UVALDE, Texas — The teacher who police said left a door propped open minutes before a gunman entered Robb Elementary School and murdered 19 children and two teachers had actually closed the door, though it did not lock, state authorities now say.
The new development adds to a list of revised accounts from authorities of the May 24 school shooting, including the amount of time before law enforcement officials entered the classrooms where the gunman was shooting and details about officers’ interactions with the gunman.
State police initially said the teacher, who has not been identified, propped the door open with a rock and did not remove it before the gunman entered.
“We did verify she closed the door. The door did not lock. We know that much and now investigators are looking into why it did not lock,” Travis Considine, chief communications officer for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, volunteers have flooded into Uvalde from around Texas to help as the first funerals began Tuesday for the students and teachers killed last week, including funeral directors, therapy dogs, florists and others.
The first two funerals were set for Tuesday afternoon and evening, following visitations on Monday at the town’s two funeral homes where Amerie Jo Garza, 10, and Maite Rodríguez, 10, will be laid to rest. Amerie Jo Garza, 10, was remembered as an “outgoing and funny” child who “wanted to help everyone else out,” and Maite Rodríguez, 10, was described as “smart, bright, beautiful, happy” and dreamed of being a marine biologist.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also issued a disaster declaration on Tuesday, which his office said would “accelerate all available state and local resources to assist the Uvalde community, as well as suspend regulations that would prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the aftermath of the tragic shooting.”
Uvalde school district police department chief Pete Arredondo has not responded to the Texas Rangers in two days for a follow-up interview from his initial statement immediately after the mass shooting, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman told the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network, on Tuesday.
“Uvalde and Uvalde CISD departments have been cooperating with investigators,” Texas DPS spokesperson Travis Considine said. “The chief of the CISD did an initial interview but has not responded to a request for a follow-up interview that was made two days ago.”
The Rangers are investigating the law enforcement response to the shooting, which did not appear to follow standard police procedures for an active shooter.
“With the benefit of hindsight, from where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said.
‘IT WAS THE WRONG DECISION’:For 79 minutes, police failed to act as children died at Uvalde school
— Megan Menchaca and Tony Plohetski, Austin American-Statesman
The gunman who was killed in the Uvalde massacre bought two AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles days after his 18th birthday. A House bill being voted on this week would have prevented the sale by barring anyone under 21 from purchasing that type of firearm nationwide.
The proposal to raise the minimum age for a semi-automatic rifle is part of a larger gun-control package the House Judiciary Committee is expected to pass Thursday. The bill also includes efforts to limit third-party sales of guns and to stop the distribution of untraceable firearms.
The Democratic-led effort is unlikely to pass the Senate where Republicans can block gun legislation and have indicated they will not support major gun reform. Even though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants GOP lawmakers to work with Democrats on gun measures “directly related” to the Uvalde shooting, few expect the Kentucky Republican to back a raise in the minimum age.
Increasing the minimum age — a move widely opposed by gun rights groups — would mark a significant victory for gun control activists. But there would be legal hurdles: A U.S. appeals court ruled earlier in May that California’s ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21 is unconstitutional.
CALLS FOR GUN REFORM FOLLOW EVERY SCHOOL SHOOTING:Here’s what they’ve led to
— Merdie Nzanga and Ledyard King
Agony. Anger. Confusion. Shock.
The people of Uvalde came to the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center in all emotional states in the days after the Robb Elementary School shooting. In this small city, almost everyone knows, has heard of or is related to at least one of the murdered 19 children and two adults.
The mourners came to the civic center for counseling and comfort. Hazel was waiting for them.
This is the 5-year-old French bulldog’s job – to be there for those in trauma. To let them cry into her soft tan fur or kiss her smooshy black face. To make them giggle with her silly snorts and snuffles. To let a stranger’s hand simply rest on her thick neck.
“She’s been such a blessing,” said Hazel’s handler, Sara Morgan. “She was born to be a therapy dog.” Read more here.
‘YOU’RE GOING TO FEEL SOMETIMES… NUMB’:Mourners flock to Uvalde Town Square, vigils
— Andrea Ball, USA TODAY
The National Rifle Association is accustomed to drawing national attention amid calls for gun-safety legislation following mass shootings. But a handful of other gun-rights groups also hold significant sway in the nation’s capital, where they fork over millions to lobbyists each year to help persuade legislators and policymakers to take their side on issues they care about.
Gun-rights advocacy organizations spent a record $15.8 million on lobbying last year, according to an analysis by Open Secrets, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks lobbying and campaign contributions. Since 1998, the industry has spent nearly $200 million on federal lobbying.
The top spender last year was not the NRA, which held its annual convention over the weekend. That spot went to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which paid lobbyists $5 million in 2021. Read more here.
— Donovan Slack and Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo, who led the law enforcement response to the mass shooting, was set to be sworn in as a newly elected city council member Tuesday, but Mayor Don McLaughlin said Monday that would not happen.
“Our focus on Tuesday is on our families who lost loved ones,” McLaughlin said in a statement Monday provided to USA TODAY. “We begin burying our children tomorrow, the innocent victims of last week’s murders at Robb Elementary School.”
It was not immediately clear if Arredondo would be sworn in at a later time or if it would be done privately. He was one of three council members scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday.
“Pete Arredondo was duly elected to the City Council,” McLaughlin said. “There is nothing in the City Charter, Election Code, or Texas Constitution that prohibits him from taking the oath of office. To our knowledge, we are currently not aware of any investigation of Mr. Arredondo.”
At a stunning news conference Friday, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Steven McCraw said not confronting the gunman after two officers received grazing wounds following an initial encounter was “the wrong decision.”
“Clearly there were kids in the room. Clearly they were at risk,” McCraw said.
UNIMAGINABLE LOSS:A look at the 19 children and two teachers who were killed
At Monday’s visitation for Amerie, mourners wore shades of purple, her favorite color, at the request of her stepfather, Angel Garza. At Maite’s visitation, family wore green tie-dye shirts with an illustration showing the 10-year-old with angel wings.
A dozen funerals are planned this week for those killed in the shooting, 11 for students and one for teacher Irma Garcia. In total, the gunman killed 21 people.
Over Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of Uvalde residents and visitors from surrounding communities cycled through the Uvalde Town Square in the majority Latino community of 16,000 about 75 miles west of San Antonio. Churches from Uvalde and neighboring cities organized prayer vigils at the square.
Visitors wore maroon and blue shirts emblazoned with Uvalde Strong or the Uvalde High School Coyotes mascot and wiped away tears as they embraced each other and paid their respects.
THEY SURVIVED SHOOTINGS:Now their own kids are in classrooms amid rising epidemic
Dan Hinojosa, pit master and owner of Harris County General Store Barbecue Company, on Monday said he drove down early to set up a food tent near one of the funeral homes and town square.
“My heart goes out to the community and we are just out here trying to spread love,” Hinojosa said.
Other community members put together car washes and plate sales to help raise money for families. On the roads around the elementary school, residents were handing out cold water and teddy bears to visitors. Support from across the country resulted in millions of dollars raised on GoFundMe.
“The pain is palpable,” President Joe Biden said Monday after a trip to Uvalde where he met with families of the victims.
Biden said he plans to continue to push for gun safety regulations, as a bipartisan group of about 10 senators have met to discuss possible legislation.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also said last week he wanted Republican lawmakers to work with Democrats on legislation “directly related” to the Uvalde shooting.
The three topics they discussed included background checks for guns purchased online or at gun shows, red flag laws designed to keep guns away from those who could harm themselves or others and programs to bolster security at schools and other buildings.
The gunman in the Uvalde shooting legally purchased two rifles after his 18th birthday, police said. He was armed with more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and more than 140 spent cartridges were found inside the school, according to law enforcement.
Contributing: Rafael Carranza and Donovan Slack, USA TODAY; Niki Griswold, The Austin-American Statesman; The Associated Press