The Uvalde school board unanimously accepted the retirement of superintendent Hal Harrell on Wednesday, nearly five months after one of the deadliest mass school shootings in US history at an elementary school in the Texas district.
Harrell had announced last week he’d step aside amid continued backlash over the way officials and law enforcement responded to the massacre at Robb Elementary School in May, when an 18-year-old gunman opened fire and slaughtered 19 children and two teachers.
“I am truly grateful for your support and well wishes. My decision to retire has not been made lightly and was made after much prayer and discernment,” read the October 10 post on social media. “My wife and I love you all and this community that we both grew up in, and therefore the decision was a difficult one for us.”
On Wednesday, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District board voted for Gary Patterson to serve as the interim superintendent. Two staff members will continue to search for a permanent replacement, the board voted unanimously.
Since the tragedy, families of the victims have been demanding greater accountability from officials in the aftermath of the shooting, and some Uvalde parents have been calling for the superintendent’s removal for months.
Their anger swelled after learning that dozens of officers stood in the school’s hallway while the gunman stayed in two adjoining classrooms, where the victims were ultimately shot and 21 were killed.
The Uvalde school district police chief at the time of the shooting, Pete Arredondo, was fired by the school board in August. At least seven officers with the state public safety department are being investigated for their role in the response.
The sister of Irma Garcia, a teacher killed in the shooting, has demanded that all board members step down and for the principal and vice principal to be removed from their positions.
“We all know that having a new school with the same complacent leaders is not the change this town deserves,” she said.
In a social media post, Harrell wrote, “My heart was broken on May 24th and I will always pray for each precious life that was tragically taken as well as their families.”
Harrell had also emailed staff to inform of his plan to retire, saying, “I am in my 31st year in education, all served and dedicated to the students and families here in Uvalde.”
The extreme delay in law enforcement’s response during the shooting has been heavily criticized and contradicts a widely taught protocol for active shooter situations that instructs for the immediate stopping of the gunman.
After the gunman entered Robb Elementary and began firing, multiple officers arrived on the scene minutes later. After taking fire from the gunman, they retreated to a hallway while the gunman remained inside the classrooms for a total of 77 minutes before a tactical unit forced their way in and killed the shooter, according to a timeline from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
In the weeks following what became the deadliest school shooting in the US since 2012, the apparent stonewalling by some officials regarding law enforcement response that day compounded grief that permeated among victims’ families and the Uvalde community.
Earlier this month, CNN reported the Uvalde school district had recently hired a former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper under investigation for her response to the massacre.
One of the first officers to arrive on the shooting scene, Crimson Elizondo was heard on body camera footage talking to a fellow officer who asked if she had children at the school that day.
“If my son had been in there, I would not have been outside,” she said. “I promise you that.”
In response, the school district apologized to the victims’ families and the Uvalde community “for the pain that this revelation has caused,” it said earlier this month. “Ms. Elizondo’s statement in the audio is not consistent with the District’s expectations.”
Elizondo has been fired from the school district and previously declined to speak with CNN.
The school district later announced the suspension of its police force operations and placed a lieutenant and another top school official on leave as part of its investigation.
Robb Elementary has been closed since the shooting, and Harrell reaffirmed in June that “our kids, our staff, we’re not going back.”