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Did the law enforcement delay in Uvalde cost lives? An Austin doctor and his team are trying to find out

Five months after that tragic day, a well-known Austin doctor has begun efforts to bring answers to the still-grieving community and victims’ families.

AUSTIN, Texas — It is one of the most painful, lingering questions from the shooting in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers in May: Would a faster police response, rather than a 77-minute delay, have saved any of the victims?

Five months after that tragic day, a well-known Austin doctor has begun efforts to bring answers to the still-grieving community and victims’ families.

The effort by Dr. Mark Escott, chief medical officer for the City of Austin, to create a national panel for that review comes as new information emerges about the aftermath of the shooting.

The KVUE Defenders have learned through new interviews and documents that four victims are believed to have still been alive after police entered the Robb Elementary School classroom after a 77-minute delay. 

Two of those victims, both students, died at Uvalde Memorial Hospital. A third child was pronounced dead in an ambulance in Hondo on the way to a hospital in San Antonio.

And teacher Eva Mireles, who called her husband to say that she had been shot, died in an ambulance that never left the Robb Elementary campus, according to Uvalde County Justice of the Peace Lalo Diaz. 

“This is the question we are trying to get to. If things had been optimal, was there an opportunity?” Escott said. 

Escott said the panel of five national experts will review autopsy results, medical and hospital records, and photographs to help determine whether any victims had what doctors call “potentially survivable wounds.” Studies in similar shootings have shown them to be highly lethal events.

The KVUE Defenders have learned that the study, which is being sought by the Texas Rangers, will also be used to help investigators and prosecutors determine whether any officer should face criminal charges.

Escott said he wants to help provide the families of victims with additional information about their children, if they desire it, but that his report will not include information on specific victims.

The review will also include the medical response that day. 

Speaking publicly for the first time, Stephen Stephens, the director of Uvalde Emergency Medical Services, said that the first ambulance arrived at Robb Elementary within five minutes of the gunman entering the school and that others arrived a short time later. He said law enforcement instructed them to “stage” outside the school for more than an hour. 

“I know we were ready,” he told KVUE Senior Reporter Tony Plohetski.

The proliferation of mass shootings has prompted similar studies across the nation. Dr. Reed Smith, the operational medical director at Arlington County Fire Rescue outside Washington, has reviewed the Las Vegas concert shooting and others over the past decade.

Most recently, his review from the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando found 16 of 49 victims – 32%– had potentially survivable wounds. 

“These are very lethal events, but from the perspective of fire, EMS, police and public safety, even if there is one person who is survivable, we need to go to work and get in there and save them,” Smith said. 

No published study has ever considered circumstances similar to those in Uvalde, where small victims were shot with an assault-style rifle – with only a few hospitals close by.

Diaz, who helped identify victims after the shooting, said he is still haunted five months later by the question of whether any victims could have been saved by a faster response.

Diaz said he believes the report will likely help answer important questions in his still-grieving community. But he also fears it could traumatize the families of the 21 victims all over again.

“If it says something concrete, it is probably going to open up another wound,” he said.

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