Advertisement

Voters support law enforcement leaders condemned for their failures in Uvalde school massacre

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 results stunned and upset families of victims who feel there has been little accountability for the delayed law enforcement response that could have possibly saved lives.

Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco came top in his Republican primary election with 39% of votes and is set for a runoff, according to unofficial results published by the county. Constable Emmanuel Zamora won his Republican primary on Tuesday. Neither has a Democratic opponent.

Both men were named and shamed in a Department of Justice report that aimed to give a full, official accounting of what happened on May 24, 2022, when a teenage shooter opened unlocked doors to get into two 4th grade classrooms, opened fire with an assault-style rifle and was left alone with dead, dying and traumatized victims for more than an hour before he was stopped. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the Robb Elementary massacre.

Another officer named in the DOJ report, Constable Johnny Field, came second in his Republican primary to Max Dorflinger, whom unofficial results show just cleared the 50% barrier to avoid a runoff. An officer with the Uvalde Police Department, Dorflinger also responded to the school shooting and body camera footage shows him going in and out of the building carrying boxes of supplies.

Tuesday’s election highlights the splits in the Uvalde community, where families of survivors and those killed have called for law enforcement officers who failed to stop the massacre to be fired while their neighbors supported them at the ballot box.

Shooting survivor, Khloie Torres repeatedly called 911 from Room 112 begging for police to help and giving clear information about where she was and how there were dead and injured classmates and teachers with her. She and her mom sent a voice message about the election to CNN. “I’m just mad,” Khloie said.

“Who would vote for officers who didn’t want to save kids? How does that go through their mind? How do they live every day knowing that those kids died and they voted for the cops that should have saved them? I physically do not know what those people who vote for those police officers were thinking whenever they did it. And especially the officers … they’re told, they literally said on their contracts whenever they signed to be a police officer, ‘I’m going to serve and protect.’”

Kassandra Chavez’s son AJ was shot through his thigh and had to wait with Khloie for help. When officers finally entered his classroom, he was hustled out with other students and loaded onto a school bus to get to the hospital as ambulances could not get through to the school.

“I’m very upset because this whole town knows that they failed the kids and the teachers and they still voted for these people,” Chavez said in a message to CNN on Wednesday. She said she hoped there would be some challengers in the November general election. “I pray that we get some good candidates to run up against them,” she wrote.

Chavez also posted an emotional public message to her son on Facebook: “I’m so sorry baby boy the system won again tonight … these men that didn’t have balls that day don’t deserve to be holding a badge but yet others say they do!!”

As elected officials, the only way to remove the sheriff and constables is by voting. Their elected status was also why the Department of Justice chose to name Nolasco, Field and Zamora, along with then school police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo and then acting chief of the Uvalde Police Department Lt. Mariano Pargas.

The damning DOJ report said officers had many opportunities to intervene to stop the bloodshed far earlier. Instead, it took 77 minutes from when the shooter walked into the school until he was taken down.

The law enforcement leaders came in for particular criticism in the 575-page report.

“On the day of the incident, no leader effectively questioned the decisions and lack of urgency of UCISD PD Chief Arredondo and UPD Acting Chief Pargas toward entering classrooms 111/112, including within their respective agencies and agencies with concurrent/overlapping jurisdiction (e.g., Uvalde County Sheriff Nolasco, Constable Zamora, Constable Field, TX Ranger 1),” the report said.

Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco is seen on body camera footage on May 24, 2022. - Uvalde County Sheriff's Office
Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco is seen on body camera footage on May 24, 2022. - Uvalde County Sheriff's Office

Body camera footage and interviews by investigators obtained by CNN show Field, at one end of the school hallway, was frequently on the phone with Arredondo, at the other end. Zamora was also one of the earliest responders to reach the hallway. He spent time looking for keys that were not needed and even tried to pry a door lock with a knife. The report also noted how he tried to bring some order to the chaos in the hallway after the gunman was killed, calling for medics to be let through the crowd of officers to see what help the victims needed.

The DOJ analysis confirmed CNN reporting that Nolasco knew the name of the gunman when he arrived at the school and that the teenager had shot his grandmother in the face earlier that morning.

“Sheriff Nolasco did not seek out or establish a command post, establish unified command, share the intelligence he learned from (the shooter’s) relatives, nor did he assign an intelligence officer to gather intelligence on the subject. At one point, Sheriff Nolasco and UPD Acting Chief Pargas were within 10-15 feet of each other outside the exterior door of the northwest hallway; however, they were not coordinating with one another and continued to act independently,” the Justice Department report said.

It added bluntly: “Uvalde County Sheriff Nolasco, despite being the chief law enforcement officer for the county, lacked leadership and incident command training and did not demonstrate adequate command leadership during the incident by not coordinating the resources from the Sheriff’s Office or helping to establish a unified command.”

Nolasco has declined to respond to most questions from CNN, but in November 2022 he did answer when asked if he thought his response was adequate: “Yeah,” he said. “I do.”

Little has been resolved even as the two-year mark since the killings approaches. Local District Attorney Christina Mitchell – unopposed in her own Republican primary and with no Democratic challenger – has begun presenting evidence to a special grand jury but there is no public timeline for when she may announce if there could be criminal charges for any of the first responders who waited in the hallway.

A report into the actions of Uvalde Police Department officers is set to be released this week. Former Mayor Don McLaughlin, who commissioned the report, said it had been long delayed because Mitchell would not share evidence with the city’s independent investigator.

In June 2022, Mitchell told CNN she did not want records or videos released while investigations were ongoing.

The school board fired Arredondo after he was blamed as the de facto incident commander. He has said he never considered himself to be in charge. Pargas chose to resign from the Uvalde Police Department under threat of being fired after CNN revealed he was told children were injured in the classroom and he did not organize a rescue. Pargas was reelected to his county commission seat less than six months after the tragedy, defeating three write-in candidates who included Javier Cazares, whose 9-year-old daughter Jackie was killed in the massacre. Jackie had a pulse when she was finally brought out of the classroom but died later that day. Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi, aged 10, was also killed, lost her bid to be the city’s mayor last year.

CNN’s Andy Rose and Matthew J. Friedman contributed to this story.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com