U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday announced a new team of Justice Department officials and outside experts leading a review of the recent Texas school massacre, saying the inquiry will get to the bottom of what went wrong.
“Nothing can undo the pain that has been inflicted on the loved ones of the victims, the survivors, and the entire community of Uvalde,” Garland said. “But the Justice Department can and will use its expertise and independence to assess what happened and to provide guidance moving forward.”
The May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead and more than a dozen other people injured. It was the deadliest U.S. school shooting in nearly a decade.
Garland spoke before meeting with members of the team conducting the “critical incident review” of the police response to the mass shooting.
The inquiry will look at police actions and responses, identify lessons and best practices, and it will suggest a road map for “community safety and engagement” during such incidents, the Justice Department said in a statement.
Garland said, “We will be assessing what happened that day. We will be doing site visits at the school. We will be conducting interviews with an extremely wide variety of stakeholders: witnesses, families, law enforcement, government officials, school officials.”
The team’s findings and recommendations will be published at the end of the review, the attorney general said.
Garland said the request to conduct a review came from Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin and that the department has been promised cooperation by local and state law enforcement.
In the wake of the shooting, law enforcement has faced criticism for their slow response and for providing contradictory information about the incident.
Parents and family members gathered outside the school as the shooting unfolded and implored police officers to storm the school and take down the gunman. But the police waited outside for more than an hour before going in.
The decision not to immediately breach the classroom occupied by the gunman was made by school district police chief Pete Arredondo, who led the law enforcement response on the scene, the Texas Department of Public Safety said last week.
Arredondo reportedly treated the shooting as a “barricaded suspect” situation rather than an active shooter incident, which would have triggered immediate police action to shoot the gunman.
Garland said the Justice Department review, conducted with the support of outside experts, will be “comprehensive, it will be transparent, and it will be independent.”
The department has previously conducted similar reviews of other mass shootings, including a 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California, and the 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Among the nine outside experts aiding the investigation are several retired police chiefs who led law enforcement agencies during mass shootings.
The Uvalde school massacre was the deadliest since December 2012 when a 20-year-old gunman shot and killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Texas shooting came less than two weeks after an 18-year-old white supremacist shot and killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. The FBI is investigating that shooting as an act of racially motivated violent extremism.
Garland’s announcement came as members of Congress heard testimony from survivors and family members of the victims of the Texas shooting who called for tightening access to guns.
Garland said the Justice Department “stands ready to support the bipartisan gun safety negotiations that are going on in Congress.”