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Justice Department appoints team to review Uvalde school shooting

Local police have faced mounting criticism for taking over an hour to confront the gunman as he massacred the students and staff of a Texas elementary school.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it will partner an FBI official with a team of police chiefs to study failures in the response by Uvalde, Texas, police to the May 24 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland made the announcement during a meeting with department officials on Wednesday amid public outcry that the school district police chief waited too long to send law enforcement into the school where a lone gunman was killing children as young as seven years old. 

“Nothing can undo the pain that has been inflicted on the loved ones of the victims,” Garland said, but the Justice Department "will use its expertise and independence to assess what happened and to provide guidance moving forward.” 

In the two and half weeks since carnage befell the small town of about 15,000 residents, Texas officials and law enforcement trying to piece together details of the shooting have faced blowback over their decision to keep a lid on information about the local police response. 

The massacre at Uvalde is said to have lasted for up to an hour before law enforcement killed the gunman after breaking into the classroom where he had barricaded himself. 

Attorney General Garland insisted on Wednesday that the goal of the federal review will be to identify "lessons learned."  

The nine-member team assigned to the review is made of current and former police chiefs, an FBI official, a mental health professional, a retired public safety director and a communications executive. Their efforts will be conducted through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, a program launched in 1994 by the Justice Department to advance community-policing efforts under the Clinton administration. It is the only component of a federal agency with “policing” in its name. 

Garland's team vows to "expeditiously" produce a report on the mass shooting with recommendations for authorities and the public. As part of the study, the team is expected to make their way to Uvalde where they will walk the grounds of Robb Elementary and reconstruct the shooting that broke out halfway through the school's last week of classes. During the investigation, school employees, victims’ families and local officials will all be sought out for interviews. 

The announcement comes one day after the Department of Homeland Security published a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, warning about the growing praise online for the Uvalde gunman and calls for a copycat mass shooting. 

Since the beginning the year, there have been at least 251 mass shootings in the U.S., according to the National Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot. 

The number of mass shootings in the U.S. has seen an annual rise in the last three years, from 417 in 2019 to 610 in 2020 to 692 in 2021, according to the archive. 

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