Every morning, Veronica Mata goes into her daughter Tess’ room to raise the blinds — even if Tess is no longer there to see the sun. Thursday, though, the ritual took on a new significance. She had at least a few more answers about Tess’ final moments.
On May 24, 2022, a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 fourth-grade children and two teachers — including Tess. The gunman remained in the school for more than an hour before police confronted and killed him. Desperate parents and family members outside the school sparred with law enforcement barricading them from reaching their loved ones, who were still attempting to call for help from inside the building. Now, nearly two years after the shooting, the Justice Department has released a report detailing the failures of law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde massacre — the findings are damning.
With the report finally out in the public eye, interest in the shooting rekindled, Mata says she gazed at the cross bearing Tess’ picture on the wall and promised she’d keep fighting. “Tess was a fighter,” she says. “These kids didn’t deserve this. They deserve to be here.”
After Attorney General Merrick Garland met with families on Wednesday evening, the report hit the general public Thursday morning. “In summary, the response to the May 24, 2022, mass casualty incident at Robb Elementary School was a failure,” the report, a copy of which was obtained by multiple outlets, says.
“The painful lessons detailed in this report are not meant to exacerbate an already tragic situation or further the pain and trauma to those directly impacted by the events on May 24 and the subsequent days, weeks and months,” but rather to provides “answers to those directly impacted, while also conveying recommendations and lessons learned to the nation,” the report says.
A separate 2022 investigation conducted by the Texas House of Representatives reached a similar conclusion, blaming “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” for the catastrophic death toll. “Law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety,” read the scathing analysis from Texas lawmakers.
Families had mixed reactions to the report — relief that they’re finally getting answers, but plenty of sorrow and anger. “There’s some vindication because now we have the Attorney General himself stating what we already knew: that law enforcement failed us on that day,” Kimberly Mata-Rubio tells Rolling Stone. The president of Lives Robbed, a nonprofit organization created by several parents of the victims, Mata-Rubio’s 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed in the massacre.
“I think it brings up mixed emotions. But anger is definitely one of the prominent ones,” she adds. “One of the failures that’s not listed in this report is the federal government’s failure to enact common-sense gun legislation.” Mata-Rubio ran for Uvalde mayor in 2023 on a gun control platform, and despite losing the election, she says she’s not done running for public office.
For Veronica Mata, the report opened old wounds — and raised her ire. “Why didn’t they go in there?” she says of law enforcement. “I want to hear from them. I want them to tell us why they made the decision that they did. And I want to I want them to admit that they were wrong.”
Mata-Rubio, like many parents, is most haunted by the answers she doesn’t have. “I don’t know how long she was alive. I don’t know if it was fast. Or if she waited and was scared,” she says of Lexi, who she says she talks to every day. “I just hope that today she is proud of the work that’s been done in her honor.”
Mata shares Mata-Rubio’s sorrow and confusion. “We don’t know if Tess was one of the first ones or if she was at the very, very end,” she says. “So it just kind of hit us in the gut. Maybe there was a possibility that she could survive. And they didn’t do all that they could.”
In the aftermath of the shooting, Uvalde Police released conflicting accounts of what exactly had transpired within the school in the 77 minutes between the time the shooting started and the moment they were finally able to neutralize the shooter. On July 12, 2022, more than a month after the shooting, The Austin-American Statesman released surveillance footage from within the school which showed that officers had been in the building just three minutes after the shooting began. The gunman continued his rampage for almost 30 minutes as a group of armed officers clad in tactical gear and shields debated how to intervene.
The footage shows law enforcement sending texts and making calls, grabbing hand sanitizer from a wall-mounted dispenser, fist-bumping each other, and searching for keys to the classroom within which the shooter was barricaded. All the while children trapped inside the room alongside their dead and wounded classmates and teachers continued attempting to call 911.
Uvalde Police Chief Pete Arredondo was fired from his post by a unanimous vote of the Uvalde School Board in August of 2022. In October of the same year, the entire Uvalde CISD Police Department was suspended.
Following the shooting, Robb Elementary School was permanently closed. In June 2022, the city announced to demolish the building. “You can never ask a child to go back or a teacher to go back in that school ever,” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said of the decision.
While the building may one day disappear, the pain felt by the families who lost their children and loved ones, and the devastation wrought upon their community, continues to linger.
As for what families hope comes out of the report, Mata-Rubio wants accountability: “I hope local officials read the report and think about the recommendations and then take action, whether that’s terminating the officers that are at fault, or criminal prosecution, or changing policies to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“I don’t think any answers that they give us are ever going to heal us,” Mata says. “We can never really move on from this. We don’t have that member of our family here with us anymore.”
This article was updated on Jan. 18 at 5:00 p.m. ET to include comments from family members of the victims.
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