UVALDE, Texas — A month after a shooter ran free to an elementary school in Texas and killed 21 peoplesadness has given way to anger as a study finds that the massive tragedy at Robb Elementary School could have been prevented or at least minimized.
Parents want to know why Salvador Ramos was able to walk into the school without encountering a locked door and why the police waited over an hour to engage the shooter.
Residents want to know why he was able to get his hands on a powerful assault weapon so soon after he was 18 and if more could have been done to flag him as a potential threat.
Four weeks later, Uvalde is teasing more questions than answers, hanging over the tight-knit community like a heavy blanket with little space. People struggle to grieve because they are too busy seeking responsibility from their leaders.
“We chose them and we can take that away,” resident Kim Hammond said at a community meeting Wednesday night. “Let’s show them B’s sons — this is the last time this is going to happen.”
On Thursday, no amount of sun or humidity could cause Robb Elementary School parent Michael Brown to withdraw from his post outside the Uvalde County courthouse, where he walked back and forth with a sign calling for his resignation. School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo .
He waved and smiled as passing cars honked their horns and their drivers cheered him on with shouts and clenched fists. Brown spent eight hours protesting Wednesday and planned to do the same Thursday and likely Friday — anything to get officials’ attention.
“It’s disgusting – the lies, the betrayal. It’s only going to get worse,” Brown said.
Across the street in Uvalde’s town square, flowers, photographs and crosses bearing the names of 21 victims remain firmly in place – a reminder that the town of some 15,000 will never be the same.
On Tuesday, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Colonel Steve McCraw, described the law enforcement response as an “abject failure”. He explained how the police could have entered the unlocked room where the gunman’s frenzy unfolded, but instead chose to protect the lives of officers over children.
The next day, Arredondo was sent on administrative leave after a vociferous city council hearing that prompted passionate comments from several community members.
“He wasn’t doing his job. He left them there,” Brown said of Arredondo’s decision to postpone confronting the gunman in the shooting that killed him. 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 welcomed the decision to punish Arredondo, but say more needs to be done to regain community trust.
“It’s a baby step,” said Berlinda Arreola, whose 10-year-old granddaughter, Amerie Jo Garza, was one of the dead.
Arreola refuses to call Arredondo by his title, instead calling him “Pete” and stating that she will not give him “the respect” of using “chief” or “sir” when referring to the controversial official.
“We can’t strip his badge, but we can take his life,” she said. “It’s hard to watch him.”
Arreola was among the relatives of several victims who attended a community gathering on Wednesday evening 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 changes that would make it more difficult to buy assault weapons, such as the one used by Ramos.
“In every country in the world they probably have the same level and severity of mental health problems as here in America. The only difference is that we have easy access to powerful firearms,” Rogelio Muñoz, a former Uvalde city councilor, said during the meeting.
“The truth is that none of the children who died here would have died if we had a law that says you can’t buy one of these guns when you’re 18,” he added.
On Thursday, Arreola said a “dark cloud” remains over Robb Elementary School. Her son lives a stone’s throw from Ramos’ grandmother, and she continues to struggle with the knowledge that “evil lurked” so close to her family.
She said the grief is getting heavier and harder every day. A month feels like the blink of an eye.
“It’s very overwhelming,” she said. “One thing after another comes out back to back. It’s hard to believe anyone anymore.”
Mayor of Uvalde Don McLaughlin said earlier this week that he does not believe a child or teacher should be asked to return to Robb Elementary School and said he expects it to be demolished. No timeline was given, but President Joe Biden previously expressed support for the school’s destruction.
Arreola and others gathered on Wednesday said they are looking forward to the day when they no longer have to see the campus where so much has been taken from them.
“I’m just so tired of everyone making excuses,” Arreola said. “I want answers.”