One year ago today. It started as a regular school day at Robb Elementary, with the end-of-year awards ceremony on the calendar and summer on the horizon.
It ended with 19 students and two teachers dead, the town of Uvalde ripped apart by the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.
In the 12 months since, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents District 19, which includes Uvalde, has been working with the victims’ families to push for gun reform and other measures to keep children safe in schools.
Gutierrez said he was in Austin on the day of the shooting last year.
“I was having lunch when I got a call from an employee with the Texas Prison Systems Department of Justice. And I quickly called Steve McCraw, the head of the Department of Public Safety,” Gutierrez said. “He confirmed to me at the time what little information he knew: that one child had been shot. I thought at the moment that it was some kind of domestic violence dispute – never knowing that it was this active shooter situation. When I was done with lunch, I got on the phone again and was told that there were nine bodies by that time. And so clearly, something was wrong. And I got to San Antonio as quickly as I could so I could get over to Uvalde.”
Gutierrez said part of what makes what happened in Uvalde different from previous school shootings was the failure of law enforcement on the scene to respond appropriately.
“I think that we all know now that this was the worst law enforcement response to a school shooting in our nation’s history,” he said. “For 77 minutes those children waited. I mean, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, from communications, systems training. Really Steve McCraw and everybody else that was in charge of people there should have been held accountable in this last year. And sadly, no one has.”
Gutierrez filed a lawsuit against the Department of Public Safety to try and gain access to information about what happened at Robb Elementary that day.
“I just wanted to know how many troopers were in the hallway, along with other bits of information. And I did not get the information and lost the lawsuit,” he said. “I then signed a nondisclosure agreement with the government, at which time I was given everything – a two-terabyte hard drive with every video you could imagine. It was just horrendous to see all of the horror that was exhibited in that data.”
Gutierrez said politicians have not done nearly enough in the year since the shooting.
“A little over $1 million spent on school hardening, you know, or that’s going to be spent, is simply not good enough,” Gutierrez said. “We have over 8,300 campuses in Texas. There is simply not enough money to be able to do this the right way until we start looking at the root cause – the common denominator here – and that’s the guns. We have to do some very basic common-sense gun control measures. The fact is, the Republican-controlled Senate and House and this governor and lieutenant governor don’t want to hear these things.”
The laws Gutierrez has supported this session include raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 – a bill that made it out of committee in the House before stalling. Polling shows that the majority of Texans of both parties support that measure.
“The general public understands and wants it. But the Republicans have just not wanted to go forward. We have tremendous work to do here, and we have not done it,” he said. “People are going to have to start voting out these folks that don’t have their interests at heart. And I don’t mean vote Democrat, but vote for Republicans of conscience that want to safeguard our children.”
Gutierrez said he knows some people — both in the town of Uvalde and beyond — might be tired of talking about the shooting. But he said his hope is that people would have patience with the families who are advocating for change.
“You just don’t move on from the death of a child. You just don’t,” he said. “It’s my hope that people would be patient. It’s my hope that people would be more understanding – not just in Uvalde, but across the state. These families are simply being vocal so that they can honor their children and their memories and understand that their death wasn’t in vain. They want to see change in all of Texas.”
Gutierrez said he has been struck by the dedication of the victims’ families in pushing for gun reform.
“These families who’ve been so active and sometimes I tell them they need to go home, they need to rest and they need to just, you know, take care of themselves,” he said. “And what they told me was: We can’t go home. Going home means being alone and being alone with our thoughts. And a couple mothers told me, ‘being alone is the worst of it.’ And so they need to be advocating, they need to be working so hard to try to create change.”
He added, “There’s no happy ending to this story. These children are gone forever. We have to be very cognizant and very thoughtful of this, because it could happen to any one of us. (The families) are trying to help as much as they can. Can you imagine, this horrible thing that happened in Tennessee and I had more than two people – parents from Uvalde – crying to me, telling me that they did not do enough to stop what happened in Tennessee. We’ve got lawmakers across this country that are sitting on their hands doing nothing. And victims from Uvalde, Texas, are telling me they did not do enough.”