As the citizens of Uvalde, Texas, bury their children, anger and confusion remain about how the horrific shooting developed at Robb Elementary School last week.
Officials at the Texas Department of Public Safety have on several occasions shifted the timeline for the mass murders and even given competing versions of events. They have also blamed other law enforcement agencies for inaction. The Washington Post this week noted at least five instances in which the authorities have been forced to revise their accounts.
The uncertainty may be understandable in the heat of the moment, especially given the trauma inflicted upon those who witnessed the unspeakable scene. But more than a week after the crime, authorities have yet to provide a consistent explanation for what took place.
The latest controversy reared its head Tuesday when a lawyer for a teacher denied DPS reports that she had propped open a door that was supposed to be locked, making it easier for the shooter to enter the building. In fact, the San Antonio Express-News noted that, “A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said surveillance video and audio verifies the employee removed the rock holding the door open and closed it.”
The conflicting stories and finger-pointing make it more difficult to sort fact from fiction and only exacerbate the pain inflicted upon those touched by this devastating event. But scrutiny on law enforcement for the apparent decision not to intervene quickly as the massacre unfolded has been rapidly rising to a crescendo. The muddling situation cries out for a federal investigation into the police response at Robb Elementary.
On Sunday, the Justice Department announced that it would conduct precisely such a probe at the request of Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin.
“The goal of the review,” noted an agency news release, “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.” The department vowed such an investigation would be “fair, transparent and independent” and include a published final report.
Sorting out the facts about the law enforcement reaction — who was in charge, who made what decision — is vital to helping police understand how best to respond during crisis. That will require asking difficult questions and holding officers accountable for their actions — or lack thereof. Nothing will bring back the victims of this deranged gunman. But determining the truth of what happened that day is a prerequisite for healing to begin.