The state House committee investigating the police response to the mass murders at Robb Elementary School held its first session in Uvalde Thursday. All testimony given to the committee was done behind closed doors.
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered House Speaker Dade Phelan to put together a committee to investigate the police response to the shootings.
“I think the most respectful thing that we can do is to try to get some of those lingering questions answered for the people in this city,” said Republican State Rep. Dustin Burrows and committee chair.
Vice-chair, Democratic State Rep. Joe Moody said he wanted to help repay the kindness and compassion the El Paso area was shown after the mass shooting at a Wal-Mart.
“I may be a stranger to this town, but I bring that same love and that compassion for this community, and that’s what’s going to guide my work,” said Moody.
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman is the third member of the committee.
“It is my hope and prayer that our efforts will produce the information the legislature needs to protect our children,” said Guzman.
The committee heard from five witnesses Thursday; all school district officials. After testifying before the committee, Robb Elementary School Principal Mandy Gutierrez declined to say what information she provided.
“It was just an information session, they’re going to compile a report, and when it comes out, I may have more comment at that time,” Gutierrez said. “I am just concerned for my families and my kids.”
Uvalde CISD superintendent Hal Harrell declined to comment after providing his testimony. The district’s maintenance director, director of student services, and a school custodian also spoke to the committee.
At the end of Thursday’s session, Burrows indicated law enforcement witnesses are the next to testify.
“The Uvalde ISD police department is being cooperative,” said Burrows. “We look forward to their testimony. We’re very appreciative of that. There is a question mark however about the Uvalde Police Department itself, about whether or not they will visit with us voluntarily.”
A representative from Burrows’ office said this committee does have subpoena power but would not elaborate. The committee plans to provide a full report to the state legislature at the conclusion of its hearings, which will continue into next week.
KPRC 2 also learned a retired HPD homicide detective, Chris Abbey, was brought in to help the committee with its investigation. However, not all lawmakers are happy with information being given behind closed doors.
“We don’t need these answers behind closed doors with certain select members of the legislature, we need it for the general public,” said Democratic State Sen. Roland Gutierrez.
Gutierrez said he was also displeased with the 38th Judicial District Attorney, Christina Busbee, bringing the police response under the auspices of the criminal probe, further hindering public access to information.
“We’re not asking about criminality we’re not asking about co-conspirators. Although we know there aren’t any, we’re asking about where the police were situated at the time,” said Gutierrez. “It’s a shame we’re in this situation where this information is going to be held back from the public for as long as six months, according to the district attorney’s office.”
Gutierrez said he’s since learned that 13 of the officers going in and out of the hallway at different points during the shootings were Department of Public Safety troopers.
“That’s a concern to me because those are the people that are accountable to us in the legislature,” said Gutierrez. “Where were the failures, what went wrong, where were the communication errors? All of us in Texas should want that because we never want this to occur again.”