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Uvalde mayor denies officer had sights on gunman, supports releasing video

Mayor Don McLaughlin said late Friday that he feels releasing footage from inside Robb Elementary School will give the community clarity.

By Jamie Landers

Robb Elementary School
A law enforcement officer kneels as he places flowers at a memorial outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. / Photo Credit: Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer

After the first in a series of reports examining the law enforcement response to the Robb Elementary School shooting was released, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin has denied one of its most striking findings.

But in a contradiction to statements he has previously made, the mayor said in a news release Friday night that he “overwhelmingly supports” releasing all videos related to the May 24 shooting — including a 77-minute hallway video showing the moment leading up to the breach of the classroom door.

“The video is likely to bring clarity to the public, to the families of victims and survivors,” the mayor said.

In an earlier statement, McLaughlin had called for investigators to continue keeping evidence from the public, aligning himself with the stance taken by the local district attorney, who rejected the release of video footage from the school.

The 26-page report released Wednesday by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University detailed three missed opportunities to slow — or even stop — the gunman before he entered the school, where he ultimately killed 19 students and two teachers in Texas’ deadliest school shooting.

Their findings, commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety, were based on an hourlong incident briefing held for select ALERRT staff on June 1. Briefing materials included surveillance footage from the school, Google Maps, a brief cellphone video and a question-and-answer period.

The report said a missed opportunity occurred when an Uvalde police officer aimed his rifle at the gunman before he entered the school, but waited for permission from a supervisor to open fire. The officer did not hear a response and turned to get confirmation. When he turned back, the report says, the gunman was already inside.

The report did not say why the officer felt he had to ask for permission to shoot, and instead explains he was justified in using deadly force to stop the attacker. The Texas Penal Code says an individual is justified in using deadly force when they believe it “is immediately necessary to prevent the commission of murder,” among other crimes.

In this instance, the report says, the Uvalde officer heard gunshots, or reports of them, and saw the gunman entering the school with a rifle.

“A reasonable officer would conclude in this case, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that use of deadly force was warranted,” the report says.

But McLaughlin said the report did not give a “complete and accurate” account of what happened. According to him, no Uvalde police officer saw the shooter or had an opportunity to fire at him before he entered the school.

In a written statement Friday, McLaughlin said an Uvalde officer “saw someone,” along with children outside, but was unsure of who it was. According to the statement, it was a coach with children on the playground — not the gunman.

ALERRT has not responded to the mayor’s criticism of the report.

Request for video

Before his statement late Friday, McLaughlin had said “releasing piecemeal information or anything related” to the investigation led by DPS and Texas Rangers is a “disservice” to families — adding “true facts need to come out all at once.”

On Thursday, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, wrote a letter to DPS requesting a 77-minute video shot from the school’s hallway, ending just before the classroom was breached, be made public, and asked for permission to include it in the Texas House committee’s preliminary report on the response.

Burrows said he had to ask permission to include it because of a nondisclosure agreement he signed with DPS.

In a response sent to Burrows on Friday, Freeman Martin, deputy director for DPS’ homeland security operations, said he agreed, adding the video would likely “bring clarity to the public.”

“We do not believe its public release would harm our investigative efforts,” Martin wrote. “In fact, releasing the video would assist us in providing as much transparency as possible to the public without interfering with the investigation in the manner that an immediate public release of all evidence would.”

Martin said he communicated the request to Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, who objected to its release.

“As the individual with authority to consider whether any criminal prosecution should result from the events in Uvalde, we are guided by her professional judgement regarding the potential impact of releasing the video,” Martin wrote.

The videos will likely be released Monday, ABC News reported.

DA under fire

On Wednesday, McLaughlin and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez wrote a letter calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to remove Busbee from oversight of the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center. The center was created to be a one-stop shop for victims’ families and suffering community members with services including mental health resources, assistance with insurance forms and other aid.

In a news release, Gutierrez’s office said the Texas Department of Emergency Management should take over its operation because Busbee’s office lacks resources and staff.

Busbee has been adamant about preventing the release of information from authorities. Gutierrez previously criticized Busbee after she shut down his attempts to obtain the names of the officers who waited to breach the classroom for more than 70 minutes.

In an interview with ABC News, Busbee said she has been meeting with the families of victims to update them on the investigation herself.

“We’re trying to make sure that they’re getting the resources that they need,” Busbee said.

At a City Council meeting last week, some of those families expressed frustration regarding Busbee dodging questions and refusing to release evidence, such as the footage and 911 calls.

“No one should have [that] much power,” said Velma Lisa Duran, Irma Garcia’s sister. Garcia was one of the two teachers killed in the massacre.

“Come here, show your face,” said Tina Quintanilla-Taylor, whose daughter survived the shooting. “We’re here showing our face because we lost somebody or somebody’s suffering. Enough is enough.”

Staff writer Catherine Marfin contributed to this report.

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