It’s difficult, not having the answers you want, the answers you need.”

Uziyah’s great-aunt, Grace Valencia, pulled out her phone and began to flip through photos of the young boy, saying they’d been due to go on holiday together to a popular waterpark that weekend.

At a press conference on Sunday evening, many families wanted to know why the reports authors had not laid blame. They wanted accountability. They wanted action.

But because the committee prioritized questions from the media, none of the community members at the meeting were able to ask their questions. When the committee’s press liaison ended the meeting, the room erupted in shouts and jeers.

“You kept us waiting, just like you kept those kids waiting, and you’re not going to answer our questions?” shouted Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, whose daughter survived the shooting.

“Bunch of cowards!” Daniel Meyers, a local pastor, yelled as the committee left the civic center. “The people have a right to ask questions.”

Paul Ruiz, an educator in San Antonio, said that the way the massacre has been handled is part of a long history of delegitimizing Hispanic people in this part of Texas. He pointed to lynchings and segregation efforts in the 20th century, and said continued inequities in the region are key to understanding the tragedy.

He also criticized the committee for not recommending any action on gun control in the state. “These cabrones can identify the height of the fence, but they never point to the militaristic weapon that killed 21 people,” Ruiz said, using an expletive. “This is systemic to Texas.”

Among those family members with questions was Jesse Rizo, whose brother was related to Jackie Cazares, nine, who died at the school.

“She knew me as her tío, her uncle,” Rizo said. “It’s disheartening. These families, they’re looking for closure. It’s just going to drag on.”

Even with his low expectations, Salazar said he was upset after reading it with how little the committee did to provide accountability for the massacre that killed his granddaughter.

“It didn’t tell you nothing. This whole thing is a joke,” Salazar said. “It’s not good enough for me. It’s not good enough for my granddaughter.”

The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, issued a statement on Monday saying the report’s findings are “beyond disturbing and raise serious concerns” and pledging change.