"Almost every warning sign": Years of failure by family, friends in Uvalde shooting

Townhall Media/Julio Rosas

What would have prevented the Uvalde shooter from legally purchasing a firearm — the laws demanded after the shooting, or enforcing existing laws prior to it? An investigation by a state legislative committee into the background of the perp shows years of red flags and almost no serious attempt to engage law enforcement that could have prevented access to firearms. The shooter exhibited “almost every warning sign,” while his family, friends, and schools kept dropping the ball:


Private individuals were the only people who knew of the many warning signs he displayed, as he had no criminal history prior to the shooting. The alleged shooter’s apparent motive was a “desire for notoriety and fame,” according to the report.

Those interviewed by the committee, including family, friends and acquaintances, reported many warning signs that experts say should have raised red flags.

“He exhibited almost every warning sign,” John Cohen, an ABC News contributor and the former acting undersecretary for intelligence and counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security, said in an interview. “This guy should have been on everybody’s radar.”

School officials had identified the accused shooter as “at-risk” academically by the third grade due to consistently poor test results. However, he did not receive any education services, according to the report.

The same report deconstructed the shooting itself and cited massive law enforcement failures at every step of the way. In the years before the shooting, however, it appears that no one involved law enforcement in the shooter’s increasingly aggressive and violent behaviors.  They had no chance to investigate and potentially charge the perp with a crime that would have precluded his access to legal purchase of a firearm, despite years of “red flags” among family, friends, and his school — where the perp was failing in every way possible.


The report makes it pretty clear that the schools didn’t do much about it, either. They let him fail for years and then finally booted him out without any significant mental-health intervention or even disciplinary action:

Records show the attacker had declining attendance, with more than one hundred absences annually beginning in 2018, along with failing grades and increasingly dismal performance on standardized and end-of-course exams. While Uvalde CISD “school success officers” do try to bring truant children back to school, many Uvalde students have spotty attendance, and the local judicial system reportedly does not consistently enforce truancy rules.104 It is unclear whether any school resource officers ever visited the home of the attacker.

Despite his absences, or perhaps because of them, the attacker had almost no disciplinary history at school. The single infraction on his school record is for “mutual combat” with another student in a hallway in late 2018, resulting in a three-day suspension.

By 2021, at age seventeen, the attacker had only completed the ninth grade. On October 28, 2021, Uvalde High School involuntarily withdrew him, citing poor academic performance and lack of attendance.105

Not long after that, everyone began to take notice of his violent rhetoric and rage. From the committee report, emphasis mine:

The attacker began to demonstrate interest in gore and violent sex, watching and sometimes sharing gruesome videos and images of suicides, beheadings, accidents, and the like, as well as sending unexpected explicit messages to others online. Those with whom he played videogames reported that he became enraged when he lost. He made over-the-top threats, especially towards female players, whom he would terrorize with graphic descriptions of violence and rape. …

The attacker got a job in late 2021. He first worked at Whataburger, where a friend’s grandmother saw him. She snapped a picture and sent it to her grandson, warning that it was “an example of what your life will be if you quit school”—a sentiment some of his peers expressed to him directly. His employer fired him after a month for threatening a female coworker, and he fared similarly at his next job at Wendy’s. A coworker there described him as “not a good person” and “troubled,” someone who “put himself in a box and would not talk or associate with anyone he worked with.” An exception to that approach was when he tried discussing guns with another employee. When the other employee received the discussion negatively, the attacker challenged him to a fight. The attacker also occasionally worked with his grandfather, who had an air conditioning business and paid him in cash.

Living at home, the attacker had no real expenses and hoarded money, telling acquaintances that he was “saving for something big” and that they would all see him in the news one day. Family members believed he was saving money for his own apartment or car, but clues to his real plans surfaced near the end of 2021. That is when he ordered rifle slings, a red dot sight, and shin guards, as well as the body armor carrier worn in both the video he shared and on the day of the Robb Elementary massacre. Still seventeen at the time, the attacker asked at least two different people to buy guns for him,107 which they both refused to do. Interviews conducted by other investigators indicate that family members and friends were aware of his efforts to buy guns before he was legally permitted to do so.

Finally, the attacker developed a fascination with school shootings, of which he made no secret. His comments about them coupled with his wild threats of violence and rape earned him the nickname “Yubo’s school shooter” on that platform. Those with whom he played games taunted him with a similar nickname so often that it became a running joke. Even those he personally knew in his local chat group began calling him “the school shooter” after he shared pictures of himself wearing the plate carrier he’d bought and posing with a BB gun he tried to convince them was real. None of his online behavior was ever reported to law enforcement, and if it was reported by other users to any social media platform, it does not appear that actions were taken to restrict his access or to report him to authorities as a threat. 


This should get extra emphasis as one particular solution keeps getting discussed. ABC News gives it a heavy mention in its report:

Red flag laws, or extreme protection orders, allow law enforcement or family members to ask a civil court to temporarily remove guns from a person who poses a risk to themselves or others. Recent federal legislation included funding for states to implement these laws.

While Texas is not one of the 19 states that have red flag laws in place, experts say these laws could have prevented the shooting if they had been used in this case.

Er … how? No one around the perp bothered to bring his behavior to any kind of officials — not law enforcement and not any mental-health agency either. In order to use a red-flag law, someone has to report the behavior that could lead a court to suspend a civil right. Law enforcement can attempt it on their own in states with red-flag laws, but no one called the police on this shooter until he arrived at Robb Elementary. Red-flag laws do not descend on their own as a deus ex machina –it requires that families and communities regularly engage law enforcement and/or mental-health officials, to the extent we even have the latter, to identify these threats.

Had the people around the perp taken responsible action when all of these warning signs were being exhibited, then perhaps a red-flag law might have helped. But it sounds more like no one gave a damn about him or his clearly psychopathic behavior while it didn’t impact them personally, especially those who are supposed to care the most. Uvalde’s law enforcement deserves every bit of criticism it’s getting over their response that day in May, but everyone around this shooter dropped the ball, too. Demanding new laws in the wake of the shooting is a dodge. The laws that could have at least stripped this person of access to a legal purchase of a firearm were already in place, but no one bothered to use them.


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