A single Robb Elementary School security camera, mounted at the end of a hallway, captured the horror and devastating law enforcement mistakes that unfolded for more than an hour on May 24.
A 77-minute recording from that camera offers an unabridged view of police inaction, among the clearest accounts of what happened before and after 19 fourth graders and two teachers were gunned down in their classrooms. It also is at the center of a political struggle over what public information from that day should be released and by whom.
Viewed by the American-Statesman, the video shows the 18-year-old gunman dressed in all black with a backpack casually walk into a rear entrance of the school carrying the AR-15 he purchased a week earlier after his birthday. At 11:33 a.m., he pauses briefly at a closed classroom door decorated with the words “welcome class” before turning right into the main hall.
He continues to walk uninterrupted down the empty hallway — past a bulletin board and hand sanitizer station mounted on the wall — until he reaches Room 111. The camera shows him turning to his left and unleashing a barrage of gunfire as he advances toward the room. A boy who apparently was in the bathroom is seen peeking around the corner before police later rescue him.
Three minutes after the initial massacre, a group of officers from the Uvalde Police Department and the Uvalde school district moved from two ends of the hall to converge on Rooms 111 and 112 where the gunman was. The video shows them being pushed back by his return fire.
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For the next hour, the video reveals what experts have called one of the worst police failures in American history. The footage shows officers massed in the hallway, increasingly armed with protective shields and high-powered weapons, but not entering the classrooms to take down the gunman until 12:52 p.m.
A debate over whether the footage should be released for public viewing has spilled into the open in recent days, with Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, and chairman of a Texas House committee investigating the shooting response, and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin arguing for its release, while Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee opposes its disclosure.
Amid a shifting official timeline of the law enforcement response and anger among Uvalde residents over lingering questions about the shooting, it provides an unfiltered view of what transpired.
Busbee’s position was outlined in a Friday letter to Burrows from Freeman Martin, the Texas Department of Public Safety deputy director of homeland security operations.
Busbee “has objected to releasing the video and has instructed us not to do so. As the individual with authority to consider whether any criminal prosecution should result from the events in Uvalde, we are guided by her professional judgment regarding the potential impact of releasing the video,” Martin wrote.
Busbee has made no public statements — she did not return an email Saturday from the Statesman — but law enforcement officials say she has cited a pending investigation for shielding the video. However, because the gunman is dead, it is not clear what or who is the target of any ongoing case, and Martin said in the letter to Burrows that releasing the video would not interfere with the investigation.
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Legal experts say the DPS has the authority to make the video public as the lead agency in the case and is not bound by Busbee’s request. However, it is customary for an investigating agency to adhere to such requests from prosecutors.
Other Uvalde video details
The video is critical because it not only reveals how police responded — and failed to respond — but also shows which agencies were on the scene, a point that increasingly has become a matter of contention.
McLaughlin has accused DPS Director Steve McCraw of scapegoating local law enforcement, rather than acknowledging that DPS troopers also converged on the scene and similarly failed to act. Indeed, the video shows police from multiple agencies gathered in the hall, including from the DPS.
In a timeline the DPS previously released, Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo is heard in a recorded phone call to the Uvalde Police Department saying that officers were only armed with pistols and needed more firepower and protective equipment.
Less than 20 minutes after the first attempt at breaching the classroom, the footage shows officers with a ballistic shield and high-powered assault rifles were inside the school just beneath the hallway camera. The Statesman reported that detail last month and published a screen grab from that moment that sparked national outrage.
According to a timeline from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training in San Marcos, a DPS special agent was on the scene a minute later, arriving at 11:53, and was told to remain at the perimeter.
The DPS timeline said that the agent went inside the school and asked if children were still inside the classroom. He said, “If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there.”
The Texas Tribune subsequently published an additional screen grab from the hallway camera that shows officers with four assault rifles and two shields at 12:04 p.m.
According to body camera video, officers spent the next 46 minutes amassing additional protection, including a fourth ballistic shield and tear gas canisters. They discussed various ways to enter the classroom, including using outside windows to kill the gunman.
In portions of the video the Statesman viewed, paramedic teams began setting up in the hallway minutes before the breach to allow them to begin tending to the wounded.
Around 12:50 p.m., the hallway camera shows a team led by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol entering the classroom amid the sound of gunfire. The recent report by the San Marcos-based national experts reviewing the police response said that the gunman had been hiding in a closet but emerged when the team entered the classroom.
Calls for release of Uvalde shooting video
Families and others have publicly called for the video to be released in recent days.
In a wrenching interview with CNN, Marcus Lozano, whose sister, teacher Irma Garcia, was killed, said he believed the officers acted with cowardice.
“When it was time to stare death in the face, they went weak in the knees,” Lozano said.
“My mom protected those kids, but no one protected her,” said Garcia’s son, Cristian. “The whole Police Department here are cowards.”
On Thursday, Burrows called for the video to be made public, but said he is unable to release it himself because of an agreement he signed June 10 with the DPS.
DPS Deputy Director Freeman Martin responded with a letter saying that the “DPS believes that the video is likely to bring clarity to the public regarding the tragic events in Uvalde. The video does not contain images of children but it is limited to the law enforcement response up to the moment of the breach.”
McLaughlin also issued a statement Friday evening saying that he supports the release of the video from the hallway. He followed up with a statement Saturday to make clear that he was not advocating for the release of any video that would show victims.
“We agree with Burrows that the video is likely to bring clarity to the public, to the families of victims and survivors,” McLaughlin said.