What Texas Can’t Forget

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Mary Curtis: The news cycle moves so quickly that we too often forget the things we should remember. Like the shooting in Uvalde High School that killed 19 children and two of their teachers.

Speaker 2: Now to the latest on the investigation into the Uvalde, a Texas elementary school shooting for weeks after 19 children and two teachers were killed. We’re learning new details about the police response and seeing.

Mary Curtis: We spoke with someone who will never forget Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who serves the citizens of Uvalde. He spent much of the last month looking for answers. Senator, what’s the mood like in the town today? If I were to walk around, does it still feel like this is a place where tragedy struck?

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Speaker 3: No, absolutely. I think that it’s still a town that is, you know, trying to heal, trying to begin those beginning phases of healing.

Mary Curtis: Senator Gutierrez represents Uvalde in the Texas State House. He came to the city the night of May 24th, and he stayed there for most of the time since to be there for his constituents to listen and to give them what support he can.

Speaker 3: I showed up to a civic center that was that night called a reunification center where parents gave DNA to try to match themselves with their children that were either in a hospital that they didn’t know about or or unfortunately succumb to gunfire. And so I saw these parents just wailing and screaming like you’ve never heard before. It’s the kind of yelling and screaming that you would imagine if someone had lost their little girl or their little boy. They had just gotten the worst news that they could ever get in their lives. And that’ll never, ever, ever escape my memory.

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Mary Curtis: Some of the people who lost their children blame law enforcement for not doing enough fast enough to save their kids.

Speaker 3: And so you have a lot of angry people. And rightly so, or at least so. I think that their grief and their sadness is right now in an angry face. And as you know, it’s just growing. They’re going to be in for the roller coaster of their lives, especially the affected parents of the deceased children. The only thing they have to look forward to is a sense of pain.

Mary Curtis: You’ve talked very movingly about recalling the reactions, the screams of grieving parents and said, I don’t want you or anyone else to have to do for your constituents what I’ve had to do over the last four weeks. And you said that you couldn’t fix anybody. So what kept you there so long?

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Speaker 3: I needed to be there so I can recount their stories. So I could tell people about the horror that I witnessed. And I know that sounds a little bit make up, but I didn’t know how else. I don’t know how to how else to be able to strike something in the hearts of a Republican in the Texas Senate to tell them this must end. I don’t know what else to do.

Mary Curtis: Today on the show, how Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez is working to make sure no one forgets what happened on May 24th in Uvalde. I’m Mary Curtis, filling in for Mary Harris. This is what next? Stick around.

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Mary Curtis: Over the last month, more and more details have leaked out about what happened that day and Uvalde. Most of them pointing to a total breakdown of law enforcement. Unanswered 911 calls from desperate students inside the building. Time wasted trying to find a key to the door of the room where the shooter was, which was likely unlocked the whole time. Steven McCraw, Texas, is director of the Department of Public Safety, thinks it’s obvious who’s to blame for the chaos. Pete Arradondo, the chief of the Uvalde school district’s police department. But Senator Gutierrez says the failures that day go way beyond any one person.

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Speaker 3: We know in my cross examination and the external that was there that there was 91 state troopers here at 12 over more in a hallway. We’ve seen a lot of finger pointing. We know that the active shooter protocols supersede any incidents around protocols. We know that no radios were functioning inside the building. This is 2022 and there wasn’t one single law enforcement entity in there that was receiving 911 distress calls. That is absurd. We know that none of the DPS troopers were listening to the supposedly incident commander. So why didn’t they go into that room?

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Speaker 3: We know that law enforcement failed those children that day. And we still don’t know why. We still don’t know why until being told all the elements and the reasons why they did not proceed into those classrooms. All we have seen is finger pointing at every level and mostly from the Texas government. And it isn’t right in this community. And my constituents deserve a full explanation. And we have it, by the way. They just don’t want to show us. They don’t want to show us the body cameras. They don’t want to explain to us what truly went on in the chaos when most law enforcement experts will probably tell you that these men froze, that they were at odds with each other. And then in the end. They failed about every protocol you could imagine in this type of situation.

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Mary Curtis: Many observers, including Senator Gutierrez, are clamoring to get their hands on records from the day, hoping to figure out how things could have gone so wrong. But some officials aren’t making it easy. Uvalde This district attorney has asked the city not to release records related to the investigation into the shooting. And other officials, including Governor Greg Abbott, have asked the State Attorney General for permission to withhold records. Some city officials are saying that they can’t release information related to the shooting because no one has been convicted of a crime yet, even though the reason is that the shooter is dead.

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Speaker 3: But at the end of the day, there is no justifiable reason why that information cannot be disseminated to the public. And that’s why the Department of Public Safety. I sued them to get all of the information that’s necessary. Where their offices were, where they were situated, how long they were situated in their positions. Who ordered them? Under whose command and control were they under? The public needs to know the truth.

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Mary Curtis: I noted that your lawsuit reads, In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Valley in Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements and shifts of blame. So you look to answer some of those questions.

Speaker 3: Yeah. I mean, I think that the finger pointing is going on from the first time that Colonel McCraw gave his first statement where he pointed the finger at the local school district, the cop who has six police under him.

Speaker 2: The chairman, Senators Steve McCraw, director of Texas Public Safety. 3 minutes after the subject to the West building, there were a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject. The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from ending room 111 and 112 was the on scene commander.

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Speaker 3: I mean, let’s put that in perspective. There was 91 DPS trooper. She admitted to me two days ago on the phone when I had him on cross-examination. He admitted that they had done no joint training in the community with local law enforcement. He admitted that 12 of his officers were in and out of that hallway, that they took no orders from Arradondo. And so they didn’t take any orders from Arradondo.

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Speaker 3: Then why are we establishing the statistics narrative that this local cop is in control? And maybe that’s what the protocols dictate. But here again, that particular officer couldn’t even communicate anything to him. But because he left his radios outside, God knows why. And thirdly, there wasn’t one single radio working with the hundreds of guys that were in that building, men and women. Their radios didn’t work. And this is a perfect example. What not to do in one of these situations.

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Mary Curtis: News has come that police chief schools police chief Pete Arradondo, he has just been placed on administrative leave, which is not exactly a surprise after the director of the DPS Department of Public Safety blamed law enforcement for its response. And the director, McCraw, that you mentioned, called it an abject failure. Do you think that this is welcome news for the community? Will it make a difference in just getting to the bottom of what happened?

Speaker 3: Well, listen, I understand human error and I understand human failure and I even understand fear. Even when you took a job to defend and protect people. But every one of those cops failed. And we’re singling out one guy and I don’t even know. Those are the realities. On the ground or that everybody failed up until the point where one federal government employee said, the hell with this. We’re going in.

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Mary Curtis: Now, do you see this effort to prevent the records from being released as some sort of cover up by whom and to what end? And while you were in Uvalde, did you meet with these leaders? Have you been in contact with them? How do they defend their refusal to make these records public?

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Speaker 3: Well, listen, I have met with the leaders and the mayor. The mayor was told from the beginning, don’t speak to anybody, don’t speak to the media, don’t give anybody any information from the police. But at the end of the day, I mean, he’s following the orders from his district attorney and I’m not defending him. Now, his district attorney, who even knows what she’s investigating, at which point now all the body cam footage is with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Yesterday, the mayor called me and he said the order we’re asked, rather, the Texas Department of Safety to release all body cam footage. Which I think they should.

Mary Curtis: Now, I can’t help but wonder, tempting as it is, to harp on the law enforcement’s failures, and they certainly are quite a few. If that might be missing the point, which is that an 18 year old was able to buy an assault weapon and use it to kill people. And one commentator put it like this, demanding that police respond more swiftly and courageously once the slaughter of schoolchildren has already begun is itself the mark of a broken society, which no longer seems able to ask that we prevent such killings in the first place. What do you think?

Speaker 3: No. I think that there is everything to that statement. Let’s be clear. We spent 2 hours in a committee hearing talking about a door that was malfunctioning. This isn’t about doors. It’s not about metal detectors. It’s not about putting fencing all around our schools and limiting to one door as our lieutenant governor would have, or even ballistic shields. This is about militarized weaponry in the hands of 18 to 21 year olds. This is about not having red flags and laws in Texas and a governor who refuses to employ them. This is about not having waiting periods.

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Speaker 3: Look, I’m a realist. I live in Texas and I even own guns myself. I don’t own these types of guns. But I know my constituents and I know what my constituents in West Texas like and what they want. At the end of the day, even my Republican constituents are telling me I’m right on raising the age limit to 21. It’s the simplest thing we can do. Greg Abbott could go in there, call a special session right now. Insist on one change, and that’s an age limit. When he can drop the microphone and leave the building, he’d be the star in this state. But instead, he chooses to sell his soul because he cares more about the NRA and their money than he does about innocent children. And in reality, Texas.

Mary Curtis: After the break, lawmakers could change regulations so that the shooter could never have gotten the gun in the first place. Will they?

Mary Curtis: You gave a very emotional speech to the Committee to Protect All Texans about what you witnessed in Uvalde.

Speaker 3: I have heard the most gruesome stories from little kids to fourth graders in stories that I dare not say at this time. Families were huddled in prayer. I didn’t have the courage to put my arm around them and tell them I’m here for you. They want to be talked to by their senator or by their governor or by anybody. They wanted to be just alone with their loved ones.

Mary Curtis: What were you hoping to accomplish? Because you note that you’re not trying to tell you to vote in a certain way. So what did you hope people would take away from what you shared about that experience?

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Speaker 3: That sounds harsh, but I wanted them to feel the horror and the pain and the suffering of people. Emmett Till’s murder. She said, leave his casket open. She wanted to see the world, to see what they had done to the war. I saw seven little girls in costumes. I wanted people to understand the or what these families have had to deal with.

Mary Curtis: Well, because of the way Texas politics works, not only is the legislature not in session, but lawmakers won’t return to the capital until January of 2023. So the governor, Greg Abbott, has called for the formation of a special legislative committees to examine and develop legislative recommendations. Do these seem like useful exercises to you?

Speaker 3: No. I mean, listen, we’ve been down this road before, which with Santa Fe, with Sutherland Springs, with El Paso, with Midland Odessa. This is simply another ruse, another attempt to bamboozle the Republic of Texas to stall and wait for time. Until the media goes away, until these stories go away, until people are talking about something else. He has done nothing. Massacre after massacre. This man has done absolutely nothing. And a special committee is absolutely doing nothing. Until we get in there on a cold. Date certain 30 day legislative session pursuant to our Constitution, then nothing can be done.

Mary Curtis: Well, what are you hoping that such a special session could accomplish and achieve?

Speaker 3: Will do anything. Do anything. Do a red flag law, a background check law, a magazine capacity law. What I really would like to see is the age limit increase to 21 like they did in Florida. Do anything, do something. Greg Abbott likes to talk about evil. The only evil that exists in this state is having elected leaders, people in power that have a problem staring them straight in the face and doing absolutely nothing about it.

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Mary Curtis: I wonder what would be on your legislative wish list versus what you think is a realistic agenda in the state of Texas that you know so well?

Speaker 3: Well, I’m sure they’ll come back in January and we’ll talk about doors and windows and locks and school hardening. And yet again, we’ll spend next to no money on it. Look, we spent $4 billion on a failed border security plan and they spent 100 million on school hardening in 2019. Look where that got us. They failed these kids. I’m sure there’ll be some of that. I’m sure there’ll be some mental health money. I doubt that Greg Abbott will avail himself of the red flag incentives that are going through Congress at this time. But what I will be pushing for at a bare minimum, where I’ll be yelling from the rafters is to change the age limit to the age of 21. And I will find any bill I can to make an amendment to do that.

Mary Curtis: But we also have, you know, the federal gun bill that’s been moving, moving slowly through the Senate. What do you make of that particular proposal?

Speaker 3: Listen, I mean, we are in the desert and we are dying of thirst. So I suppose that something is something. But that said, it comes with too many options for governors or people in power to say no to like the red flag incentive piece. If Abbott isn’t available of a stem cell for avail the state of those benefits. Then we’re left without anything. We left without red flags. We’ve got a greater background check process, which is fine. But we don’t even touch the age limit requirement. And I don’t understand why when the vast majority of Americans say raise the age limit to 21.

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Mary Curtis: Now, you’ve said in a recent interview that the South Texas school district has talked about applying for a federal grant program called Project Serve the School Emergency Response to Violence to Raise Robb Elementary. What are the parents in Uvalde is saying about the future of the building and what needs to be done?

Speaker 3: I haven’t heard from one single parent that wants to send their school kids there. The president was very helpful to his staff in the White House, was very helpful in calling me directly to figure out how we can help do that. I put him in contact with the school superintendent. School superintendent and I have been collaborating and we’re going to keep moving forward to try to get to that end. But there’s not one single parent that wants to send their kids into that building.

Mary Curtis: So the last thing on my mind is just something you alluded to earlier, how short people’s attention spans are. You talked about people are delaying things until it goes away. How fast the news cycle is this? Any part of you worry that by the time the legislators come back to Austin, whether for a special session or a new legislative term, most Texans, most people will have moved on and the pressure will be off.

Speaker 3: I was going back and forth for the first 14 days and one morning when I was leaving it was a Saturday and it was actually the first Saturday. After the shooting. I was fueling up my car early in the morning. I saw a couple young couple cutting ice and an ice just filling up their car with gas, presumably going to the lake or wherever they were going. I couldn’t understand. Why this young couple in San Antonio couldn’t understand why they weren’t feeling my grief, my pain. I couldn’t understand why they had forgotten what happened just three short days ago in a town 90 miles away.

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Speaker 3: And the facts are, is that most of the world just kind of moves on. You know, people have their own issues, their own problems to contend with. It’s the same kind of. Argument when we talk about apathy and why people don’t vote. But I guess. That all I can do for myself. Figure a way to talk to people. Well, we keep reminding them because you’re right. As soon as the dust settles and it’s settling. Most people will move on. And as I suggested, I feel most people already have. So maybe all I can do is yell and scream and shame people. Maybe that’s all that’s left of my career. I don’t know.

Mary Curtis: How does how do you keep people tuned in? Because every week there seems to be a new tragedy. You’ve already followed Buffalo and people stop talking about that.

Speaker 3: For my part, I want people. To organize, not to vote or anything like that, although that’s something that I imagine will come in time. But for my part, I want them to tell their story. I can’t tell it for them as well as they can when they’re ready. They need to be advocates for themselves. They need to be advocates for their children. They need to be advocates for the parents of.

Speaker 3: Across Texas and. I try to tell those folks that we’re going to get through this and they have a new friend and someone that loves them. Someone is going to be there for them. But I also asked them to do. The hardest thing possible, which is to talk about this when they’re ready. Families that lost children are going to deal with it. For the rest of their lives. Imagine all of those hopes and dreams and aspirations that they had for their children and the hopes and dreams and aspirations that those little kids had for themselves just to simply enjoy a summer vacation that was just about to happen. And all of that in an instant is gone because we in power couldn’t figure it out.

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Mary Curtis: State Senator Roland Gutierrez, thank you for coming on. What next to talk about your community. And thank you again for being so open and vulnerable.

Speaker 3: Thank you very much.

Mary Curtis: That’s the show. What next is produced by Alena Schwartz, Mary Wilson, Carmel Delshad and Madeline Ducharme.

Mary Curtis: We’re getting a ton of help from Anna Rubin, Nova and Jarrett Downing. We are led by Alicia montgomery and Joanne Levine. I’m Mary Curtis, columnist for Roll Call and host of It’s Equal Time Podcast. Follow me on Twitter at AM Curtis and see three. I’m filling in for Mary Harris. She’ll be back in this feed tomorrow.