Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s response to the shooting at a school under review

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A day after an elementary school shooter killed 21 people in a small Texas town this week, Governor Greg Abbott appeared before a grieving nation to explain how it happened, delivering an authoritative account of the Law enforcement hero facing evil and preventing further loss of life with quick action.

But much of this story was not true.

Abbott was back in Uvalde, Texas, on Friday to acknowledge that key parts of what he told the country had been refuted by the ongoing criminal investigation, and to blame law enforcement officials for the errors. who had informed him on Wednesday.

“I was on this same stage two days ago and I was recounting public information that was told to me,” the Republican said, his voice rising angrily at times. “As everyone has learned, the information given to me turned out to be partly inaccurate. And I’m absolutely livid about it.

The dramatic appearance came as anguish grew among grieving families over the response from law enforcement. It also came as Abbott – the most visible messenger in the days following the massacre – faces growing criticism that he moved too quickly to amplify a false law enforcement narrative that matches his own political beliefs.

Federal authorities have been “flabbergasted by amateur communications from Texas,” said a federal law enforcement official who, along with others, spoke on condition of anonymity to address sensitive issues related to the shootout.

State Democrats have begun calling on the FBI to play a bigger role in investigating the events, while raising questions about Abbott’s decision to relay unverified information. Abbott is leading in the polls for re-election this year and is increasingly seen as a possible candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

“If I were the governor, when you have something this terrible affecting so many lives, I would want to make sure my information is rock solid,” said state Rep. Richard Raymon, chairman. Democrat on the committee overseeing the Texas Military Department, which works closely with the Department of Public Safety. “You can’t fumble this one.”

Abbott has extensive experience in such situations. Since his election as governor in 2014, the governor has overseen the state’s response to mass shootings that together have killed more than 90 people, including attacks on a church in Sutherland Springs, a high school in Santa Fe, a Walmart in El Paso and shootings in the streets of Odessa, Midland and Dallas.

Abbott supported increased training and funding for school safety in response, but resisted efforts to place greater restrictions on gun ownership and use. Instead, he pushed to loosen gun regulations, signing a 2015 law that allows concealed handguns on college campuses and a 2021 law that allows Texans to carry a firearm. concealed fist without license or training.

He signed other laws last year that allow gun owners to store guns in hotel rooms, own silencers and carry guns outside of a gun holster. shoulder or belt. He also banned the government from reducing gun sales during disasters and emergencies.

Since Tuesday’s shooting, he has shown no indication that he is reconsidering any of those positions.

“Let’s be clear on one thing,” he said on Friday. “None of the laws I signed during the last session had any connection with this crime.”

Abbott was in Abilene on Tuesday afternoon, providing updates on wildfires scorching part of his state’s east, when he was first asked about reports of a school that was firing at four o’clock south at Uvalde.

Lawmakers accompanying him at a press conference had seen only brief snippets on their phones – chaos at an elementary school, more than a dozen children murdered. But the governor spoke confidently about what had just happened, identifying the shooter and pronouncing him dead.

Abbott looked overwhelmed after his remarks in Abilene, recalled State Senator Charles Perry, another Republican who joined him at his press conference. At the end of the press conference, Perry asked him, “Are you holding on?”

“Tough day,” was his response, the state legislator recalled.

But the governor’s day was far from over. Before heading back to Austin, he stopped at a fundraiser in Walker County, north of Houston — a move that former Republican aides and operatives say baffled them. One said he feared a fundraiser was the reason the governor didn’t fly straight to Uvalde on Tuesday night, but was ‘shocked’ to hear he was was right.

Fundraiser organizer Jeff Bradley confirmed in a text message that he had hosted the governor, who was there “for a very short time due to the crisis in Uvalde”, and said he would not didn’t know how much the event raised from attendees.

A spokesperson for Abbott’s campaign said further political activity had been postponed, and the governor, responding to a question about fundraising, told reporters he “stopped and let people know that I couldn’t stay, that I had to leave and that I wanted them to”. find out what happened and get back to Austin so I can continue working with Texas law enforcement.

Abbott also spoke Tuesday night with President Biden, who offered “every assistance,” according to the White House.

On Wednesday, he traveled to Uvalde, where he appeared with law enforcement and other senior state officials, as well as federal and state lawmakers, to provide details on the unfolding of the shooting. The press conference made headlines mainly because it was interrupted by Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat and former congressman from Texas who is running against Abbott for governor.

Abbott’s mission was not to debate, he said, but to dispel misconceptions about the shooting. “Let me tell you some of the best information we have right now,” he said, noting that the investigation was still ongoing.

He placed particular emphasis on the heroism of the police.

“As horrible as what happened, it could have been worse,” Abbott said. “The reason it wasn’t worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed incredible courage as they ran towards gunfire in the sole purpose of trying to save lives.

Importantly, he said school officers “approached the shooter and engaged with the shooter.” This account echoed statements by state authorities, some of whom said officers exchanged gunfire with the shooter.

But on Thursday, state officials made it clear that officers did not engage the shooter outside of the school and that a school district police officer was not on campus at the time. -the. Abbott has kept a low profile, huddling with assists in Austin. On Twitter, he shared pictures of a briefing with state agencies and pledged to “make available all state resources to assist the families of the victims, teachers, and the community of Uvalde in their work of healing.”

And on Friday, Steven McCraw, director of the Department of Public Safety, went back on the initial accounts again by acknowledging that a local incident commander had made the “wrong decision” by preventing officers from entering the classroom. with the shooter, believing he had changed from an “active shooter” to a “barricaded subject”.

For nearly 50 minutes, children inside called 911 to beg the active shooter’s help, as officers waited outside two classrooms, McCraw first acknowledged Friday.

A spokesperson for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment on where he received his information and how he verified it.

Abbott canceled a scheduled Friday appearance at a National Rifle Association meeting in Houston in favor of pre-recorded remarks in which he dismissed the idea that more gun regulations would have prevented the atrocity.

“There are thousands of laws in effect across the country that restrict the possession or use of firearms, laws that have failed to stop the insane from committing evil acts on innocent people in peaceful communities” , he told the gun rights group.

Later in Uvalde, he refused to immediately convene a special legislative session to develop solutions that would crack down on gun violence, while saying he wanted a thorough review of state law, especially security. school and health care.

Let me clarify one thing. The status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “This crime is unacceptable.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) said inconsistent statements from heads of state and law enforcement have “shaken Texans’ confidence in the state government and in the governor.”

The congressman also accused Abbott of making the state less safe as the mass shootings piled up. “He made the state more dangerous by making it easier for dangerous people to get a gun,” Castro said.

On Friday, calls for a legislative response turned bipartisan, with Republican state senator Kel Seliger urging Abbott for “calling us to special sessions until we do SOMETHING”.

Former aides said the window for compromise in Austin has narrowed, especially ahead of the November election. And they said calling lawmakers back to Austin, only for the talks to prove futile, could be detrimental to Abbott.

Wayne Hamilton, who led Abbott’s campaign in 2014, said he expects the governor, who has used a wheelchair since an accident in the 1980s, to take his time responding to calls for new legislation.

“As someone who’s been through personal tragedy, he’s very in tune and focused on being with people who are hurting, and that’s what you’re going to see him do in the near future,” said Hamilton. “You’re not going to make him talk about political stuff and political stuff.”

After the Santa Fe shootings in 2018, he asked the legislature to explore a new red flag law that would “identify those who intend to use firearms” and allow the state to remove the weapons of their possession. But the proposal faced backlash, including from the state’s Republican Party, which spoke out against the idea in its platform that year.

The proposal never became law.

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