The first details of the evil unleashed on defenseless school kids by an 18-year-old with a legally bought semi-automatic rifle were unfathomable. Everything that has emerged since has made the horror worse. And while the tragedy of Robb Elementary School is primarily a personal one for families facing the unbearable loss of children at the start of their lives, it is also a national trauma that has intensified over the past seven days as every parent, and many kids, confront fears about whether their towns will be next.
Fresh developments over the holiday weekend in the aftermath of the mass killing of 19 elementary school students and two teachers raised new questions about the failure of the law enforcement response as a massacre unfolded inside the school.
And despite years of experience to the contrary, President Joe Biden, after traveling to Texas to comfort the bereaved, expressed hopes that “rational” Republicans could join an effort to pass new firearm laws to forestall the inevitability of another community being subject to the same terror.
New details about a disastrous police response
- Disturbing new evidence emerged of a child calling 911 for help from a “room full of victims” as police delayed storming the school in an apparent and possibly fatal diversion from active-shooter protocols that have been in place for years. The apparent dispatch audio informs officers on the scene of what is going inside the school and raises questions about the delay in engaging the shooter. CNN has not been able to independently confirm the source of the audio. But it offers a heart-searing window into the horrific moments kids endured inside the classroom, dialing emergency services multiple times and pleading for rescue.
- The audio adds to the haunting possibility that a faster police response could have saved young lives and will be at the center of a web of official investigations. CNN has previously established that as many as 19 officers were inside the school more than 45 minutes before the suspect was killed and that the school district police chief decided not to order the breach of the classroom. Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday that “so many things went wrong here” and that mistakes may have cost lives. He also revealed that Customs and Border Protection forces who arrived at the school were frustrated about the failure to confront the shooter and eventually went in.
- These emerging strands of inquiry will feature in a US Department of Justice investigation announced Sunday that followed a request from Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin. The probe will likely consider why commonly taught active-shooter protocols established after the Columbine school massacre in 1999, which mandate that assailants are stopped as quickly as possible, were apparently not followed. Other questions loom over training for school district police officers, the quality of their leadership, whether necessary equipment was available at the scene and if rivalries or disconnects among law enforcement agencies hampered the response. First narratives about what happened at chaotic disaster scenes often change as a more full picture of events emerges. But at the outset of the investigation, it already appears something went terribly wrong. CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service special agent, described the response as “one of the worst police failures in modern US history.”
- The first services for the 19 children whose lives were brutally extinguished in their classroom after less than a decade on Earth took place on Monday. The testimony of those left behind encapsulated the severed promise of lives cut short and the courage of parents dealing with the unthinkable. “It brings me joy to know that I had an opportunity to have such a great daughter, and I tried to be the best father that I could be,” said Alfred Garza, the father of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, on Friday. A rosary and visitation was set to take place for Amerie on Monday. Services for another 10-year-old, Maite Rodriguez, who dreamed of being a marine biologist when she grew up, were also set to take place.
- The loved ones of another victim, 10-year-old Tess Marie Mata, remembered how she hoped to one day go viral on TikTok — even though she was too young to have an account, CNN’s Sara Smart reported. Tess’ uncle, Robert Hill, told CNN Monday that she had dreamed of having one of her dance videos go viral on the social media app. But since users must be at least 13 to create an account, she would save her videos to her mother Veronica’s account. After she was killed, her family tried to make her dream come true and posted a video of her dancing to Don Toliver’s song “No Idea.” As of Monday afternoon, the video on Hill’s account had more than 90,000 views, 33,000 likes and 2,000 comments.
New hope for change or another false dawn?
- The emotional agony of the Uvalde shooting may be starting to have a political impact. But the lesson of previous school massacres is that momentum for change soon crashes into the reality of a Republican Party that is dependent on base voters opposed to measures like background checks for purchases or restrictions on assault rifles, which a majority of Americans support. But Republican Sen. John Cornyn, tasked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with identifying areas of cooperation with Democrats, says that a group of senators will meet on Tuesday via Zoom during their Memorial Day recess. “There are some things we need to do, and I think we can do, at the national level,” the Texas Republican said, raising the need for better mental health treatment and the possibility of restrictions on what weapons people with records of mental illness could own. He also said there needs to be a national conversation about background checks. “One thing I hope does not happen is that the various parties sort of fall back into their typical talking points,” Cornyn said.
- Biden, meanwhile, expressed guarded optimism that the latest horror could change the political dynamic. “I think there’s a realization on the part of rational Republicans — and I consider McConnell a rational Republican, Cornyn as well — there’s a recognition on their part they can’t continue like this,” he said.
- Biden said that the Second Amendment, which enshrines the constitutional right to bear arms, was not “absolute” and that there was no rational basis for people to have weapons like assault rifles for hunting or self-defense. “I deliberately did not engage in a debate with any Republicans when we were down consoling the families,” he said. “So I don’t know how far it goes. I know it makes no sense to be able to purchase something able to fire up to 300 rounds.” But Biden also stressed the limits of his power. “There’s the Constitution. I can’t dictate this stuff. … I can’t outlaw a weapon. I can’t change the background checks.”
- The obstacles to Uvalde finally representing a turning point are massive. Former President Donald Trump, for instance, speaking to the National Rifle Association’s annual leadership forum on Friday in Texas — less than 300 miles from the site of the school shooting — raised the perennial argument that any type of effort to overhaul gun laws is the start of a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to the government seeking to seize the firearms of law-abiding Americans. Such arguments, clearly designed by Trump to bolster his standing with Republican activist voters ahead of a possible 2024 White House run, explain why initial hopes of compromise almost always fade once the initial outrage passes.
- Still, Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, believes this time could be different. “I really hope that this is the moment,” Hockley, co-founder and CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, said on CNN’s “The Situation Room” on Monday. “I think that this second huge, massive shooting at an elementary school is finally a tipping point. … Members of Congress do want to find a solution. … I think we are going to see some genuine, sustainable and meaningful movement happen within the next couple of weeks.”
- Yet this question remains: Is there anything that can convince 10 Republican senators to take a political risk and vote with Democrats to overcome the filibuster blockade that has crushed previous efforts to tighten gun laws?
The national trauma
- A nation exhausted by Covid-19, driven to distraction by rising gas and food prices, and torn by an ongoing effort by Trump to destroy US democracy is further rattled in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy. The deaths of so many defenseless children in one place cuts through in a way that the daily drumbeat of gun killings and mass shootings does not. Schools around the nation have increased their defenses, and every parent knows the flicker of fear caused by hearing a police siren wailing near their child’s school.
- The Memorial Day weekend racked up a familiar deadly toll, with mass shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Taft, Oklahoma; and Henderson, Nevada. (The Gun Violence Archive defines mass shootings as four or more people shot in a single incident.) In another sign of the nation’s frayed nerves, spectators in a crowd at a boxing event ran in panic after mistaking a loud noise for an active shooter at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sunday.
- An atmosphere of national mourning over the weekend coincided with always somber ceremonies marking Memorial Day. A sense of loss pervaded Biden’s duties as he consoled survivors of Uvalde victims on Sunday, visited the grave of his son Beau in Delaware on Monday morning — seven years to the day after his death from cancer — and then led commemorations at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. It was the first Memorial Day observance since the end of America’s longest war, in Afghanistan, and the event is always punctuated with the poignant knowledge that the nation’s war dead did not, like those remembering them did, get to grow old. The kids in Uvalde had it even worse. They didn’t even get to grow up.