The US Justice Department will review the law enforcement response to the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 school children and two teachers dead, as President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden met families who lost loved ones in America’s worst school shooting in nearly a decade.
The review comes amid mounting pressure and questions about the shifting, and at times contradictory, information about what happened and how police responded to the shooting last Tuesday at Robb Elementary School.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said on Sunday that the review would be conducted in a fair, impartial and independent manner, and that the findings would be made public.
The goal of the review is “to provide an independent account of law enforcement actions and response that day, and to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events,” Coley said in a statement.
The review is being conducted at the request of Uvalde’s mayor, officials said. Handling the review is the department’s Office of Community Policing Services.
Such a review is somewhat rare. Most after-action reports that follow a mass shooting are generally compiled by local law enforcement agencies or outside groups.
Repeatedly begged 911
Authorities revealed on Friday that students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help even as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a school hallway.
Officials said the commander believed that the suspect was barricaded inside an adjoining classroom and that there was no longer an active attack.
The revelation caused more grief and raised new questions about whether more lives were lost because officers did not act faster to stop the gunman, who was ultimately killed by Border Patrol tactical officers.
US President Joe Biden – who has not spoken publicly about the police response to the shooting – tried on Sunday to comfort families in Uvalde.
The president and first lady Jill Biden wiped away tears as they visited memorials at Robb Elementary, laying white roses and paying respects to makeshift shrines to the victims.
“Do something,” a crowd chanted outside Sacred Heart Catholic Church as Biden exited after attending mass.
“We will,” the president answered.
The Bidens were also scheduled to meet with victims’ families, survivors and first responders.
US’s gun laws
Police say the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, entered the school on with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle after earlier killing his grandmother.
Official accounts of how police responded to the shooting have flip-flopped wildly.
“I feel sorry for them because they have to live with that mistake of just standing by,” Julian Moreno, a former pastor at Primera Iglesia Bautista and great-grandfather of one of the girls killed, said of Uvalde’s police.
The Uvalde shooting has once again put gun control at the top of the nation’s agenda, months ahead of the November midterm elections, with supporters of stronger gun laws arguing that the latest bloodshed represents a tipping point.
Biden, a Democrat, has repeatedly called for major reforms to the US’s gun laws but has been powerless to stop mass shootings or convince Republicans that stricter controls could stem the carnage.
Leading Republicans such as US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former President Donald Trump have rejected calls for new gun control measures and instead suggested investing in mental health care or tightening school security.
Ramos, a high school dropout, had no criminal record and no history of mental illness but had posted threatening messages on social media.
The visit to Uvalde is Biden’s third presidential trip to a mass shooting site, including earlier this month when he visited Buffalo, New York, after a gunman killed 10 Black people in a Saturday afternoon attack at a grocery store.