How Greg Abbott met the murders of 21 children and teachers in Uvalde with silence
It’s now been one year since moms and dads dropped their children off at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde for the very last time.
It’s been one year since 21 of those young students and their heroic teachers were shot dead in their classrooms.
And it’s also been one year since Texas Governor Greg Abbott began ignoring the desperate pleas for action from the victims’ families.
On 24 May 2022, 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos entered Robb Elementary School armed with a legally purchased AR-15 and murdered 19 students aged between nine and 11 years old and two teachers.
The massacre horrified the nation, marking one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.
Since then, the families have been begging Texas officials to take action and tighten the state’s gun laws – gun laws that are among the weakest in the nation.
But, for the last 12 months, it has all fallen on deaf ears.
Despite their desperate pleas, Mr Abbott refused to call a legislative session to even discuss the possibility of introducing gun safety measures all the while he continues to enjoy his longstanding, cosy relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Mr Abbott’s action – or inaction – over the mass shooting fell under scrutiny almost immediately after the 24 May tragedy.
When news of the shooting reached him in Abilene, where he was holding a press conference about wildfires, instead of rushing to Uvalde, he continued with his plans to attend a fundraiser to drum up donations for his re-election campaign.
Initially, Mr Abbott claimed that he only stopped by the campaign fundraiser in Huntsville to “let people know that I could not stay, that I needed to go”.
But this version of events fell apart two months later when campaign finance reports and flight-tracking records, obtained byThe Dallas Morning News, revealed that he actually stayed almost three hours at the event.
While devastated parents were receiving the worst possible news, Mr Abbott was raising up to $50,000 in campaign funds.
Call logs, released by state Senator Roland Gutierrez, showed that Mr Abbott only accepted three calls from Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw on 24 May, with the two men speaking for less than 30 minutes about one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history on the day of the massacre.
In the weeks after the shooting, Mr Abbott also came under fire when he was a no-show at the funerals for each of the 21 victims.
When scheduling records exposed his absence, Mr Abbott’s office responded by saying he had sent flowers and condolences to the families and had visited every family who had requested a meeting.
Then there was his change in messaging about what happened that day.
One day after the massacre, Mr Abbott gave his first public address in which he heaped praise on the “amazing courage” of law enforcement officers on the scene. He told the community that had just lost 21 members that “it could have been worse”.
“It could have been worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do,” he said.
This turned out to be false.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, it emerged that almost 400 officers waited a staggering 77 minutes before breaching the classroom as the gunman continued his murderous rampage and wounded victims bled to death.
The police response has now been branded an “abject failure,” one in which officers on the scene prioritised their own safety over saving the lives of the victims.
Mr Abbott later fumed that he had been “misled” by unidentified “public officials” before making his speech.
Three days on from the shooting, the governor spoke out again – this time giving two vastly different speeches with two dramatically conflicting messages on the topic of gun safety.
That Friday, Mr Abbott had been due to speak on stage at the NRA convention in Houston.
In light of the shooting, he pulled out of the event – but not before sending a pre-recorded video message to be played on stage.
In that speech, he undermined the importance of gun safety laws, claiming they have no impact on reducing gun violence.
“There are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the owning and using of firearms, laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people in peaceful communities,” he said.
“In Uvalde, the gunman committed a felony under Texas law before he even pulled the trigger. It’s a felony to possess a firearm on school premises. But that did not stop him.”
The message – a show of defiance that he had no plans to tighten the state’s already weak gun laws – aired at the same time as he was telling the grieving Uvalde community that he “absolutely” expected new laws to be passed in response to the tragedy.
“With regard to a special (legislative) session, let me just say this: all options are on the table,” he said.
“Do we expect laws to come out of this devastating crime? The answer is absolutely yes. And there will be laws in multiple different subject areas. There will be committees formed, there will be meetings held, there will be proposals that will be derived, many of which will lead to laws that will be passed in the state of Texas.”
Over the next year, Mr Abbott ignored ongoing requests from Uvalde officials to call a special legislative session to at least discuss the possibility of gun reform in the state.
State Representative Tracy King and Mr Gutierrez – the two Texas lawmakers who represent Uvalde – urged the governor to call the session. State Democrats said they would support proposals including raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic assault rifles from 18 to 21, creating red flag laws, introducing a 72-hour “cooling off” period for gun purchases and regulating private gun sales.
Grieving family members begged for change, calling — at the very least — for a raise in minimum age to purchase assault weapons.
Time after time, their pleas were ignored.
Instead of acknowledging that the state’s weak gun laws may have played any part in the massacre (the 18-year-old gunman legally bought two AR-15s just days after his birthday), Mr Abbott pointed the finger at mental illness and school safety and insisted that raising the minimum age to buy would be “unconstitutional”.
He claimed he took several other actions to “support the Uvalde community and make schools safer” including providing 30 law enforcement officers to the school district campuses for the new school year, $105.5m in funding for school safety and mental health services – as well as roping in Chuck Norris to front a programme to report suspicious behaviour at schools.
None of the actions involved restricting access to firearms.
Even during his race to hold onto his gubernatorial seat in the midterms, Mr Abbott refused to move the needle on the gun control debate.
Family members who lost loved ones in the Uvalde massacre threw their support behind his Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke – including featuring in a gutwrenching ad campaign.
Behind Mr Abbott, of course, was the NRA.
Data compiled by Giffords showed that Mr Abbott received $20,700 in career gun lobby contributions – one of the highest of all candidates in gubernatorial races.
His close relationship with the NRA was perhaps most evident when in June 2021 – less than one year before Uvalde – he signed a bill into law allowing Texans without a licence to open carry handguns. Standing at his shoulder at the bill signing were NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA president Carolyn Meadows.
In November, less than six months after the state endured the worst school shooting in its history, Texans chose to re-elect Mr Abbott as governor for a third term.
In the weeks and months leading up to the one-year anniversary of the Uvalde mass shooting, Texas has been rocked by several more mass shootings.
On 28 April, five people – including a nine-year-old boy – were shot dead in a horror attack at a home in Cleveland.
Days later, on 6 May, eight people were killed and seven injured when a neo-Nazi gunman went on a shooting rampage at an outlet mall in Allen.
And again, nothing changed.
Then on the one-year anniversary of the state’s worst mass shooting in history, Mr Abbott did announce some action:
A moment of silence.
Flags lowered to half staff in Texas.
But still no attempt to tackle the state’s problem with gun violence.