Broken trust still felt in Uvalde as school year approaches
UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Even though Uvalde's school police chief is now gone, Mario Jimenez doesn't feel any safer about sending his 10-year-old son back to class for the first time since his teacher was shot at Robb Elementary School.
“There were a lot more officers that were there and they should take responsibility for their own actions,” Jimenez said.
The firing of embattled Uvalde school Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who for more than 70 minutes during the May 24 massacre made no attempt to confront a gunman firing an AR-15-style rifle inside a fourth grade classroom, did not satisfy or reassure many Uvalde residents nervously facing a fast approaching school year.
The restlessness illustrates the depths of the broken trust in Uvalde between residents and law enforcement more than three months after the slaying of 19 children and two teachers in one of the deadliest classroom shootings in U.S. history. The demands are constant: more firings, more security, more gun restrictions. But even then, some are unconvinced that any change is enough.
The first day of school in Uvalde is Sept. 6 and a big question is how many students will return.
Jimenez is putting his son back in the district, this time with an iPhone so he can track his location and have him phone for help if needed. His son’s teacher, Elsa Avila, was wounded in attack.
“He just runs up to her, hugs her and starts to cry because he knows that she is okay,” Jimenez said. “Everyday all he does is ask about how everybody else is doing even though his mental state is horrible.”
Ronnie Garza, a Uvalde County commissioner, has five grandkids returning to class next month — three to Uvalde schools and two to a private school. He has noticed a reluctance from parents to reenroll their children in the district and said many families are switching their children to the local private Catholic school.
Virtual schooling is another option, but a new Texas law passed during the pandemic caps the number of students who can learn at home to 10% of a district’s enrollment. The Uvalde school district has not requested a waiver, according to the Texas Education Agency.
The district is installing higher fences, more security cameras and spreading more than 30 state troopers on campuses across the small South Texas town. To some families, that provides little peace of mind; the Texas Department of Public Safety had more than 90 troopers, many heavily armed, who were at Robb Elementary as the massacre dragged on.
"They were on campus that day and they also didn’t do anything, so I don’t know how much comfort that brings to us,” said Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, was among the students killed.
She has four other children between the ages of 8 and 18, the youngest of whom was also at Robb Elementary and now may do school virtually this year.
“They failed me, they failed us. I don’t know that I will ever be the same after this as far as law enforcement," she said.
Arredondo's dismissal Wednesday followed months of pressure from Uvalde residents and investigations that revealed how nearly 400 law enforcement officers on the scene waited outside for more than an hour before they took down the 18-year-old gunman. Signs carried by parents into a heated school board meeting ahead of Arredondo's firing included one that read, “If you did not do your job, turn in your badge.”
But it is not clear whether any officers besides Arredondo will have to do so over a fumbled response that Col. Steve McCraw, the head of the state police force, has called “an abject failure.” Only one other officer, Uvalde Police Lt. Mariano Pargas — who was the city’s acting police chief on the day of massacre — is known to have been placed on leave for their actions during the shooting.
An investigation into Pargas' actions is ongoing. Texas DPS also launched an internal review over the response by its troopers after a damning report by lawmakers revealed that the lengthy inaction by law enforcement went beyond Arredondo and local police.
It is not clear when either review will finish.
“Every officer that was in there that did nothing, we are going to go after them too,” said Donna Torres, a Uvalde resident who since the shooting has demanded accountability at school board and city council meetings.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called Arredondo's dismissal “the first step for accountability.” Abbott's first comments after the shooting praised the law enforcement response but said days later he had been misled, a reversal that laid bare the conflicting and at times inaccurate statements by authorities in the days after the tragedy.
“This is a good start, but there is more work to be done," Abbott said in a statement. "There must be accountability at all levels in the response at Robb Elementary School."
Weber reported from Austin, Texas.
For more AP coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting