‘Gut-wrenching’: Santa Fe shooting survivors livid after their fight was ignored in Uvalde

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  • A report by the Texas House committee into the Uvalde school shooting showed the district failed to adhere to various Texas school safety protocols.
  • Survivors and victims’ families from the 2018 Santa Fe school shooting said their efforts to lobby for new state safety rules were in vain since the laws are unenforceable.
  • A 2020 audit by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University found that of the state’s 1,022 districts, only 200 had a viable active shooter policy.

As she read this week a report from a Texas House of Representatives committee on the Uvalde school shooting, Flo Rice felt anxiety creep up and her heart gallop. After a few minutes, she retreated to a dark room in her home to decompress. 

Unlocked school doors. Unhinged teen hinting at violence. Failed police response. It was all too painfully familiar.

Rice was a substitute teacher in 2018 when she was hit by several shotgun blasts while herding students away from an active shooter at Santa Fe High School in southeast Texas. Her colleague, Glenda Ann Perkins, died a few feet away from her, one of 10 people killed and 13 injured in that attack. The shooter, a 17-year-old student at the school, survived a shootout with police and was taken into custody. 

Rice spent the next four years lobbying Gov. Greg Abbott and state lawmakers for changes in school safety protocols to make sure something so horrific never repeated itself in Texas. The Uvalde report revealed not enough has changed, she said. 

“It was so gut-wrenching and overwhelming,” Rice said of the 77-page report released Sunday by the Texas House committee investigating the May 24 shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

“Your only hope when you have such a loss of life and people’s lives ruined is that something comes out of it that would prevent it from happening again,” she said. “That’s all you got. We tried — and it still didn’t happen.”

Rice’s frustration was echoed by parents of victims of the Santa Fe shooting, who have lobbied lawmakers since the tragedy to harden schools. The Uvalde report revealed that many of the things they advocated for — locks on classrooms, staff training, threat assessments — never materialized, they said. 

“It hurts,” said Rosie Stone, whose 17-year-old son, Chris Stone, was killed in the Santa Fe attack. Stone visited Austin more than 10 times to meet with state lawmakers and Abbott to push for stronger school safety codes. “All that time and effort and money, putting ourselves in that position. Then it just happens again.”

Shortly after the Santa Fe shooting, families of victims met repeatedly with lawmakers and Abbott to push for better safety standards at schools. They cheered when their efforts led to a package of school safety laws passed in 2019. Among the new rules were mandates to keep doors locked at all time and the creation of emergency plans and “threat-assessment teams” tasked with flagging mentally unstable and potentially dangerous students. 

But the laws were passed without enforcement provisions, trusting districts to self-implement the initiatives, said Michael Matranga, a former Secret Service agent and safety consultant who advised on some of the laws passed in the wake of the Santa Fe shooting. 

A key bill, known as SB11, “was extremely watered down,” Matranga said. “The only way it got passed was because it had so many concessions. Politics got in the way.”

A 2020 audit taken by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University found that of the state’s 1,022 districts, only 200 had a viable active shooter policy. 

“I understand the frustration in Santa Fe victims and their families,” Matranga said. “I’m pretty disgusted myself.”

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District did have an emergency plan with threat-assessment teams, but the school didn’t adhere to many of its provisions, according to the report. One section detailed how one of the doors leading outside and the door to Room 111 — where many of the students were slain — were unlocked on May 24, allowing the shooter access to the school and classroom, despite repeated urgings by district police officers to keep school doors locked.

Stone said forcing schools to keep all doors locked was a key provision they fought for.

“We’re never going to stop a school shooting,” she said. “We’re in an epidemic that is unbelievably active. What we need to be is more proactive in preventing this from being so easy to happen. Small things, like locking doors, will make it harder for us to lose our children and our staff.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” Stone said, “to see all the failures that came out of the [Uvalde] shooting.”

Rhonda Hart, whose 14-year-old daughter Kimberly Vaughan was killed in the Santa Fe attack, remembered meeting with Abbott, then-President Donald Trump and other victims’ families at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston two weeks after the shooting. The Texas governor promised to make substantial changes and told them their school shooting would be the “first and last one in Texas.”

Hart said she was angered when the Uvalde report revealed that the two shootings — 300 miles and four years apart — had striking similarities, including unlocked doors, red flags on the shooter that went unreported and a delayed police response to halt the massacre. 

“We’re so mad,” Hart said. “I’m mad that we can’t hold the school districts accountable if they didn’t lock a door or follow a policy. I just want some accountability.”

In a statement released Monday, Abbott promised more changes in the wake of the report.

“The findings in their investigative report are beyond disturbing and raise serious concerns about the response that day,” he said. “There are critical changes needed as a result of the Texas House’s findings.”

The Uvalde report filled nine pages describing how the attacker was bullied in school, dropped out after ninth grade, told friends he was contemplating suicide and began stockpiling guns and ammunition. In the weeks leading to the shooting, he hinted at planning “something big” and posted pictures of his AR-15-style rifles on social media sites, leading one online friend to comment, “Givin me school shooter vibes.”

But no one outside his Snapchat circles and immediate family picked up on the red flags. “Private individuals alone knew the many warning signals,” the report said. 

The attacker wouldn’t have been flagged by district threat assessment teams since he was no longer a student in the district. But the fact that all those warning signs went unheeded and he was still allowed to purchase semi-automatic rifles and hollow-point rounds underscore a breakdown somewhere, said Scot Rice, Flo Rice’s husband. 

Unlike Uvalde, media and state attention soon faded from Santa Fe following the shooting, he said. Since the Santa Fe shooter survived and is awaiting trial, the families have been unable to get an independent investigation into the shooting — akin to the House committee report on Uvalde — and have been denied autopsy reports on their slain children, he said. The Uvalde shooter was fatally shot at the scene. 

“Santa Fe’s the shooting everyone forgets to mention,” Scot Rice said. “If we had a report and all this had come out and gotten the attention it needed, it may have prevented another attack. But it was just swooshed under the rug and they moved on.”

“We warned them this was going to happen,” he said. 

Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.

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