Democratic Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents the town of Uvalde, has been meeting with family members of victims from last week’s mass shooting and interrupted a press conference by Republican Governor Greg Abbott last week to demand a special session of the state Legislature to address gun violence. “The failure begins with Greg Abbott, who’s undergone seven or eight mass shootings in his tenure, and he’s done nothing but give greater access to militarized weapons,” says Gutierrez. “We have to take militarized weapons off the street, and if we’re not going to do that, maybe that’s a federal issue.”
AMY GOODMAN: Funerals have begun in Uvalde, Texas, for the 19 fourth graders and their two teachers killed last Tuesday when an 18-year-old gunman attacked the Robb Elementary School. On Monday, funerals were held for two of the children: Maite Rodriguez and Amerie Jo Garza. They were both 10 years old. Amerie died while trying to call 911 as the gunman attacked her fourth grade classroom.
President Biden visited Uvalde on Sunday. After stopping at a memorial for the victims at Robb Elementary School, he attended Mass at the local Catholic church, where people chanted “Do something” when he left.
Over the weekend, the Justice Department announced it would review the local police response to the school shooting. Authorities have revealed there were 19 police officers inside the elementary school shortly after the attack began, but they decided not to confront the gunman. During that time, at least two students and teachers repeatedly called 911 begging for help. On Friday, Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, described the 911 calls.
STEVEN McCRAW: So, I warn you, it’s not — not — it’s better that I read it than you listen to it. The caller identified — I will not say her name, but she was in room 112 — called 911 at 12:03. The duration of the call, was one minute and 23 seconds. She identified herself and whispered she was in room 112. At 12:10, she called back, in room 12, advised there are multiple dead. 12:13, again she called on the phone. Again at 12:16, she called back and said there was eight to nine students alive. At 12:19, a 911 call was made, and another person, in room 111, called. I will not say her name. She hung up when another student told her to hang up. At 12:21, you could hear over the 911 call that three shots were fired. At 12:36, a 911 call, it lasted for 21 seconds. The initial caller called back — student, child called back — and was told to stay on the line and be very quiet. She told 911 that he shot the door. At approximately 12:43 and 12:47, she asked 911 to please send the police now. At 12:46, she said she not could not — that she could hear the police next door. At 12:50, shots are fired. They can be heard over the 911 call. And at 12:51, it’s very loud and sounds like the officers are moving children out of the room. At that time, the first child that called was outside before the call cuts off.
AMY GOODMAN: While children inside the school were calling 911, parents outside were begging officers to take action. The gunman was eventually killed by a Border Patrol Tactical Unit that disregarded orders from local police not to engage the gunman. During his news conference, Colonel Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, admitted local officers made the wrong decision to wait an hour to confront the gunman.
In a moment, we’ll be joined by Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez. He’s a Democrat who represents Uvalde. But first I want to turn to the state senator interrupting Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s news conference in Uvalde on Friday.
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Mayors and city councilpeople, I don’t know how to express the loss of the families that I’ve talked to. And I know you feel it, too. We have to do something, man. Your own colleagues are telling me, calling me and telling me an 18-year-old shouldn’t have a gun. This is enough. Call us back, man.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez interrupting a news conference by Texas Governor Greg Abbott last week. He then walked out of the news conference. He joins us now on the phone as he drives back to Uvalde from his San Antonio office.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, state Senator Gutierrez. There is so much to talk about. You have been right there on the frontline. So, we start with these 19 kids inside. A number are begging the police, calling 911, a few of them, “Please come. We need a policeman.” Nineteen kids die inside the classroom. Nineteen police officers are standing right outside the classroom. They don’t move for 50 minutes. Can you talk about what you understand at this point happened and what you’re calling for?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Yes, ma’am. So, at 12:03, as you know, those 19 officers were already in place. The initial response was seven officers: four ISD officers and three city — and I may be conflating those two: It might be four police and three ISD. Nevertheless, there was seven officers in the building. They made attempts to go down the hallway. Shots were being fired at that time. You know, we were told that there was negotiations, in one of those McGraw reports. He later admitted that there were no negotiations. The man did not communicate a single word to police at that time. Shots were continuing to be fired. And I think that that’s what is what will be coming out in this federal investigation that’s being undertaken at this time.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Senator —
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: As you know, nobody went in. Nobody went in.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Senator, I just wanted to ask you: Do you have an understanding, or have you been told, who was the incident commander at the scene? Because, clearly, every law enforcement response requires an incident commander to give the orders. Was that Chief Arredondo, the head of the school district police, or was it the local police or the state police?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: So, that is what DPS is saying. They are saying that they’re putting this on Chief Arredondo. I don’t know Chief Arredondo. I’ve never met Chief Arredondo. I find that the failures that occurred here are not just a failure on this so-called incident commander. The active shooter protocols indicate that you are to go in. If law enforcement is present, you just go in. And so, I don’t know at what point that should trump the incident commander protocol, but at the end of the day, the federal government employees, CBP employees, they had had enough. They said, “The hell with it, and we’re going in.”
At the end of the day, law enforcement is there. We have active shooter protocol that dictates what people should do. We’re putting this on the local cop who has six cops under him. At what point do the police of Uvalde not overtake this responsibility? At what point do the Texas state troopers undertake the responsibility? Greg Abbott has put this Operation Lone Star down there. We have 150-plus extra state troopers in the area, and you see them waiting outside. You see, according to Colonel McGraw — he told me on Saturday. We had a long, long discussion Saturday morning, very painful discussion. He told me that there was two troopers in the hallway.
I have asked for a further report. I want to know when each officer arrived — because we have this technology — where they were situated, whether they were in the hallway, whether they were outside, why weren’t any officers outside by the windows. Listen, I’m not a police officer, and I’m certainly not an expert in these types of things. But it seems like there was a tremendous amount of failure. To put it on one local cop is just beyond me.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you — you’ve talked with many of the parents. What did they tell you about how they were dealt with while they were waiting outside frantically to know the fate of what was going on with their children?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: So, we’ve been very, very respectful with the parents. I have talked to a handful of them. We go in — I don’t want to impose myself at this time on families. I’ve talked to about five. And every day we seek to lightly talk to parents. My biggest concern with one couple was that their child was wounded simply by one bullet, according to their first responders. That child likely bled out, shot in the kidney area. Who knows how long she was alive for? Had we had officers go in in a timely way, as the active shooter protocols dictate, that little girl might be alive.
Those are the kinds of facts that need to be fleshed out. Why? Because we need to ensure that this never, ever happens again. Because we know that it will. We know that the tragic — that the horror is going to happen again, in this state or in some other state. We have to know that law enforcement will act differently, that they will do their jobs and execute well. If the policy is indeed that the incident commander is the local school cop, well, then, by God, we need to change that. At some point, the next superior force should take over. And so it’s my hope that new policies will be in place going forward so that no community has to deal with the aspect that law enforcement failed them.
AMY GOODMAN: So, state Senator Gutierrez, a lot of attention is being spent, paid to this aspect, the utter failure, and also the violating of the parents outside. Apparently, there was Tasers used. One woman was handcuffed. You had fathers begging, “Give me your gun,” to the police. “I’ll run in. Give me a shield. I’ll run in.” But then there’s this larger issue that you took on with Texas Governor Abbott, interrupting his news conference on Friday, calling for a special session of the Texas Legislature. Talk about what you, overall, think needs to happen. I mean, clearly, these men in the hallway were afraid, because there’s a man there with a semiautomatic rifle. OK, 18 years old, but he is gunning people down. What needs to happen? How do the laws need to change?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: So, let’s be clear where the failure begins. And the failure begins in — you know, I’ve been accused of politicizing this issue. At the end of the day, that’s — I’m in a building where people elect me to fix problems. The failure begins with Greg Abbott, who’s undergone seven or eight mass shootings in his tenure, and he’s done nothing but give greater access to militarized weaponry. His seminal attempt to fix things in 2019 was more school hardening. A lot of good that did these kids.
We have to take militarized weapons off the street. And if we’re not going to do that, maybe that’s a federal issue perhaps. If we’re not going to do that in the state of Texas — you know, I’m in a business where I have to compromise with these people on the other side. Under no circumstances — it’s the law in Texas that you be 21 years old to go out and get a handgun. Why in the world can you be 18 years old and buy an AR-15? It’s easier to get an AR-15 in Texas than it is to buy baby formula these days. I mean, that’s the sadness of it all. We can have red flag laws, or we can have a 10-day waiting period. Just like Greg Abbott has spent $6 billion on the border, we can scrape off a few million creating a Texas-sized ATF, where someone goes off and gets an AR-15, they wait a 10-day waiting period, they get interviewed by this Texas-sized ATF. So, that would eliminate the notion of a red flag law, because you’d have this interview process. We’re not taking anybody’s guns away. We’re just interviewed by officials that are supposed to know the profiles. And then we figure out the details later on those types of issues, but those are things that we should be talking about. Limits on magazine capacity, sure.
But the biggest thing is we’ve got 70% of these crimes that are being perpetrated around this country are being committed by people that are under 21 years old. And yet, in Texas, you can walk around, by the way, with your AR-15. Last session, they passed open carry. The last thing — I was one of the last speakers to speak. The last thing I said, the last 10 seconds, I said, “Because of this bill, kids are going to die.” Never in my wildest dreams did I think that that bit of hyperbole was going to happen in my own community. I feel like I’m living in some kind of strange horror film.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Senator, when President Biden visited Uvalde on Sunday with his wife, many of the people there chanted to the president, “Do something.” What do you think that President Biden should do?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, look, I mean, he said it already. And by the way, they chanted some horrible, horrible things at Greg Abbott that same day, and it was more than just “Do something.” People are mad. They’re frustrated. Republican constituents are telling me we need to change this 18-year-old bit.
President Biden has done every executive order that he can do on this stuff. At the end, we need Congress to act. And the House can pass whatever they want right now, but they’re being stymied by the United States Senate. They cannot break the filibuster. You’ve got 10 Republicans that need to move, or you need to have Democrats that are going to have the fortitude to break the filibuster. And so, we are in this logjam. It is so a bought and paid-for logjam by the National Rifle Association. And where we are, it’s just they’re — these politicians — I didn’t say “public servants.” These politicians in Washington and politicians like Greg Abbott, they are just cowards, that they can’t stand up to this organization.
I’ve been here every day. I haven’t been home. I go home at night at midnight. I come back out at 6:00, 7:00 in the morning every day, and I spend my entire days here just talking to people. They have to know that government is going to be here. I’m trying to get resources to the community. It’s easy to say something. But just like my wife says, it’s about actions.
You know, the governor’s second — the reason I interrupted that press conference was very organic. I was all the way across town as I listened to it. He didn’t invite me to it in my own district, first off. Secondly, it was just some perfunctory press conference about the existing services that the state of Texas has to offer these families. And they’re pretty minimal, by the way. If you’re the governor of the great state of Texas, you would think that you would come down with your checkbook in hand and make sure that we had mental health services in Uvalde, which we don’t have. You’d make sure that families had a real victim assistance program. How are we going to expect these poor people to go to work? And yes, there’s money flowing in, for sure, but it’s the kind of situation that their getting access to these moneys right now is tremendously difficult.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have any faith in your Texas senator, Cornyn, who Mitch McConnell has appointed to — the Senate minority leader — to work with Senator Murphy of Connecticut — of course, represents Sandy Hook — Blumenthal, also of Connecticut, and others, to come up with gun control legislation? Do you think for a moment, though it didn’t happen in massacre after massacre — do you think for a moment this could be a breaking point? And also, what are the plans for the Robb Elementary School? You’ve been talking about having it razed and rebuilt because the kids don’t want to return?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, I’ll tell you that my plans immediately are something that began with a talk with the president last week — the president’s staff last week. And it was the idea that we discussed razing the — where they brought up the notion of razing the school. I didn’t really realize at the time that there is a federal protocol for this. There’s actually a grant that gives upwards of $45 million for schools devastated by this type of violent catastrophe. What does that say about our country that we have a process like this? I mean, it’s astounding to me.
And so far as — I know that Senator Murphy is out there, is trying as best he can. I hope he can open some hearts and minds. I’m hoping that Cornyn listens. I’ve known John Cornyn since I was a kid, since I was a law student. I used to deliver his books when he was a district court judge, to his courtroom. I asked him last week when I saw him, I said, “Senator, we need something.” And, you know, he told me what these people always tell me, you know: “Well, we’re working on it.” You know, it’s just not good enough. It’s not good enough. I mean, we need to do something better than what we’re doing, and it’s just not there.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Roland Gutierrez, I want to thank you for being with us. We don’t want to keep you anymore. I know you’re on the road to Uvalde right now, Democratic Texas state senator who represents Uvalde in the Texas state Legislature. Thanks so much for joining us, and be safe.
Next up, as questions mount over the hour it took for police in Uvalde to break into the classroom and kill the shooter, we’re going to go to Florida, to Brandon Wolf. He’s a survivor of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in 2016, where police took three hours to break into that gathering place of the LGBT community. Forty-nine people were killed in the second-deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history. Stay with us.