The state’s top Republican leaders who sped to Uvalde for a highly misleading press conference after a teenage gunman slaughtered 19 schoolchildren and two teachers probably knew within days the truth behind the greatest law enforcement failure in Texas in memory.

It’s been a truth those leaders have been in no hurry to share or even admit.

Gov. Greg Abbott used the next-day press conference to laud officers who, he said, showed “amazing courage by running toward gunfire.” Since then, of course, Abbott has said he was misled, although it has never been made clear who was churning out the false narrative in the aftermath. Uvalde locals are pointing fingers at the state, and state officials are laying the blame on locals.

Grieving families have been caught in the middle and left to wonder if a professional police response might have saved some of the slain children. Meanwhile, many Uvalde families are expressing anger with school district officials and threatening not to enroll their children when the new academic year opens next month.

The public would have to wait nearly two months for the first official evidence of the law enforcement debacle: A Texas House report released July 17 disclosed that 376 law enforcement officers from multiple state and local agencies descended on Robb Elementary School on May 24, with some officers arriving within three minutes of the first shots fired, only to wait for 73 minutes or more before a U.S. Border patrolman, among others, finally confronted the shooter barricaded in a classroom and killed him.

The report describes an almost unimaginable scene of chaos, apparent cowardice and the failure of any of the 91 officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) or Rangers to take charge over a small town police force and the on-site chief of the school district police force in order to immediately confront the shooter.

The inaction by the many DPS officers on scene is now the subject of an internal agency investigation, although DPS Director Steven McCraw admitted within days of the shooting that officers on scene failed to act to stop the killer. Video shows a significant contingent of heavily armed officers idling in a school hallway.

Law enforcement officers gather at the end of a hallway at Robb Elementary School as the attempt to stop the shooter was delayed.
Law enforcement officers gather at the end of a hallway at Robb Elementary School as the attempt to stop the shooter was delayed. Credit: Courtesy / Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District – Austin American-Statesman

McCraw has consistently blamed local officers, singling out Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo, supposedly the on-scene commander. As recently as June 21, McCraw told a Senate committee that Arredondo was to blame. He has not released the names and ranks of the DPS officers and Rangers present at the school, or explained why state law enforcement officers did not automatically assume command over an ill-equipped school police officer who arrived at the scene without a working radio.

McCraw did acknowledge that the massive failure to act has “set our profession back a decade.” In a state where police officers are routinely lauded as heroes by conservative elected officials, McCraw’s acknowledgement may be the most accurate thing he has said in the wake of the Uvalde mass shooting.

The state’s top leaders have been in no hurry to accept responsibility or to disclose the truth. State Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), who represents Uvalde and was pointedly excluded by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick from serving on a special legislative committee appointed in the wake of the Uvalde shooting, sued the state in June to gain access to unreleased public records.

While the House report documents incompetence at every level, the most disturbing takeaway for me is that the report does not recommend making it harder for young men to purchase assault weapons. Gunman Salvador Ramos used social media, text messages and emails to threaten sexual assault and violence in the year leading up to the mass shooting and tried without success to get adults to purchase firearms for him.

That kind of information, widely known among Ramos’ peers, is not surfaced in background checks that rely on the FBI’s database of convicted criminals and others excluded from legally owning firearms.

Eight of the 11 deadliest mass shootings in the United States since 2018 have been committed by men 21 or younger, including the Uvalde shooting, last Sunday’s shooting spree in an Indiana mall and the July 4th parade shooting in Highland Park, IL.

A recent bill signed into law is meant to address rising gun violence in the United States, but most Americans say more needs to be done. Here in Texas, the politicians who control state government are not listening.

In the case of the next mass shooting — yes, there will be a next one — buying an assault weapon and hundreds of rounds of ammunition will be the easy part. We are left to hope that law enforcement responds with greater courage and professionalism the next time.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.