Uvalde survivors sue city, saying response fell ‘exceedingly short’

Washington Post photo by Katherine Frey
A massive memorial to the 19 students and two teachers killed May 24 at Robb Elementary is bathed in streetlights in Uvalde, Texas.

Survivors of the Robb Elementary School shooting are suing law enforcement officers and the city of Uvalde, Texas, for $27 billion over their response to the May shooting, claiming they failed to stop the gunman from killing 19 children and two teachers.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in federal court Tuesday, alleges the more than 300 law enforcement officers who responded to the scene waited over an hour to enter the building despite established protocol ordering them to swiftly neutralize the shooter – even if that entailed risking their lives.

Teachers, school workers and parents of children attending school that day allege that the lack of a proper and rapid response to the gunman, who wielded an AR-15-style rifle, resulted in a massacre that has inflicted “indelible and forever-lasting trauma.”

“Instead of swiftly implementing an organized and concerted response,” the lawsuit alleges, the 376 law enforcement officials from various agencies who responded to the incident “were on hand for the exhaustively torturous seventy-seven minutes of law enforcement indecision, dysfunction, and harm” and “fell exceedingly short of their duty-bound standards.”

“The kids can’t go to school,” Charles Bonner, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told The Washington Post. “They can’t even go to the toilet without their parents. They think they are going to be killed.”

The suit was filed by more than 50 plaintiffs. Defendants in the 59-page civil complaint include the city of Uvalde, the city police department, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and 12 individuals in charge of training, safety measures and protocols for active shooter situations.

A city spokeswoman declined to comment, citing pending litigation. A city police spokeswoman also declined to comment.

“There are no words to adequately express our deepest condolences to all the families who lost a loved one on May 24,” school district spokesperson Anne Marie Espinoza said in a statement to The Post.

“Uvalde CISD cannot comment on or provide information about pending litigation. As a district, we focus on supporting our students and their families as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times,” the statement added.

Neither the Uvalde Independent School District Police Department nor the Texas Department of Public Safety immediately responded to The Post’s request for comment.

On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman stormed into a fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary School and opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, killing 21 in the second-deadliest shooting at an elementary school in U.S. history.

Officers from several law enforcement agencies rushed to the scene and waited 77 minutes before entering two adjoining classrooms and killing the shooter. The delayed response came under heavy scrutiny and prompted fierce criticism from victims’ families and residents.

In the months following the tragedy that shook the small, predominantly Mexican American community to its core, the consequences have been far-reaching. Several Uvalde officials and officers have either resigned or been fired. Uvalde school officials fired the school district police chief, Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, in August after intense criticism that he had failed to act promptly. Arredondo has said he did not consider himself the person in charge that day and assumed someone else would take responsibility for the police response.

The school district suspended its entire police department in October. Lt. Mariano Pargas, the officer in charge of the city’s police department the day of the shooting, resigned last month after 18 years as a city employee.

Robb Elementary Principal Mandy Gutierrez was put on administrative leave after a Texas House report found that Gutierrez had been aware of certain security weaknesses in the school but failed to fix them, including not placing a work order to repair the door lock of a classroom that was later breached by the gunman.

Many of the defendants named on the claim filed Tuesday face another federal lawsuit. In September, the families of three student survivors filed the first lawsuit in a federal court against the Uvalde school district, law enforcement officials, gunmakers and others, alleging that their negligence and failures contributed to the massacre, the Texas Tribune reported.

Sandra Torres, the mother of 10-year-old Eliahna, one of the students who was killed, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this week against the gunmaker and seller, the city of Uvalde, its school district and several law enforcement officers.

The lawsuit accused weapon manufacturer Daniel Defense of “negligence in marketing and selling an AR-15-style rifle to the Uvalde shooter,” and alleged it used “militaristic imagery to target vulnerable and violent young men.” Daniel Defense did not immediately respond when contacted by The Post.

“I miss her every moment of every day,” Torres said in a news release. “I’ve brought this lawsuit to seek accountability. No parent should ever go through what I have.”

The federal complaint filed Tuesday also alleges school officials failed to ensure the school’s communication system and doors were working properly on the day of the shooting, delaying the officers’ response. A nonworking set of keys to access a segment of the building and a lack of active shooter training for bus drivers who took injured students to the hospital, among other circumstances, also contributed to an ineffective response, the lawsuit states.

“All of the lawsuits have the same ultimate goal and that is to compensate these victims, as well as to make policy changes,” Bonner told The Post.

On Thursday afternoon, the city of Uvalde announced that it is suing the local district attorney, Christina Mitchell, accusing her of withholding information needed for an internal investigation into the widely criticized police response to the May shooting.

In a statement, city officials claimed that despite “efforts to amicably obtain the necessary investigative materials for its ongoing Uvalde Police Department’s Internal Affairs investigation, the District Attorney has blocked the City’s ability to obtain critical information to assess its officers’ actions and compliance with police department policies and expectations.”

Mitchell could not be immediately contacted for comment.