(UVALDE, Texas) — The Uvalde, Texas school district, still facing heavy criticism over its police department’s failures during the May 24 elementary school massacre and since, announced Friday the suspension of all district police forces.
Hours later, Uvalde School District Superintendent Hal Harrell announced he would be retiring. In a statement on Facebook, he said retirement was “very much my choice” and that he would stay on all year until a new superintendent was appointed. The transition will be discussed at a closed school board session on Monday.
Amid the suspension of the police department, the district said it had requested that more Texas Department of Public Safety troops be stationed on campuses and during extracurricular activities, adding, “We are confident that the safety of staff and students will not be compromised during this transition.”
The length of the school district’s police suspension is unclear.
Lt. Miguel Hernandez, assigned to lead the department in the fallout from the shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers, and Ken Mueller, director of student services at UCISD, were placed on administrative leave.
Hernandez acknowledged in a communication from law enforcement in August that he received official notification from DPS that an officer applying to the Uvalde School Police was under investigation for his response to Robb Elementary. .
Mueller chose to retire, according to the school district.
“Currently employed officers will fill other roles in the district,” the school district said. According to the district’s website, that includes four officers and a security guard.
Families of the victims, led by Brett Cross, guardian of 10-year-old victim Uziyah Garcia, had held a 24-hour vigil outside school district headquarters to call for change. Families are now hailing the police department’s announcement on Friday.
“We have a bit of responsibility,” an emotional Cross told ABC News. “So it’s a win, and we’re not getting a lot of that.”
Kimberly Rubio, whose daughter, Lexi, was killed in Robb, said the department’s suspension was “what we were asking for – it’s more than we were asking for”.
“They don’t know how to hire people, they don’t know how to vet agents,” she told ABC News. “They didn’t provide proper training.”
Gloria Cazares, whose 9-year-old daughter Jackie was killed, called the department’s suspension “bittersweet”.
“It’s a win — a small win,” she told ABC News. “We are not finished.”
Berlinda Arreola, the grandmother of victim Amerie Jo Garza, added: “This is the perfect example of why we didn’t stop.”
“We will continue because there are other children who still go to school here. We have many brothers and sisters of the deceased who go here,” she said. “We want to make sure our children are safe and protected. And we want to make sure the people who protect them are willing to protect them.”
The department’s suspension comes a day after the firing of Crimson Elizondo, the officer who was hired by the Uvalde School District while under investigation for his conduct as a DPS soldier during the slaughter.
Elizondo was the first DPS member to enter Robb’s hallway after the shooter entered. The soldier did not bring his rifle or vest into the school, according to the results of an internal review by DPS that was detailed to ABC News.
Due to the potential non-compliance with standard procedures, the soldier was among seven DPS personnel whose conduct is currently under investigation by the agency’s inspector general. The seven were suspended, however, by Elizondo’s resignation from the DPS to work for Uvalde Schools, she was no longer subject to any internal discipline or sanction. His conduct — if found to be contrary to law or policy — would still be included in the DPS Inspector General’s final report.
The school district said in Friday’s statement that “decisions regarding” the school district’s police department await the results of investigations by the Texas Police Chiefs Association and the private investigation firm JPPI Investigations, but “recent developments revealed additional concerns about the department’s operations.”
The results of the JPPI survey “will inform future personnel decisions” and the Texas Police Chiefs Association review “will guide the rebuilding of the department and the hiring of a new police chief,” says the press release.
School district police chief Pete Arredondo was fired in August.
ABC News’ Patrick Linehan and Olivia Osteen contributed to this report.
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