The U.S. Department of Justice has appointed a nine-member team to investigate law enforcement’s response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last month.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaking at a press conference Wednesday, revealed the team, which will be overseen by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Office.
It includes law enforcement officials who oversaw the police response to prior mass casualty attacks ― including the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida and the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting in Colorado ― as well as a traumatic stress specialist who worked with public programs following 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing.
The investigation will examine law enforcement’s response to the shooting on May 24, when an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two adults inside a classroom.
Uvalde police are facing criticism for not immediately storming the classroom where the gunman had barricaded himself in with teachers and students, and for the series of conflicting statements they gave in the aftermath of the shooting.
The new investigation, which will include interviews and site visits, is meant to figure out what actually happened ― and how a similar situation can be avoided.
“The review will be comprehensive, it will be transparent and it will be independent,” Garland said of the team’s efforts, which will conclude with a public report that will share the department’s findings and recommendations.
“Nothing that these folks can do can undo the terrible tragedy that occurred and that we are just heartbroken about,” he said. “But we can assess what happened, we can make recommendations for the future.”
President Joe Biden and Jill Biden visited Uvalde on May 29 to honor the children and adults killed there.
The same day, the Department of Justice said it would conduct a “critical incident review” to figure out why members of law enforcement waited nearly an hour in the hallway while the 18-year-old gunman opened fire in a fourth-grade Texas classroom.
“The goal of the review is to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and responses that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events,” DOJ spokesperson Anthony Coley said in a press release.
“As with prior Justice Department after-action reviews of mass shootings and other critical incidents, this assessment will be fair, transparent, and independent,” Coley stated. “The Justice Department will publish a report with its findings at the conclusion of its review.”
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin requested the review by the Justice Department.
The state’s law enforcement officials initially offered changing accounts of the response to the shooting, though Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw eventually admitted that it was a mistake to wait to confront the shooter.
McCraw told the Texas Tribune that police officers failed to act sooner to stop the gunman because “the school district’s chief of police wanted to wait for backup and equipment.”
“From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision, period. There’s no excuse for that.”