'Keeps getting worse': Uvalde community in disbelief over investigation's revelations

·4 min read

UVALDE, Texas — A month after a gunman walked unobstructed into a Texas elementary school and killed 21 people, grief has given way to anger as an investigation reveals that the mass tragedy at Robb Elementary School could have been prevented or at the very least minimized.

Parents want to know why Salvador Ramos was able to walk into the school without encountering a locked door and why police waited more than an hour to engage the shooter.

Residents want to know why he was able to obtain a powerful assault weapon so soon after turning 18 and whether more could have been done to flag him as a potential threat.

Four weeks later, more questions than answers plague Uvalde, lingering over the tight-knit community like a heavy blanket with little room to breathe. People struggle to mourn because they are too busy seeking accountability from their leaders.

“We elected them and we can take that away,” resident Kim Hammond said Wednesday night at a community meeting. “Let’s show them sons of b--- this is the last time this is going to happen.”

On Thursday, no amount of sun or humidity could persuade Robb Elementary School parent Michael Brown to retreat from his post outside the Uvalde County Courthouse, where he paced back-and-forth holding a sign calling for school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo to be fired.

He waved and smiled as passing cars honked, their drivers cheering him on with shouts and raised fists. Brown spent eight hours protesting on Wednesday and intended to do the same Thursday and likely Friday — anything to get the attention of officials.

“It’s disgusting — the lies, the betrayal. It just keeps getting worse,” Brown said.

Across the street in Uvalde’s town square, flowers, photos and crosses bearing the names of 21 victims remain firmly in place — a reminder that the city of some 15,000 people will never be the same.

Michael Brown outside the Uvalde County Courthouse. (Alicia Victoria Lozano / NBC News)
Michael Brown outside the Uvalde County Courthouse. (Alicia Victoria Lozano / NBC News)

On Tuesday, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Col. Steve McCraw, described the law enforcement response as an “abject failure.” He detailed how police could have entered the unlocked room where the shooter’s rampage unfolded, but instead chose to protect the lives of officers over children.

The next day, Arredondo was put on administrative leave following a boisterous city council hearing that drew impassioned comments from several community members.

“He didn’t do his job. He left them in there,” Brown said of Arredondo’s decision to delay confronting the gunman in the shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers, adding that he regrets voting for Arredondo and now wants to see him run out of town.

Residents have largely applauded the decision to discipline Arredondo, but say more needs to be done to regain the community’s trust.

“It’s a baby step,” said Berlinda Arreola, whose 10-year-old granddaughter, Amerie Jo Garza, was among those killed.

Arreola refuses to refer to Arredondo by his title, instead calling him "Pete" and declaring that she will not give him “the respect” of using “chief” or “mister” when talking about the embattled official.

“We can’t strip his badge, but we can strip him from our lives,” she said. "It’s hard to look at him."

Arreola was among several victims’ relatives who attended a community meeting Wednesday night led by a group of medical professionals and residents.

The group, which calls itself Uvalde Strong for Gun Safety on Facebook, says it is not anti-gun but does advocate for changes that would make it more difficult to purchase assault-style weapons, like the one used by Ramos.

“In every country in the world, they probably have the same level and same severity of mental health issues that we have here in America. The only difference is that we have easy access to high-powered firearms,” Rogelio Muñoz, a former Uvalde city council member, said at the meeting.

“The truth is that none of the kids that died here would have died if we had a law that said you couldn’t buy one of these guns when you’re 18," he added.

On Thursday, Arreola said a "dark cloud" continues to linger over Robb Elementary School. Her son lives one block from Ramos’ grandmother and she continues to struggle knowing that “evil was lurking” so close to her family.

She said every day the grief becomes heavier and harder to bear. One month feels like the blink of an eye.

Texas House Committee Holds Hearing On Uvalde School Shooting (Brandon Bell / Getty Images)
Texas House Committee Holds Hearing On Uvalde School Shooting (Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

"It’s very overwhelming," she said. "One thing after another is coming out back to back to back. It's hard to believe anyone anymore."

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said earlier this week that he did not believe any child or teacher should be asked to return to Robb Elementary School and said he expects it to be demolished. No timeline was provided, but President Joe Biden previously expressed support for the school’s destruction.

Arreola and others gathered Wednesday said they look forward to the day when they no longer have to see the campus where so much was taken away from them.

“I’m just so tired of everyone making excuses," Arreola said. "I want answers.”