Report: Students and teachers followed protocol better than police during Uvalde school shooting

While those in the classroom stayed quiet as they had been trained to do, officers on the other side of the door were unsure of how to proceed.

By Sarah AschDecember 6, 2023 1:55 pm,

May 24, 2022: A day everyone in Uvalde and in Texas will remember. It was on that day just over 18 months ago, a shooter entered Robb Elementary School and killed 19 students and two teachers.

Much has been written about the botched police response to this tragedy. But a recently-published piece from the Texas Tribune and ProPublica includes new information about what the students were doing during the 77 minutes that police waited to confront the shooter.

Lomi Kriel, co-wrote the story and joined Texas Standard to discuss the findings. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: There’s been a lot of reporting about this shooting, obviously, in the last 18 months. Tell us a bit more about this new information.

Lomi Kriel: So we use body camera footage, including stuff that’s not been published before, as well as hundreds of interviews that officers, students and teachers gave to investigators after the shooting. And it really helped us to piece together kind of how those 77 minutes unfolded in their own words, both from the officers and the students.

And one of the most startling things we found is that the children and teachers told us and investigators that they did everything that they were taught to do in this situation, including hiding and staying quiet. And in contrast, the officers said that because the children were so quiet, they didn’t think that they were inside.

» RELATED: One year later, trust in police remains frail in Uvalde

Wow. Obviously you’re underscoring the difference in how the students responded versus how law enforcement responded. From what you can tell, did the students receive more or better training on how to act during a shooting than police did or are the students just better at following protocol? Or what conclusion can you draw from that distinction?

So we did a nationwide analysis to look at what students are taught versus what officers are taught, at least what is required of them by law. And what we found was also a startling disparity – that at least 37 states have laws mandating active shooter related drills for schools.

But in contrast, only Texas and Michigan have laws for this kind of training for officers after they graduate from the academy, which means that officers can go a long time without getting this training.

Well, then one would expect Texas police to be better trained, no?

This law only came about after the Uvalde response. Prior to this, a law only mandated eight hours for school resource officers.

» RELATED: A new state law requires schools to have armed guards. But many are having a hard time hiring officers.

Well, for those who don’t know, what is the protocol for students during an active shooter situation?

What they call generically is “Run. Hide. Fight.” But generally it’s, you know, in this situation, if you can’t escape, just hide and be as quiet as possible. Don’t identify yourself because you don’t know who’s at the door and wait to be rescued, which is what the children of Uvalde said they did.

You examined camera footage. Was it footage from inside the classroom? Am I correct? 

We looked at dozens of hours of body camera footage that the officers wore. So it’s the response outside the school and inside the wing, as they came into that wing, to reconstruct what happened with the children in the classrooms. We listened to the interviews that they themselves gave investigators and spoke to them, too.

Why hasn’t this information been released to the public before?

The state is fighting the release of barely any information in the investigation into the response, citing, in part, an ongoing criminal investigation by the Uvalde County district attorney.

We, along with other news organizations, have sued to get this information, and that’s ongoing. A judge recently ruled in our favor, but this information that we were able to obtain is incredibly expansive and includes hundreds of hours of interviews and footage, radio calls, photographs. Much more extensive.

» RELATED: Voices from Uvalde

I know that in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, there were lots of politicians coming forward saying, “we’re going to pass new laws, we’re going to take action to try to improve safety at schools.” I know that recently there was a bill designed for that very intent. What’s come of all those changes that were promised?

Texas did pass a law last session that now requires 16 hours of active shooter training for every police officer in the state. That actually makes it the state with the strongest laws requiring active shooter training for police in the country. Very few states require that by law after officers graduate from the academy.

But what about efforts to try to improve security at schools more broadly? Have those gone anywhere?

There have been some school safety improvements. After Santa Fe, that was made as well. I think the most recent bill has stalled given the status of the special session.

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