UVALDE, Texas– Brett Cross has been camped outside the Uvalde School District offices for nearly 200 hours. He didn’t sleep much. He mourns.
The video above is about Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas DPS, wishing the state forces had taken control of the operation at Robb Elementary.
But the 32-year-old wind turbine service technician said he would not end his vigil until the Uvalde School Board suspended the school district’s five police officers who killed the school at 24, killing 19 students and two teachers.
One of the victims was Uziyah Garcia, Cross’s ten-year-old nephew. School district police were among the hundreds of corrections officers who waited more than an hour to confront the gunman, in violation of active gunman training, which teaches officers to eliminate the threat immediately. A Texas House committee report criticized the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies involved for creating a chaotic scene without clear leadership.
Cross, Uziyah’s legal guardian, began the protest on September 27, joined by about a dozen families of the victims and residents of Uvalde. Since then, Cross has been sleeping alone on the school grounds.
“I am asking for … these officers to be removed from these campuses until proven whether they were authorized to sit outside the classroom for 77 minutes,” Cross said.
Cross’ wife Nikki often accompanies him during the day. She placed 19 school backpacks and two bags outside the doors of the school district building on Tuesday, representing the 21 people who died in the shooting.
Friends and residents of Uvalde stop by regularly, bringing the couple food, drinks and fans to beat the Texas heat.
“The families come together. We laugh. We cry. We tell stories,” Cross said.
Hal Harrell, superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, met with Cross privately three days after the protests began. Harrell said that he could not afford to suspend school district police officers for safety reasons.
SEE ALSO: Daughter of Hero Uvalde, Teacher: “I know she didn’t even hesitate” to shield students
More than 30 officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety are also on the Uvalde campus, but Harrell said DPS officers are limited in their capabilities and perform different roles than school district police officers. The district did not explain how the roles differ.
“We do not condone the behavior of this group and are seeking to end the disruption,” Harrell wrote in a Sept. 30 letter to district families. “We are working to identify state and local partners who are willing to help us restore peace which will allow us to conduct school business in the manner you are used to.”
Former Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo, one of the first officers on the scene and designated incident commander in the district’s active shooter plan, bears much of the blame for the botched response. The district suspended Arredondo on June 22 and fired him on August 24.
DPS, the U.S. Department of Justice, a Texas House committee and the Uvalde County District Attorney have launched separate investigations into law enforcement’s response.
On September 28, the day after the protests began, Uvalde CISD announced that an outside group, JPPI Investigations, would conduct an independent review of Uvalde CISD’s May 24 police actions.
The announcement didn’t satisfy Cross, who said he wants more transparency and accountability from the school district.
“I honestly feel like they don’t care. They always want to apologize,” Cross said. “All they want to do is sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen and get on with their happy lives, collecting their nice little paychecks and not being held accountable.”
Gloria Cazares, the mother of 10-year-old victim Jackie Cazares, joined the protest on day one and has returned to sit with Cross. She said she was exhausted but it was crucial to pressure the district to launch an independent investigation as it has the responsibility to hold school police accountable.
“Nobody would answer us. Nobody would speak to us. They would not answer our questions,” Cazares said. “We waited 18 weeks. We tried to do it their way and it didn’t work. So let’s try it in a different way now.”
Cross said the idea of protesting and camping outside the Uvalde school district building came to him after speaking with Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin Oliver died in a 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla , which killed 14 students and three faculty members.
Cross said he spoke to Oliver in Washington, DC earlier this year, and Oliver recounted how he protested the government’s lack of action on gun control outside the White House until he got a meeting with federal officials.
After the Parkland shooting, the Florida legislature enacted a warning signal law that allows counties to take guns from anyone who poses a “significant danger” to themselves or others. Florida also raised the minimum age for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21.
The Uvalde families have called for the passage of a Texas Red Flag Act, a proposal that has not received support in the Texas Legislature. They’ve also pushed for raising the minimum age for purchasing AR-style rifles like those bought by the Robb Elementary shooter.
Gov. Greg Abbott said in last Friday’s gubernatorial debate with Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke that raising the minimum age to purchase assault rifles in Texas is unconstitutional and that he opposes a red-flag law because it “restricts lawful Texas… Guns would deny owners their right to due process.”
Cross is urging people to vote in November’s election. He said he wanted Abbott out of office.
“These people in power forget that they work for us and not the other way around,” he said. “It’s high time we reminded them of that.”
Cross said he longs to sleep well in his bed and be with his family. But he won’t go home until the cops are suspended.
“Nothing I say or do will bring (Uziyah) back, but I can help create and sustain a better future for the rest of my children and for everyone else’s children,” he said.
RELATED: 13 Examines How Texas and Florida Reacted Differently After School Shootings
Watch the full coverage of the deadly school shooting in Uvalde.
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https://abc13.com/uvalde-school-shooting-police-response-district-texas/12297919/ Uvalde school shooting: Protesters are demanding that the district suspend officers waiting outside Robb elementary school during the massacre