Abbott, other Texas leaders call for release of Uvalde video, capping day of confusion for families

Despite claims that the footage would be released, it remains under wraps.

July 11, 2022, 10:47 PM

A chorus of Texas state leaders on Monday called on law enforcement officials to release surveillance video from inside Robb Elementary School during the May 24 mass shooting, including Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is running for reelection.

"That video needs to be released, as well as the audio," Abbott told Austin ABC affiliate KVUE in an interview Monday afternoon. "The Texans need to know. But, frankly, the people of Uvalde, they deserve to get to know exactly what happened. And I urge that it happen very quickly."

The deluge of support from top politicians capped a day of finger-pointing and about-faces from state leaders. At a hearing in Austin on Monday morning, a key Texas state legislator suggested that an agreement between law enforcement and local officials to disclose a portion of the footage had been struck -- only for one of the parties to the supposed agreement to quickly rebuff that claim.

Rep. Dustin Burrows, the chairman of a special Texas House panel investigating the Robb Elementary shooting, announced Monday morning that the Texas Department of Public Safety and the mayor of Uvalde had reached a deal to disclose surveillance video showing officers gathered in the hallway outside of the classroom containing the 18-year-old gunman.

But within hours of Burrows' comment, the Texas Department of Public Safety gave ABC News a July 8 letter it sent to the chairman informing him that the law enforcement agency could not unilaterally grant his request for the tapes, citing instruction from the Uvalde-area district attorney, Christina Busbee.

"[Busbee] has objected to releasing the video and has instructed us not to do so," according to the letter, which was signed by DPS Deputy Director Freeman Martin. "As the individual with authority to consider whether any criminal prosecution should result from the events in Uvalde, we are guided by her professional judgment regarding the potential impact of releasing the video."

After Monday's hearing concluded, Burrows clarified his earlier comments, telling ABC News, "We're still working on getting the video released, but no agreements." He later tweeted, "It is my intention to show the hallway video to the people of Uvalde, regardless of any agreement. I will not release it to the public until the people of Uvalde have seen it for themselves."

PHOTO: Law enforcement is seen outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, in an image taken from a video made by a bystander.
Law enforcement is seen outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, in an image taken from a video made by a bystander.
Jesse Ortiz

Busbee did not respond to ABC News' requests for comment.

This latest round of confusion is certain to exacerbate frustration within the Uvalde community. More than six weeks after the shooting, which ended the lives of 19 students and two teachers, several questions remain about the 77 minutes that elapsed between the time the shooter entered the school, and the moment law enforcement officers breached the classroom and killed him.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw characterized the police response as "an abject failure" during testimony before a Texas Senate panel last month, raising the stakes for officials to release video footage.

On Sunday, families of the victims gathered in Uvalde's town square to voice their frustrations with state and local leaders over their handling of the shooting and subsequent investigations. The event was called The Unheard Voices March & Rally, as a reflection of the sentiment shared by many residents of the small West Texas town.

The public back-and-forth over whether and what investigative evidence to publicly share from inside the school has become a source of conflict between some family members of the victims and officials who claimed to represent their interests. Busbee has said that releasing footage could hinder her ongoing probe into whether the shooting warrants any criminal charges.

Over the weekend, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin accused Busbee of misleading family members about McLaughlin's support for releasing certain footage showing the police response during the rampage.

On Friday, McLaughlin affirmed his support for the release of "all videos," including "the entire 77-minute hallway video ... up the moment of the breach." But less than 24 hours later, he issued a follow-up statement clarifying that he only sought the release of video showing the police response -- not any children or any images from the classroom.

In the course of his about-face, McLaughlin claimed that Busbee had been "advising" families of the victims that he supported releasing videos showing deceased children, and accused her of "not telling the truth."

McLaughlin later told ABC News that video from the hallway inside of Robb would "contradict misconceptions that Uvalde police were the only ones inside with weapons," and releasing the tape would "provide transparency to everyone."

On Monday, Rep. Burrows said he would "continue to put pressure on the situation and consider all options in making sure that video gets out for the public to view," but did not commit to a timeline for a public release.

"I can tell people all day long what it is I saw, the committee can tell people all day long what we saw, but it's very different to see it for yourself," Burrows said. "And we think that's very important."