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Tuesday, December 5th on WGVU Public Television, FRONTLINE presents "Inside the Uvalde Response"

FRONTLINE, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica investigate the May 2022 gun massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. WGVU spoke with Lomi Kriel of the ProPublica/Texas Tribune Investigative Unit.

Lomi Kriel: Along with a team of reporters at ProPublica and the Texas Tribune, we've been covering the Robb School tragedy since it happened last May. What I think is different about both this documentary and the story that we'll be publishing alongside it is not only the full extent of the body camera footage putting you really in the moments of that day, but also the more than 150 interviews with investigators that we went through from law enforcement that really gives an insider look into their own thoughts about how that day transpired, what fears, regrets, questions they have about it? Which is very unusual to hear that kind of firsthand account from officers themselves who were involved in the response. So, I think both the story and the documentary tries to put you in the moment of that day, which we know it's largely considered to be a failed response. But I think what we're seeing in both of these accounts is why?

Patrick Center: We would take for granted the response from law enforcement. There would almost be like a blanket statement of what happened, what transpired. And now we have technologies that are entering into that equation where we're documenting in real time what's happening. So, in this case, we have the visuals, we have the audio, and then the people involved can really give their perspective. How has that changed storytelling today?

Lomi Kriel: This is really unprecedented to get this amount of information, not just about necessarily any kind of criminal event, but particularly for a mass shooting, where we know from history that information is often kept secret for years, if it's ever publicly released. This amount of information that we went through, more than 100 interviews with law enforcement that they themselves gave to investigators, the body camera footage, radio calls, 911 calls, interviews with students, teachers, medics at the scene, is incredibly unprecedented and was not provided publicly. This was information that we obtained access to. We are still fighting for basic information. to be publicly released by the state police and the Uvalde County District Attorney who is conducting a criminal investigation into the response. So far, a judge has ruled in our favor, but that basic information has not been released. So, what makes us different is not only putting it into a chronological order and really putting you inside the response that day, but also just the amount of information that we were able to gain access to that includes stuff like the investigative interviews by law enforcement that usually may come up in a court hearing, selective accounts, or if they're called to the stand, but this amount would not typically be public.

Patrick Center: What struck you as you were going through this vast amount of information? Was there something different about the human response in a crisis situation? What did you take away from this?

Lomi Kriel: So, I'm based in Texas. I've covered three mass shootings, including Uvalde. And usually what happens is you speak to families. You speak to witnesses. You don't have much access to the law enforcement perspective beyond what officials will say. What struck all of us from this material is really being able to hear in their own words, how the officers explain their actions and being able to see it in real time. We know this was a botched response, but we can see now why. And there are so many moments that just make you, makes your heart break for everybody involved when you see, you kind of watch again, you're thinking, why did you not realize this? Why are you not seeing this? But you can, there's so much going on and you can sort of understand, not importantly to excuse the response or the actions, but you can kind of see how this is all playing out. And I think what we want people to take away from this is really as we become sadly, more accustomed to this horrible tragedy of American mass shootings playing out, really asking ourselves if we're doing everything we can to prepare both teachers, schools, and law enforcement to respond?

Patrick Center: Do you feel that you answer that question, or you find that one thing or element that creates this chaos in the response? Can you put your finger on it and what needs to be done?

Lomi Kriel: There were multiple moments in the response that that were failures and they all kind of compound on each other. The fact that nobody took charge. The fact that the radio communication was so bad. So those things play into each other. But what we found in our reporting, when we looked at the training across the country for law enforcement as compared to schools and children was that there's very few laws requiring officers to do regular active shooter training compared to schools and teachers and children, who by law are mostly required to do this type of thing every year. So, I think, and what the experts we talked to told us, is that there's no guarantee that officers, or certainly not children or teachers can ever be prepared for this kind of event fully, but the more you practice it, certainly on the law enforcement response side, the better you may be able to react in that very, very stressful moment.

Patrick Center: So, you also have the opportunity to talk with the children who are there and the teachers and the staff who are there. What do you learn from their perspective?

Lomi Kriel: When we listen to the interviews with teachers and students and then also individually interview them. What we drew from that collective body of work was that they did everything they were supposed to do. They shut off the lights. They stayed quiet. They hid. They didn't respond when people were knocking on the door because that's what they were taught. They were taught to basically make yourself as invisible as possible because you don't know who's on the other side of the door, right? But because they followed their training so well, that actually meant that officers did not realize that there was anyone inside that wing of the school. One thing that has happened since Uvalde is that Texas passed a law that now actually is the strongest in the country, requiring 16 hours of active shooter training for all peace officers in the state every two years. We also conducted a nationwide analysis of what lawmakers across the country require of schools and police when it comes to active shooter training.

Patrick Center: What is it that you hope that viewers take away from this film?

Lomi Kriel: We hope that viewers will look at this and question what we as a country and local communities are doing both to prepare teachers, children, and law enforcement, as we found, is a very patchwork approach for law enforcement training across the country. And so, it might be good to ask questions about how your local law enforcement is trained on this so that when and if this happens in your community, hopefully they're prepared.

Patrick Center: Inside the Uvalde response airs tonight at 10 o'clock on WGVU Public Television. Lomi Kriel, ProPublica, The Texas Tribune, thank you so much.

Lomi Kriel: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.