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Uvalde shooting: Victims’ families furious after independent investigator clears officers of blame

An independent investigator tasked with probing the local police response to the May 2022 school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, presented his report at a packed city council meeting Thursday, clearing all local officers of wrongdoing and sparking the fury of many victims’ families who denounced the findings and pleaded for accountability nearly two years after the attack.

The investigator, Jesse Prado, a retired Austin police detective, did not identify any officers who violated policy in his report and said they acted in good faith, whereas multiple agencies have previously agreed law enforcement botched its response to the massacre.

“You said that they did it in good faith. You call that good faith? They stood there 77 minutes and waited after they got call after call that kids were still alive in there,” said Veronica Mata, whose 10-year-old daughter Tess was killed. “We’re going to stand here and we’re going to keep fighting for our own, because nobody else is going to do it.”

Prado left immediately after presenting his findings but later returned to the meeting after parents demanded he come back.

The meeting, which opened with a prayer, devolved into anger and shouting as Prado admitted his probe found “many failures” in the law enforcement response but did not identify specific local police officers for not doing their jobs that day.

Instead, his 182-page report cleared local police of wrongdoing and said the officers acted in good faith. Among those cleared was Uvalde Police Lt. Javier Martinez – the highest-ranking police officer among those who first entered the school. Martinez rushed to the classroom but retreated after he was shot at by the gunman and injured. Staff Sgt. Eduardo Canales, the second point of contact inside the school, was also exonerated.

Kimberly Mata-Rubio speaks at a special city council meeting in Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday, March 7. - Eric Gay/AP
Kimberly Mata-Rubio speaks at a special city council meeting in Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday, March 7. - Eric Gay/AP

“I want you to think about the people that you love most in this world: your children, a spouse, a parent. You think about them huddled together in a dark room with a deranged person with an AR-15. Somebody calls 911,” Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed, told city leaders at the meeting. “Help is on the way. Are these the people that you want responding to your loved ones? Guaranteed, it’s not.”

Some members of other families left the meeting before Prado concluded his remarks. Others who spoke after Mata-Rubio were also angry and emotional after listening to the findings and vowed to continue fighting for accountability on behalf of the young children and teachers who were killed.

Council member Ernest “Chip” W. King III told residents he, too, was disappointed with the findings.

“I’ve been shaking for the last hour. I’m so pissed off about what happened,” he said. “We’ve not seen the report. This is the first time we’ve heard it… But I assure you this is not what we wanted and this did not happen how we thought it would happen.”

Felisha Martinez, mother of victim Xavier Lopez, said she followed Prado after he left the meeting to ask him “if he really felt what he had to say today was the right thing.”

“How does he sleep at night knowing that this is what he had to say?” she told CNN. “He hurt all of us today… There was cops already in there, and they didn’t do nothing. They froze. Us parents, families were willing to go into that school, willing to give their lives for them to get them out.”

A commander called off move that could have stopped the shooter, investigator says

Uvalde police officers followed orders as they were supposed to, Prado said. He pointed to one Border Patrol tactical commander who led the entry team that killed the shooter and who, Prado said, called off a move that could have stopped the gunman half an hour earlier.

There was a point in time when officers were preparing to make entry to the classroom, but commander Paul Guerrero feared it would take too long to force the door open, Prado said.

“They didn’t have the rifle-rated shield at that point yet, but they were going to move forward after shots were fired at about 12:21 and they stopped because the BORTAC commander was not comfortable or confident that they could get in with enough time using a Halligan tool to breach the door. So, they requested a key instead,” he said.

Prado found Guerrero was the one who made the call to stop at that time.

An earlier report from the Texas House contradicted Prado’s assertions, saying U.S. Marshals did deliver a rifle-rated shield at 12:20 p.m.

But if Prado’s timeline is accurate, it would answer the outstanding question of what happened after officers rushed towards the doors of the classrooms with children after four shots were fired inside, but then stopped and retreated.

Guerrero did not mention the aborted advance in his statement to investigators shortly after the massacre. He did say he was told the door was locked and that he determined it would take too long to force it open, according to the statement previously obtained by CNN.

Previous reports have described a disastrous law enforcement response

Prado earlier Thursday began his presentation by telling city officials the local prosecutor made it difficult for him to gather evidence.

“I had a lot of difficulty in gathering all the evidence … the information that I needed to complete a thorough examination of what these officers did,” Prado told city officials. “The district attorney did not allow me to receive a copy of information regarding this case from other sources, other agencies.”

CNN has reached out to Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell for comment.

Jesse Prado arrives to share his findings at a special city council meeting in Uvalde on Thursday. - Eric Gay/AP
Jesse Prado arrives to share his findings at a special city council meeting in Uvalde on Thursday. - Eric Gay/AP

The results of the city’s independent investigation – one of multiple probes into what the US Justice Department and other agencies have agreed was a disastrous law enforcement response – comes as the seemingly elusive quest for accountability by families of the victims approaches its second year.

The meeting also comes days after two men criticized for their failures to challenge the Uvalde school shooter and rescue children and teachers trapped in the carnage won support from voters to continue as law enforcement leaders in the Texas community.

The election results stunned and upset families of victims who have maintained that law enforcement could have saved lives that day.

Six weeks after the massacre, former Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin told CNN he had lost faith in the larger investigation into what had happened and feared a cover-up was happening.

In July 2022, the Uvalde City Council said it was launching its own investigation into the actions of every city police officer who responded. The council appointed Jesse Prado, a former Austin police detective, to lead the investigation.

Family members arrive for a special city council meeting in Uvalde on Thursday. - Eric Gay/AP
Family members arrive for a special city council meeting in Uvalde on Thursday. - Eric Gay/AP

The decision by Mitchell to withhold information that would normally be public while she completed her investigation added to the lack of transparency.

In June 2022, Mitchell told CNN she did not want records or videos released while investigations were ongoing. “Any release of records to that incident at this time would interfere with said ongoing investigation and would impede a thorough and complete investigation,” she said in a statement.

A coalition of major news organizations, including CNN, filed a lawsuit to obtain records in a case that has not yet been decided.

Mitchell was also sued twice by McLaughlin when he was mayor for failing to share evidence from and concerning Uvalde police officers with the investigator, Jesse Prado.

CNN analyzed body camera and surveillance video, along with radio transmissions and phone calls, to create a timeline that showed the initial action and almost immediate loss of impetus that left the gunman unchallenged inside the school for 77 minutes.

That analysis preceded and concurred with the Department of Justice fact-finding report released in January that highlighted repeated failures of leadership and lost opportunities to stop the bloodshed earlier.

CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz and Linh Tran contributed to this report.

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