TExas Gov. Greg Abbott made a point to hail the “quick response” of “valiant local officials” in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, this week. But as new details about the police response emerged Thursday, and questions about why it took officers 14 minutes to enter the building, that praise became more complicated—underscoring a dynamic that was in plain view at the governor’s press conference the day before.
On Wednesday, Abbott had yet again gone before TV cameras after a mass shooting to deliver details about the tragedy, and express condolence for the victims—just as he had in 2018 after the Sante Fe High School shooting, and in 2019 after the shooting at an El Paso Walmart. In addition to calling for better access to mental health care, the governor focused on heaping praise on the actions of law-enforcement officers—repeatedly commending the armed first-responders for their bravery, and speaking about the psychological toll the shooting could have on them.
“As horrible as what happened [was]However, it could have gone worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do,” Abbott said, praising officers’ “quick response” while speaking at a press conference on Wednesday. “They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire.” Abbott initially said that school police officers “engaged” the gunman before he entered the school, but a new timeline of events later contradicted that.
Notably absent from Abbott’s press conference Wednesday: Praise for the educators who shielded their students and died beside them in two classrooms where the gunman barricaded himself for an hour.
That didn’t sit well with Clay Robison, spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association, who says he watched Abbott’s press conference with dismay. “He expressed a lot of sympathy for the families, which you expect him to do, and for law enforcement, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But he should have talked more about educators,” Robison says. “We were disappointed that he didn’t.”
Abbott’s focus on the police became especially jarring given the developments on Thursday. Many parents of Robb Elementary student’s children are asking if police could have done better. On Thursday, the Texas Department of Public Safety said the gunman entered the building “unobstructed,” and there was no officer on campus when the shooting began.
READ MORE Gunman Entered Uvalde School ‘Unobstructed.’ Questions Mount About Police Response
According to Victor Escalon (Southeast Regional Director of Texas Department of Public Safety), it took local police and school resource officers approximately 14 minutes to confront him after he entered the school with an AR-15 assault rifle. A U.S Border Patrol tactical team reached the scene and shot him to death about an hour after he arrived.
Abbott, Lieutenant Governor. Dan Patrick, and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan—all Republicans—focused on law-enforcement officers at the press conference Wednesday, it fell to Uvalde superintendent Hal Harrell to emphasize the role that educators played in protecting students on Tuesday. “They are heroes. They did heroic things yesterday,” he said at the news conference.
The two teachers who were killed—Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia—had taught at the school for many years and had children of their own who attended school in the district, Harrell said. “They poured their heart and soul into what they did in educating our kids in Uvalde,” he said.
Both women taught fourth grade according to school profiles. Garcia was a teacher at Robb Elementary for 23-years and is the mother of four children. Her husband of 24 years, Joe Garcia, died Thursday of what family members described as “a broken heart.” Mireles had been teaching for 17 years, and her husband is a school police officer in the district.
Mireles’ daughter shared memories about her mother in a Facebook post. “I will forever say your name so you are always remembered, Eva Mireles, 4th grade teacher at Robb Elementary who selflessly jumped in front of her students to save their lives,” she wrote. “Mom, you are a hero.”
Meanwhile Abbott, flanked by law enforcement officers and state and local officials, chastised anyone Wednesday who would “oversimplify” the tragedy by focusing on gun laws—all while making clear that gun safety reform was off the table, despite the fact that Texas has suffered six mass shootings since he took office in 2015. “It’s not a real solution,” Abbott said.
His opposition to gun control wasn’t always quite so strong. After the 2018 Santa Fe school shooting in which 10 people were killed, Abbott suggested he would support some gun reform legislation—mentioning background checks and strategies to keep guns out of the hands of those who “pose an immediate danger to others.” But Texas gun laws have only grown more relaxed. One day after seven Odessa victims were killed by a gunman, nine laws supporting guns were passed. These laws made it more convenient to store or carry firearms in foster homes, synagogues, schools, churches and mosques. Abbott also signed seven laws last year that further relaxed gun restrictions.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Abbott—who is up for reelection in November—pointed to the laws passed by the state after Santa Fe—which included requirements that school districts develop emergency plans and behavioral threat assessment teams, and measures that “hardened” schools, increasing the presence of law enforcement officers on campus and allowing districts to train and arm school employees.
None of these measures were able to stop the gunman, aged 18, from Uvalde, who bought two semi-automatic rifles, 375 rounds ammunition, at a sporting goods shop, before walking into a school and shooting 21 people.
Many educators find this inability to compromise on gun safety reform frustrating, having grown up with lockdown procedures and school shooting drills. Teachers, Robison says, “have always known that, sooner or later, this could happen to them.” It’s why many education groups, as well as other gun-safety advocates, are once again calling for state and federal action on gun legislation.
People across Texas and the U.S. have been reminded this week—with or without Abbott’s help—of the heroism of teachers. Robison reminds us that only appreciation is enough.
“It’s one thing to express sympathy for the families and to praise the heroism of law enforcement officers,” Robison says. “But when are you going to do something that maybe helps keep stuff like this from happening again? Where you don’t have to grieve with the families?”
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