A year after the Uvalde massacre: Did anything change?

  • President Joe Biden, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, departs after speaking on the one year anniversary of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022 in some ways changed the conversation yet again on gun violence in the United States: 19 fourth-grade students and two teachers died in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

But what made the Uvalde attack extraordinary was not just the death toll. It was the fact that more than 370 officers from local, state and federal agencies had responded to the scene — some standing in the school hallway — but allowed the gunman to remain holed up with students inside the school for 77 minutes before storming in to kill him.


In the aftermath, that left a host of questions, not only about the laws governing access to guns but also about police training, emergency responses, school security and preparedness, and who ultimately would be held accountable for a failure that occurred on so many levels.

In the year since the attack, a number of people have resigned or lost their jobs. New laws have been debated, and some have been passed. Criminal investigations have been opened. Survivors have undergone months of physical therapy.

Those who did not survive have been buried.

Did any of it make another mass shooting less likely? In Uvalde, people have had their doubts.

“Almost a year now, and honestly nothing has changed,” Jesse Rizo, the uncle of one of the massacre victims, told the Uvalde school board in the weeks before Wednesday’s anniversary of the shooting.

The attack on May 24

The gunman climbed a low fence and entered the school through what turned out to be an unlocked door around 11:30 a.m. that Tuesday, as students in the classrooms mainly targeted, Rooms 111 and 112, were watching movies. Within minutes, several officers, including the chief of the small school police force, Pete Arredondo, arrived and followed the sounds of gunfire to the two classrooms. Two officers were grazed by bullets as they approached one of the classroom doors and pulled back.

Arredondo made the decision to treat the situation not as an active shooting but as a barricaded subject incident, and a decision was made to wait until a heavily armed tactical team from the Border Patrol arrived with better equipment to breach the classroom.

Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, immediately laid most of the blame on Arredondo for the delay, but a special Texas House committee report on the shooting found that the failure was “systemic,” noting that scores of officers were there and that they also failed to act, even as children were dialing 911 from inside the classrooms.

Would a faster police response have saved lives? There is still no clear answer to that question. The victims suffered terrible injuries and most appear to have died right away. But some died on the way to the hospital and in a final footnote in the report, the committee concluded, “It is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait” for rescue.

Several people have lost their jobs

Arredondo was among the first to go, when the school board voted unanimously in August to fire him, to the sound of cheers and claps in the packed school auditorium. Lawyers for Arredondo, who has said that officers reasonably focused on preventing the bloodshed from expanding to other classrooms, called his firing “an unconstitutional public lynching.”

The school district later dismantled its entire police force, which consisted of five officers, and is still in the process of revamping it with new hires.

The city police force did not emerge unchanged, either: The lieutenant who was in charge on May 24 while the police chief was on vacation, Mariano Pargas Jr., stepped down in mid-November after 18 years in the force.

And amid pressure from the families of the 21 victims, Hal Harrell, the school superintendent, retired in the fall. He was replaced in the interim by Gary Patterson, a former superintendent from San Antonio.

Changes in gun laws

Texas has moved to widen access to firearms in the year since the shooting.

Months before the attack, Texas lawmakers did away with permit requirements to carry handguns. After the attack, the state also effectively lowered the age required for carrying a handgun to 18 from 21, once officials stopped defending the higher age limit in court in December.

There had been slight movement in the Legislature in early May, when a bill that would have raised the age to purchase an AR-15-style rifle to 21 from 18 received a favorable vote in a House committee. The legislation would possibly have prevented the 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde from purchasing the weapon he used in the massacre.

But the bill missed a key deadline and failed to receive a vote in the full Texas House.

Elsewhere in the country, there has been a mixed record on gun control laws proposed since Uvalde, with access restricted or expanded depending on which party is in control.

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