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Criminal probe of police actions during Uvalde school shooting will continue into 2024, prosecutor says

Uvalde breaks ground on new school
Uvalde breaks ground on new school to replace Robb Elementary 00:21

A Texas prosecutor says a criminal investigation into police failures during the Uvalde school shooting will continue into 2024, pushing back expectations that a grand jury would convene before the end of the year.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell said earlier this week that her staff is still examining the halting and haphazard police response to the May 2022 shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead. Investigators sent Mitchell their preliminary findings in January and she previously said prosecutors would present evidence related on the massacre to a grand jury this year.

The possibility of criminal charges against some of the nearly 400 officers who rushed to Robb Elementary School but waited more than an hour to confront and kill the shooter has hung over Uvalde since state lawmakers faulted law enforcement at every level with failing "to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety." The issue has divided the close-knit community of 15,000 and, as the timeline for the criminal investigation has expanded, so has the frustration of some victims' families with the district attorney.

"She's just plainly not doing her job," said Velma Lisa Duran, whose sister, Irma Garcia, was one of the teachers killed. "I don't understand how they expect us to live in a place where there are no consequences."

Mitchell did not answer questions posed to her by The Associated Press about when she now expects to go before a grand jury, the focus of her investigation or what charges she might be considering.

"My office is still dissecting the investigation of the Texas Rangers, which is quite voluminous," she said in an email response. "Upon our completion of the review of the Rangers investigation, we will then convene a grand jury."

Though the Rangers, a part of the Texas Department of Public Safety, sent prosecutors their initial findings at the start of this year, Mitchell said the agency's investigation continued after that. And she told the San Antonio Express-News she would need until the end of 2023 to present a case to the grand jury because she only received the full case file in July.

Since the shooting, there has been widespread criticism of the officers who massed outside the school and waited in hallways as the shooter could be heard firing an AR-15-style rife in a classroom. At least five officers have lost their jobs, including two Department of Public Safety officers and Uvalde's school police chief, Pete Arredondo, who was the on-site commander during the attack.

The ongoing investigation is also likely to prolong legal fights over the release of records that might offer a fuller picture of the attack and police response.

Uvalde city officials filed a lawsuit last year that accused prosecutors of not being transparent and withholding records related to the shooting. News outlets, including the AP, have also sued local Uvalde officials for withholding records requested under public information laws. Over the summer, Uvalde's then-mayor, Don McLaughlin, called on Mitchell to resign, saying she "has been involved in a cover-up regarding the city's investigation into the Robb School tragedy,"

The Department of Public Safety has fought disclosure, citing a request from Mitchell due to her ongoing investigation. In November, lawyers for the state appealed a judge's order that records be released.

Nonetheless, body camera footage, investigations by journalists and a damning report by state lawmakers have laid bare how over the course of more than 70 minutes, a mass of officers went in and out of the school with weapons drawn but did not go inside the classroom where the shooting was taking place. The 376 officers at the scene included state police, Uvalde police, school officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Robb Elementary is now permanently closed and in October the city broke ground on a new school. But Uvalde remains split between residents who say they want to move past the tragedy and others who are still demanding answers and accountability.

In November, during the first mayoral race since the shooting, locals elected a man who'd served as mayor more than a decade ago, rather than a mother who has led calls for tougher gun laws since her daughter was killed in the attack.

This month, Duran, 52, marked what would have been her sister's 50th birthday. She no longer expects to see justice on Earth for the police who failed to protect her sister and the officials she believes are shielding them.

"I take confidence in God's wrath," she said.

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