UVALDE, Texas — First, on the day of the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde and for the next 72 hours, officials rolled out a story of police heroism after the shooting of 19 students and two teachers.
Then, as residents and journalists pushed for answers – and KVUE and news partner the Austin American-Statesman obtained video evidence – that narrative fell apart.
Nearly four months later, few public officials have offered an accounting about how, why and by whom the story of police heroism was spun – and whether it was an effort to intentionally deceive the grieving public.
In his most extensive on-camera interview this week, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said spokespeople from his agency got their information from two Uvalde officials, whom he declined to name, who set forth the hero narrative.
One of the earliest people to convey the story was a DPS representative at the scene on May 24.
"It just shows the braveness, the heroism from these law enforcement officers who went in there," DPS Lt. Chris Olivarez told ABC News. "We know that if they were not able to kill the suspect, there could have been more lives lost."
Officials from the U.S. Border Patrol tweeted that officers “put themselves between the shooter and the children."
Gov. Greg Abbott said in the beginning that “the reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire with the singular purpose of trying to save lives.”
Abbott went on to add to that by saying “it is a fact that because of their quick response, getting on the scene, being able to respond to the gunman and eliminate the gunman they were able to save lives."
In the rush of any tragedy or mass casualty event, it’s not unusual for public officials to misspeak or provide details that later turn out to be inaccurate. The public is often forgiving of those mistakes.
But what happened in Uvalde in the hours and days after the shooting set out an entire account about how the police responded that hid the difficult truth about the murders of 19 fourth-graders and two teachers.
Reporting by the KVUE Defenders – first in a screengrab obtained three weeks after the shooting – deepened questions about the police response. It showed heavily armed officers in the hall minutes after the gunman went into a classroom.
Three weeks later, as Uvalde and state officials refused to release information, the Defenders in partnership with the Statesman were the first to show video of officers running toward the classroom when they first arrived – just as they are trained to do.
But they quickly retreated after taking gunfire, and more than an hour passed as more local, state and federal officers filled the hallway before finally breaching the classroom and killing the gunman.
Outside the school that day, parents begged for the police to do more.
A document from the Texas Rangers Robb Elementary shooting file makes clear that the story of police bravery is traced in part to local Uvalde officials.
Sources said the one-page document – titled “Narrative” – was presented to the Texas Department of Public Safety a week after the shooting – an effort to cling to erroneous information even after the truth had begun emerging.
“The total number of persons saved by the heroes that are local law enforcement and the other assisting agencies is over 500 per UCISD. Forty minutes were not wasted but each minute was used to save lives of children and teachers," the document stated.
It is not clear who wrote the document. Uvalde city officials, including Mayor Don McLaughlin, declined through a spokeswoman to comment.
Gov. Abbott later offered an explanation for misspeaking.
"I was misled. I am livid about what happened. I was on this very stage two days ago and I was telling the public information that had been told to me," Abbott said.
In subsequent statements, Abbott said he got his information from multiple federal, state and local law enforcement as part of a briefing.
But to this day, others, including Border Patrol, whose agents ultimately led a team that killed the shooter, have never offered any explanation for their statements. They didn’t respond to our requests for comment.
Experts said erroneous accounts in high-profile cases further diminish public confidence in law enforcement. Cedric Alexander is a former law enforcement executive who served on President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force.
“Lesson learned here, before we start high-fiving and patting ourselves on the back, we need to understand what the facts are," he said.
The misinformation can also further confuse and anguish grieving families. KVUE recently met the father of Makenna Elrod-Seiler, whose daughter died that day at Robb Elementary.
“When someone is in danger and you hear the things that they heard, you should run toward that, not away from it," he said. “All we want is the truth.”
Ultimately, the fullest and most accurate truth about what happened that day in Robb Elementary likely will come from footage much like body camera video that shows how officers did and did not respond.
But as officials in both Uvalde and here in Austin – including the Texas Department of Public Safety – fight the release of more information, it could take months or longer for the public and grieving families to have the most honest, accurate account of that terrible day at Robb Elementary.
What little accountability has come from the false statements is in a 77-page report by a Texas House committee, which said, DPS relied “solely on information provided by local law enforcement, which Abbott repeated.”
"One would expect law enforcement during a briefing would be very careful to state what facts are verifiable and which ones are not,” the report states.
It added, "Uvalde itself has paid a terrible price as it has waited for the truth and waded through the shaky narrative given instead."
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