Hal Harrell, the superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, was greeted by a crowd of supporters outside the board meeting held to discuss his retirement Monday night. They clapped, clapped and chanted his last name as he passed.
Inside the council chambers, family members of the 19 children and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary in May lamented that they could not get the same level of support when calling for accountability for the actions and inactions that led to the worst school shooting in Texas history.
“Twenty-one brutally murdered teachers and students were not enough to outrage our strong Uvalde community, but your retirement is,” said Berlinda Arreola, who lost her granddaughter Amerie Jo Garza in the shooting. “You are very blessed, Dr. Harrell.”
Instead, family members said they were blamed for Harrell’s retirement.
“How dare you decide now – when a job is at stake – to get together, but you stayed home when we families demanded transparency and accountability,” said Kimberly Rubio, the mother of Lexi Rubio.
She added: “For people who spent the weekend hitting 21 grieving families: go home and hug your kids and be glad you can. Because I’ll be in the cemetery, because it’s the closest I can get to my baby.
Harrell told staff Friday that he plans to retire. It was the same day that Uvalde CISD announced it was suspending the school district police department.
Rubio said Harrell was her coach and manager of youth basketball and she never asked him to retire.
“Hal Harrell made the decision to retire on his own, and I respect that even though I personally emailed several board members in July to say I was not in favor of that,” Rubio said. “But that’s Hal: always putting the students first.”
Family members of the shooting victims had been protesting outside the district administrative office for days before the district suspended policing from the school on Friday. They asked that the school police officers employed by the district at the time of the shooting be suspended until an investigation into their actions that day can be completed.
After the district announced the temporary suspension of the police department on Friday, Brett Cross, who had camped outside the administrative office for more than a week, returned home.
“Several weeks ago, you were examined by the school board and found not responsible for the May 24 massacre. And we all accepted that and we just asked that you fix what was broken,” Berlina Arreola, Amerie Jo Garza’s grandmother, said Monday night.
“While your retirement announcement came as a shock, some of us understand why you feel the need to step down,” Arreola said, speaking directly to Harrell. “You trusted your staff and they let you down. They let you down this time. But like a good captain sinking with his ship, you think it’s better.
Two days before Harrell announced he was retiring, a CNN investigation revealed that Crimson Elizondo, one of the new police officers at the Uvalde CISD school, was a former state trooper who responded to the shooting at Robb Elementary in the opening minutes.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers responded from multiple agencies responded to the shooting. They waited over an hour to confront the gunman locked in a classroom full of victims and survivors.
According to documents provided to CNN, the Texas Department of Public Safety sent a letter to the acting CISD police chief of Uvalde on July 28 informing him that Elizondo was under internal investigation for “actions not in accordance with formation”. Uvalde CISD hired her anyway.
In a post on his wife’s Facebook page on Sunday evening, Harrell said retirement was “entirely” his choice and that he would remain superintendent “throughout the year until a new superintendent can to be named”.
“Uvalde’s success is not based on one person, but on the efforts, dedication and love of so many people,” he said. “I grew up watching others set the stage and the examples that students in the community needed to guide them.”
The Facebook post has now been deleted.
Harrell worked for Uvalde CISD for more than 30 years, and his father was the district superintendent before him.
The Uvalde school board met behind closed doors for about an hour to discuss the Harrells’ retirement. When they reconvened in open session, the trustees voted to hire the law firm Walsh Gallegos to search for a new superintendent, then moved on to the next agenda item without further discussion or comment.