An investigative report based on previously unreleased records obtained by The Washington Post, The Texas Tribune, and ProPublica has called the medical response to the Uvalde, Texas school shooting on May 24 at Robb Elementary “flawed.” Two teachers and 19 students died in that shooting, and the investigation alleges that the response hampered the ability to treat some of the victims.
While experts have said it was law enforcement’s failure to confront the shooter until 77 minutes had passed that had the greatest impact on victims’ chances of survival, communication issues and the absence of resources amid medical responders impeded treatment as well, according to the investigation.
The report found that ambulances, air transport, and other emergency services were delayed. For instance, medical helicopters delivering critical blood supplies were told by an unidentified fire department official to go to an airport three miles away when they tried to land at the school. No helicopters transported victims directly from the school. Instead, four patients were flown to a trauma center after first being taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital or airport to ostensibly be flown to a trauma center if needed.
Meanwhile, parked police cars blocked the way for ambulances to reach the wounded. Footage from officers’ cameras and dashboards showed there were two ambulances outside Robb Elementary at the time the shooter was killed, but with at least 10 victims still alive, more ambulances were needed. Six students were transported to the hospital on a school bus that had no trained medics, per Texas EMS records.
“These scenes are inherently confusing, challenging, and chaotic,” Executive Director of Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council Eric Epley told the newspaper. The nonprofit helps coordinate trauma care in southwest Texas during mass casualty events. He later added: “We remain steadfast that the decisions by the on-scene medical leadership were sound and appropriate.”
As Rolling Stone reported with law enforcements’ response early on, the new report said ambulance and helicopter medics told investigators they too were confused about who was in command, where they should be stationed, and the number of victims. Experts said they did the best they could while trying to save lives, despite the apparent lack of coordination.
While it cannot be determined how many who died might have survived had the response been different, medical experts said 4th grade teacher Eva Mireles, who was married to responding Uvalde school district police officer Ruben Ruiz, had survivable wounds. Mireles was shot within the first few minutes of the attack and was conscious and responsive when she was pulled from the classroom. She was treated on a sidewalk and within minutes her heart stopped and she was administered CPR by first responders. It wasn’t until 16 minutes after the breach that she was transferred to an ambulance, where she was given a blood transfusion and other treatment. She was not taken to the hospital. First responders administered CPR in the ambulance for about 40 minutes before she was declared dead.
Several damning reports, along with testimony, have been released examining the systemic failures that occurred during the tragedy. The Texas Rangers, a part of the Department of Public Safety, continues its investigation, which the local district attorney said will be used to determine any criminal charges. In October, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District suspended its entire police force, just two months after the school board fired police chief Pete Arredondo following intense scrutiny and multiple investigations into law enforcement’s response to the massacre.