House panel collects testimony on Uvalde school massacre


UVALDEIn just 24 hours, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin Jr. went from being under secret interrogation by a Texas House committee to being the target of an emotional outpouring of grief and anger at a council meeting. city ​​on Thursday.

After appearing at the closed hearing into the May 24 mass shooting here, with invite-only witnesses including school and city officials and law enforcement, the mayor had counted himself among the locals angry and irritated by the pace and direction of various investigations.

Then, during a free 90-minute session, some of those residents got angry with him, other council members, and city lawyers. Council members, who were warned not to comment publicly on the shooting, sat back and endured the public’s rage and did not try to limit it.

“These children have been devastated. My sister was devastated. It was a closed casket. I couldn’t hug her,” Velma Lisa Duran, 50, of San Antonio told council, referring to Irma Linda Garcia, a teacher killed at Robb Elementary School. “You sit here and say, ‘I don’t know. I have no control’… Enough is enough. It’s ridiculous. It’s scary to be a teacher now. Now they want to arm the teachers. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You must do something!

“You have blood on your hands because you didn’t do anything,” she said. “There are body cameras, there is surveillance, there is audio, there are surviving children, there is a surviving teacher. You have facts!

Tina Quintanilla Taylor, 41, whose daughter was at school that day but was not injured, said families were going to have “a million excuses about why we can’t answer questions, why we can’t provide that, why we can’t provide that.

“But what we need here is to know that you all have your back, because you know, right now we don’t feel like any of you – I mean, it’s scary. C It’s scary to be on this side,” she said.

The council heard a similar outpouring last week, but Thursday’s crowd was even louder.

McLaughlin himself was a vocal critic of the various investigations into what police were doing as 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School. He complained, along with anguished citizens, about the lack of answers.

In an interview after testifying, McLaughlin said he was angry that school district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo – who also serves on city council – was in the spotlight for his role in the response. At the shooting, no other police agency was forced to explain his actions that day.

He said Texas Rangers and Department of Public Safety soldiers, U.S. Marshals, U.S. Border Patrol agents, Uvalde and school district police and an investigator from the District Attorney’s Office were waiting outside. outside the classroom that the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, shared with the dead and dying. more than an hour before being killed.

“I think nine different agencies were in that hallway,” McLaughlin said. “You never hear of them.”

The embattled Arredondo did not attend Thursday’s special meeting of the Uvalde city council. The board recently rejected Arredondo’s leave request and could replace him if he misses another meeting.

Council members spent two hours behind closed doors discussing with attorneys what they could do, only to walk outside to meet the crowd with nothing to share, McLaughlin said.

“We’re not trying to hide anything from you, we’re not trying to do that. We have nothing. The DPS tied our hands,” he said.

Berlinda Arreola, grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old girl who was shot at school, asked the council where people can get information if not from the city.

“I understand you’re not getting the information we want, and you’ve all made that very clear, so where’s our next step? Because if we’re not getting it from you, we need to know where we need to go. go and we have to go knock on the next door,” said Arreola, 49.

“Again, you are all in the same boat as us, but we are looking for answers that nobody seems to get and that only makes Uvalde PD and everyone else even more guilty,” she added.

“I agree,” McLaughlin said, telling the crowd moments later that House investigators had sworn to release their report even though it contained different findings than the DPS.

“Of course they will tell you,” Arreola replied. “We are already at the point where we don’t believe anything anyone has said because from day one everyone has been lying. … Everyone in this room has been lied to more than once.

The House Investigating Committee into the Robb Elementary shooting heard testimony Thursday from Becky Reinhardt, vice-principal at Uvalde High School; Luke Williams and Richard Wolf, both of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and Johnny Field, a constable.

Media were ordered out of the building mid-morning by city fire marshal Juan Hernandez, who said the committee did not want reporters “hanging around” nearby, although the hotel de ville remained open for public business.

Stephen Willeford, the man who shot the Sutherland Springs mass shooter after 26 people were killed at the Baptist Church there in 2017, added a sideshow to the proceedings, and who became the the country’s best-known example of the “good guy with a gun”. public safety theory promoted by gun advocates.

Willeford said he was not asked to testify but would “love to talk to the committee.”

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan established the panel in early June to investigate the Uvalde massacre. She has so far met with around fifty witnesses.

Its members, Representatives Dustin Burrows and Joe Moody, and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, will issue their findings “as soon as possible to help inform the work of the House,” Phelan’s office said.

Information about the shooting and the police response — at times incorrect and contradictory — has leaked from Austin and Uvalde, frustrating local residents and family members of the victims.

Much of the blame for the death toll was placed on Arredondo, who served as the incident commander at the scene. Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell placed him on administrative leave a day after Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called police efforts at the school of “dismal failure and contrary to everything we have learned over the past two decades.”

McLaughlin said he had only spoken with Arredondo once in the past few weeks and asked him on June 20 if he intended to stay on the board or step down, but did not get it. Answer.

“I heard indirectly that he was considering resigning,” McLaughlin said, adding that someone who knows him “says it’s something he thinks very highly of.”

Burrows, chairman of the House committee, is a lawyer and businessman in Lubbock. Moody is from El Paso, where a far-right gunman killed 23 people and injured 23 others at a Walmart in 2019.

“Starting my third trip to #Uvalde in as many weeks,” Moody, the lone Democrat on the panel, wrote on Twitter. “I bring with me the same rosary that I wore on 03/08/19 at #ElPaso. I have faith and I continue to pray for peace and healing for this community, but I know that work perfects faith. We have a lot of work to do. #txlege

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