Jexas Gov. Greg Abbott was keen to hail the “swift response” of “valiant local officials” to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas this week. But as new details of the police response emerged on Thursday and questions were asked about why it took officers 14 minutes to enter the building, that praise became more complicated, underscoring a dynamic who was prominently displayed at the governor’s press conference the day before.
On Wednesday, Abbott appeared in front of TV cameras again after a mass shooting to provide details of the tragedy and express his condolences to the victims, just as he did in 2018 after the Sante Fe high school shooting and in 2019. after the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso. Along with calling for better access to mental health care, the governor focused on praising the actions of law enforcement officers – repeatedly praising armed first responders for their bravery and speaking about the record psychological that the shooting could have on them. .
“As horrible as what happened [was], it could have been worse. The reason it wasn’t worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do,’ Abbott said, praising officers’ ‘quick response’ at a conference. press on Wednesday. “They showed incredible courage as they ran towards gunfire.” Abbott initially said school officers “engaged” the shooter before he entered the school, but a new timeline of events later contradicted this.
Notably absent from Abbott’s Wednesday press conference: Praise for educators who protected their students and died alongside 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 said he watched Abbott’s press conference in dismay. “He expressed a lot of sympathy for the families, what you expect of him, and for law enforcement, and there is nothing wrong with that. But he should have spoken more about the educators, ”says Robison: “We were disappointed he didn’t.”
Abbott’s focus on policing has become particularly shocking given Thursday’s developments. Some parents of Robb Elementary students wonder if the police could have done more. On Thursday, the Texas Department of Public Safety said the shooter entered the building “unobstructed” and there were no officers on campus when the shooting began.
READ MORE: The shooter entered the Uvalde school “without obstruction”. Questions mount over police response
Local police, including school resource officers, took about 14 minutes to confront the shooter after he arrived outside the school armed with an AR-15 type assault rifle, according to details from Victor Escalon, Southeast Regional Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. It wasn’t until about an hour later that a US Border Patrol tactical team arrived and killed him.
As Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, all Republicans, focused on law enforcement officers during Wednesday’s press conference, it was the Superintendent’s responsibility d’Uvalde, Hal Harrell, to highlight the role educators play in protecting students. Tuesday. “They are heroes. They did heroic things yesterday,” he said at the press 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 the district school, Harrell said. “They put their heart and soul into what they did to educate our children in Uvalde,” he said.
According to their school profiles, both women were fourth-grade teachers. Garcia taught at Robb Elementary for 23 years and has four children of her own. 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 policeman in the district.
Mireles’ daughter shared memories of her mother in a Facebook post. “I will forever say your name so you will always be 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 on Wednesday anyone who would “oversimplify” the tragedy by focusing on gun laws – all making it clear that gun safety reform was not an option, 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 has not always been so strong. After the 2018 Santa Fe school shooting in which 10 people were killed, Abbott suggested he would support gun reform legislation, citing background checks and strategies to keep weapons beyond the reach of those who “present an immediate danger to others”. But Texas gun laws have become more relaxed. In 2019, a day after a gunman killed seven people in Odessa, Texas, the state enacted nine gun-friendly laws that made it easier to transport or store firearms in places like foster homes, schools, churches, mosques and synagogues. Last year, Abbott signed seven laws further relaxing gun restrictions.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Abbott — who is re-elected in November — pointed to laws passed by the state after Santa Fe — which included requirements for school districts to develop emergency plans and emergency crews. assessing behavioral threats, and measures that “toughened up” schools, increasing the presence of law enforcement officers on campus, and enabling districts to train and arm school employees.
But none of those measures stopped the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter from buying two semi-automatic rifles and 375 rounds at a sporting goods store, entering an elementary school, and killing 21 people.
This reluctance to budge on gun safety reform is frustrating for many educators, who are all too familiar with school shooting drills and lockdown protocols. Teachers, says Robison, “always knew that sooner or later it could happen to them.” This is why many education groups, along with other gun safety advocates, are again calling for state and federal action on gun legislation.
People in Texas and across the United States were reminded this week, with or without Abbott’s help, of the heroism of teachers. But Robison points out that appreciation can’t do much.
“It’s one thing to express sympathy for the families and praise the heroism of law enforcement,” Robison said. “But when are you going to do something that maybe helps prevent this kind of thing from happening again? Where you don’t have to cry with the families?
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