Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin told CNN he’s lost faith in Texas leaders investigating how law enforcement responded to the shooting at his town’s elementary school that killed 19 children and two adults.
“I’m not confident, 100%, in DPS because I think it’s a cover-up,” he said of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the lead agency tasked with identifying what led to well-armed officers waiting outside a classroom for more than an hour before engaging the gunman.
“McGraw’s covering up for maybe his agencies,” McLaughlin continued in his sharpest attack yet on Col. Steven McCraw, the DPS director.
But McLaughlin told CNN on Tuesday he did not feel the full story of the May 24 massacre was coming out, partly because Texas DPS was not being transparent.
“Every agency in that hallway is gonna have to share the blame,” he said. Personnel from multiple law enforcement agencies gathered inside and outside the school before the gunman was challenged and killed.
McLaughlin said in an interview: “At this point, I don’t know what to believe and what not to believe.”
And while he said he trusted the DPS individuals serving his community, he no longer believed the upper management.
CNN reached out to DPS for comment and was referred to District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee of the 38th Judicial District for details. She is the official who ordered an investigation by the Texas Rangers division of DPS, which is ongoing.
DPS press secretary Ericka Beltran did say, “The Texas Department of Public Safety is committed to working with multiple law enforcement agencies to get the answers we all seek.”
McLaughlin said he had not had a briefing “from anybody” since the day after the shooting when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others had traveled to Uvalde to be told what had happened.
Still, he said, key facts in the timeline did not align – a timeline that has already been changed massively since the hours after the attack when law enforcement was praised by Abbott and others.
“I lost confidence because the narrative changed from DPS so many times and when we asked questions, we weren’t getting answers.”
McLaughlin asked the US Department of Justice to investigate the law enforcement response and that work has now begun.
He repeatedly said his goal was just to get the truth for the families of the two teachers and the 19 children, aged from 9 to 11, who were shot and killed that day.
And he called for Abbott to return to Uvalde to speak to the grieving relatives.
“These families want to talk to the governor and he needs to come and see them,” he said, adding he was writing to Abbott to make the request and restate his concerns with the investigation.
Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, did not answer a specific question about when the Texas governor would return to Uvalde but said he would “continue visiting with the Uvalde community and local leaders.”
She said the victims’ families and the public “deserve the full truth of what happened that tragic day,” and continued: “Governor Abbott and his office will continue working with state and local leaders like Mayor McLaughlin to support the Uvalde community and provide all available resources as they heal.”
Eze also highlighted what Abbott had already done, including issuing a disaster declaration and committing cash and other resources to make schools safer and support mental health.
McLaughlin was with Abbott, US Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and other officials when DPS gave their first rundown of what had happened before Abbott led a news conference.
He said Arredondo, the school police chief later blamed for inaction, was also there, standing up against a wall. He did not speak and no one asked him a question, the mayor said.
McLaughlin first came to national attention at the initial news briefing after the shooting when he shouted profanities at Beto O’Rourke, as the former presidential and Senate candidate who is now running for governor tried to confront Abbott.
He said he had no regrets about that because there were grieving families in the audience.
“That wasn’t the place to come up there and start yelling. That made me mad because this wasn’t the place or the time,” he said.
McLaughlin said he opposed politics from any side coming into a situation when families were still awaiting answers.
He decried how everything becomes split along party political lines and wished some debates could be had without considering whether it was a Republican way or Democrat way. He said he backed raising the age when someone could buy an assault-style rifle from 18 to 21 as well as enhanced background checks for younger buyers. He said he had bought an assault rifle when he thought they would be banned but had never used it.
McLaughlin has himself been questioned about how open he has been.
He said he decided that Arredondo should be sworn in behind closed doors to a city council position he had won before the shooting because he did not want a fancy ceremony so soon after so many children had died. Arredondo has since resigned from that position and has separately been placed on administrative leave from his job.
For now, McLaughlin is thinking about how students will react during the new school year that begins next month.
Uvalde is close to the Mexican border, and he said there are frequent school lockdowns as immigration and other law enforcement operations are carried out.
“How’s it going to feel August 15 when we start school and we have these pursuits coming through town?” he asked.
“How are these families gonna feel? How are these kids gonna feel? How are these parents gonna feel?”
McLaughlin, whose term as mayor ends in 2024, said it was the families of those who did not come home from Robb Elementary who are his focus right now.
“I want these families to have closure. Nothing’s ever going to heal the pain that they have, it’s never going to heal that pain but they need to know what happened and they need to know the truth.”