Uvalde school district fires new officer after discovering her actions during Uvalde shooting

Oct 6, 2022, 12:15 PM | Updated: May 21, 2023, 4:31 pm

City of Uvalde
05 Oct 22...

City of Uvalde 05 Oct 22

(CNN) — The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District fired a newly hired school officer on Thursday after CNN identified her as one of the officers under investigation for her actions during the Uvalde school massacre in May.

Crimson Elizondo was one of the state troopers who arrived at Robb Elementary within two minutes of a gunman entering the school and opening fire last May.

She is seen in her Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) uniform, handgun drawn, outside the school building in Uvalde, and then briefly in the hallway on the body camera footage from another law enforcement officer.

Later, she can be heard on body camera footage talking to fellow officers when someone asks if she had children at the school that day.

“If my son had been in there, I would not have been outside,” she said. “I promise you that.”

Elizondo was one of the first of the 91 DPS officers to arrive, one of the 376 total law enforcement personnel who went to the school where the shooter was left for 77 minutes — with dead, dying and traumatized victims — before he was stopped. The response to the attack in which 19 children and two teachers were killed has been denounced as an “abject failure” with enough blame to be spread widely.

The school police chief was fired and now seven DPS officers are being investigated for what they did — or did not — do. CNN has uncovered exclusively that Elizondo is one of those officers being investigated. A source close to the investigation also confirmed that to CNN.

She no longer works for DPS. During the summer, she was hired as a police officer for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, where her role is to protect some of the very same children who survived the Robb Elementary shooting.

Elizondo declined to speak with CNN in person, on the phone or by direct message.

Following this CNN report, the school district issued a statement announcing her termination effective Thursday.

“We are deeply distressed by the information that was disclosed yesterday evening concerning one of our recently hired employees, Crimson Elizondo,” the statement from the district said. “We sincerely apologize to the victim’s families and the greater Uvalde community for the pain that this revelation has caused. Ms. Elizondo’s statement in the audio is not consistent with the District’s expectations.”

“Regarding the remaining UCISD Police Department employees, we continue to make personnel decisions based on verifiable information. An independent investigation is underway to evaluate the actions of the current officers on May 24, 2022. Additionally, we are awaiting results of a management and organizational review of the UCISD Police Department that will aid the district in taking informed actions to further ensure the safety and security of our schools,” the statement added.

Parents recognized her

Uvalde CISD has said it wanted to recruit 10 more officers after the May 24 attack. It did not specifically announce the hiring of Elizondo over the summer, though the names and photos of her and four other police officers, one lieutenant and one security guard are on its website, under the banner “KEEP U.C.I.S.D. SAFE.”

Superintendent Hal Harrell told a special town hall meeting in August that at least 33 DPS officers would also be deployed around the district’s eight schools. After initial concern by residents that officers who failed to stop the killing would be tasked with school security, parent Brett Cross told CNN he had been assured the deployed DPS officers would not have been responders to the shooting.

In her new position, that restriction does not apply to Elizondo. Children and parents walked past her as they headed into the school year at Uvalde Elementary, the new home for the younger students who survived the Robb bloodshed.

And some parents, including those who lost children in the massacre, recognized her from the body camera footage released by the mayor, family members told CNN.

“We are disgusted and angry at Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s (UCISD) decision to hire Officer Crimson Elizondo. Her hiring puts into question the credibility and thoroughness of UCISD’s HR and vetting practices,” according to a statement from family representatives.

It made them feel uneasy, CNN has learned, yet another reminder of the deadly day in a town that is full of such reminders.

But they did not know that she was under investigation.

It’s also unclear if the school district knew of the investigation when she was hired.

The statement from family representatives calls for all department officers to be suspended pending a third-party investigation, and its results “must be released” to the public as well as families of the victims.

“Our children have been taken from us. We will not stop fighting until we have answers and we ensure the safety of the children in our community is the top priority,” the statement said.

Cross, the legal guardian of Uziyah Garcia, one of the children killed at Robb Elementary, says he is “disgusted” by what the district has done.

“I’m absolutely appalled,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper and says the school board met with him and offered to pull such officers to off-campus roles. He says he will continue to hold a vigil outside the school board offices until all officers are suspended.

The district and its staff have not responded to emails and calls and a personal approach from CNN about this story.

Secret scrutiny

Texas DPS, the state body that helps local law enforcement in major incidents, announced an internal review into its employees who responded to Robb.

Sources familiar with the investigation confirmed to CNN that Elizondo is one of seven officers whose conduct is being investigated by DPS, but neither their names nor their actions or inactions have been made public.

In a redacted internal memo to the organization’s director obtained by CNN, DPS cited “actions which may be inconsistent with training and requirements” as the reason for the officers being referred for investigation.

Sources familiar with the inquiry told CNN that Elizondo was not properly equipped and said to investigators that she was not comfortable going inside the school without her gear.

Footage from police body cameras and those of other officers seen by CNN show Elizondo arriving at the outskirts of the school as one of the first officers to respond to the report of an armed man at Robb Elementary.

She gets out of her official vehicle but does not retrieve any tactical body armor or her long rifle, as officers are trained to do.

She does not approach the school but stays with officers from other agencies outside the fence until a call comes over the radio, “Shots fired inside the building!”

Elizondo runs with other officers to the eastern end of the building that housed connecting classrooms 111 and 112. Soon after, the responding officers are told that the shooter is contained in a room on the west side.

After that, there plays out on the recordings the more than one hour of confusion and delay before anyone goes to help the trapped staff and students in rooms 111 and 112, the catalog of errors that has become part of the Uvalde tragedy.

Elizondo walked inside the building briefly but mostly stood outside.

As officers prepared for what became the final breach, she offered to help a colleague and went to gather supplies for him. She was away from the school when the gunman was shot and killed.

Within moments, the body camera recordings show, the hallway where so many had stood became a scene of carnage as officers got students out of the classrooms and assessed their injuries.

Elizondo was soon there, urging students to “go, go, go” if they were able, and not to look at their injuries or the blood on the floor. She comforted one boy as an officer checked his wounds, telling him time and again that she was there with him, that he would be OK and that his parents would soon be told.

The footage showed she traveled to the hospital in a school bus with students who were shot and traumatized, again helping to take care of them.

DPS director Col. Steven McCraw said in August: “Every one of our officers will undergo scrutiny by the DA and an internal investigation — just because they didn’t violate the law, doesn’t mean they acted appropriately based on our policy.”

Two weeks later official notes of a meeting showed McCraw telling captains, “No one is losing their jobs.” McCraw told CNN he had been misquoted in the minutes and vowed “no one gets a pass.”

He said he would release all the information when he could, but the local district attorney has asked him not to do so until the criminal investigations are completed, a process he has acknowledged could take years.

Prosecutor Christina Mitchell Busbee will charge anyone who has committed a crime at Robb Elementary, including law enforcement officers, she’s said.

CNN reached out to the Department of Public Safety, which declined to comment for this story.

A coalition of news organizations including CNN is suing the DPS for records relating to the investigation that have been withheld from the media and public.

So far, the only person known to have lost their job over the response to the shooting has been school police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, who was fired by the school board in August. Arredondo became the figurehead of the failed response, though he has said he did not consider himself the incident commander and has called to be reinstated.

Elizondo earned a base salary of $59,715 at DPS, according to a database compiled by The Texas Tribune, reflecting a 12% raise a year ago. She joined the department in 2018.

Her new salary is not known, but a job posting for a similar role has a lower salary range, from $41,584 to $59,158.

That posting lists mental and physical demands of the position, including an “Ability to effectively deal with personal danger which may include sudden exposure to armed persons … under intense threatening conditions.”

On May 24, as she rode the school bus back to Robb Elementary from the hospital, she told another officer: “Nothing could prepare you for what they brought out. It was horrible.”

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Uvalde school district fires new officer after discovering her actions during Uvalde shooting