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Uvalde school district hires new police officers, while keeping report from the public

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(UVALDE, Texas) — Uvalde, Texas, school district officials announced Monday that they have hired two new school district police officers, marking the first move to rebuild the district’s police force — five months after the entire force was suspended amid scrutiny over the police response to the May 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School.

“It’s a pleasure to introduce our two new police officers,” Interim Superintendent Gary Patterson said during a regular school board meeting.

The officers are Melissa Castaneda, who worked for the police department in Tuscon, Arizona, and Pedro Huizar, who was previously a police officer in Sabinal, Texas, 25 miles northeast of Uvalde. The new officers join Josh Gutierrez, who was named district police chief in November.

Patterson did not say whether the district plans to hire more officers in the coming weeks and did not discuss changes being implemented in reconstituting the district’s police force. Neither the superintendent nor his representatives responded to ABC News’ requests for comment Tuesday.

Nineteen students and two of their teachers were killed on May 24 at Robb Elementary School. The police response that day is the subject of a series of reviews and examinations and has been widely criticized for being slow and ineffective. All police officers who responded that day are being investigated by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is leading the criminal probe into the shooting that ended when a federal tactical unit killed the shooter as they tried to take him into custody.

During the school board meeting Monday, the superintendent provided a detailed update on the investigations and internal audits the district initiated in the wake of the May massacre.

He announced that an investigation into the law enforcement response on May 24 has been completed and delivered to the school board. But he did not release the document to the public, and the superintendent said he does not know whether the district, which has been criticized for secrecy in the months following the shooting, would ever put it out.

“Our attorneys are going to have to work that out whether that’s in the board’s best interest to have this released or not,” Patterson said during the meeting.

Patterson, reading from an overview of the report, said that it includes a thorough timeline of the events on May 24, an analysis of decisions made by police that day and tactical opinions of those choices.

That report was completed by the Texas Police Chiefs Association and has been finished “for a while,” Patterson said, though he did not say precisely how long. The organization worked in conjunction with Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT), based out of the Texas Safety Center in Austin.

The superintendent said a separate administrative audit of the events of May 24 is not being done despite an initial announcement that one would take place. He said the board last September asked the then-superintendent, Hal Harrell, to present options for organizations that could conduct such a review of administrative practices that could have prevented the shooting or perhaps reduced the human toll of the rampage. A few weeks later, in October, Harrell retired, before he could present any of those options to the board, Patterson said.

“I think that the intent was to do that, but Dr. Harrell retired and that was never resolved,” Patterson said.

The investigative updates came during a meeting where several community members criticized the district for trying to hide critical information from the public.

“DPS is sweeping it under the rug,” said pastor Daniel Myers of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is leading the criminal investigation. “Now you’re sweeping it under the rug.”

Myers was referring to the decision by DPS to conclude its internal review of police conduct with the termination of one trooper and then the decision to move to fire one Ranger. (A third Texas trooper under investigation resigned before the probe was complete.)

Community members Monday also criticized the school district administration for losing track of the shooter, Salvador Ramos, in the months prior to the shooting. Ramos, a former Uvalde High School student, was involuntarily released from school in 2021, having only completed ninth grade.

Patterson offered new information on Ramos, who was chronically absent in the years before he attacked Robb Elementary. Patterson said the district met with Ramos’ family several times, sent letters to his home, and made efforts to have him finish his coursework at Crossroads Academy, a Uvalde school for at-risk students looking to earn their high school diplomas. Eventually, those efforts were met with contempt from Ramos, Patterson said.

“The last meetings were ‘F-U, F-U, F all of you. I’m not coming to school,'” Patterson said. “We can’t make him.”

A special investigative committee of the Texas state Legislature reported in July that the shooter missed 100 days of school between 2018 and 2021.

That investigative report found that teachers may have recommended speech therapy and a dyslexia diagnosis, but that the shooter never received special education services.

“This particular student was not diagnosed with a mental illness and was not a special education student,” Patterson said. “So the allegation that the district didn’t do anything to try to reach him is again incorrect.”

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