Editor’s Note: On Friday, Oct. 7, the Uvalde School District announced it had suspended its entire police department after “recent developments have uncovered additional concerns with department operations.” The suspensions were among the demands of dad Brett Cross, who was profiled by TODAY on Thursday, Oct. 6. Here is our original story:
A father whose son was shot and killed inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas is camping outside the town's school district administrative building, demanding action.
It has been 10 days.
Brett Cross's crusade is one symptom of the deep anger among Uvalde victims' relatives, as information continues to drip out about law enforcement failures the day of the shooting.
"I’m not backing down," Cross said in a phone interview with TODAY Parents from his post outside the school district building. "I'm a pissed-off dad who is going to do everything in his power to not let this happen to another child or another father or another mother.”
Cross’s son, 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia, loved the color red, was a huge Spider-Man fan, and inexplicably enjoyed McDonald’s apple slices with barbecue sauce. He dreamed of becoming a police officer.
“He wanted to be a cop so that he could help people,” Cross explained. “It’s sickening, that it’s those same officers — in the same profession that he wanted to do — that ultimately failed him.”
It’s sickening, that it’s those same officers — in the same profession that he wanted to do — that ultimately failed him.
brett cross, father of UZIYAH GARCIA
On May 24, 2022, a gunman opened fire inside two fourth grade classes inside Robb Elementary School, killing 19 students and two teachers. Law enforcement officers waited over an hour before confronting the gunman. A report issued by a Texas state House Committee cited "systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making."
While testifying in front of a special State Senate committee, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw described law enforcement's response as an "abject failure," adding that nothing stood between the gunman and officers but the "on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”
The on-scene commander, Pete Arradando, has since been fired and seven Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers are being investigated for their actions, or inactions, on the day of the massacre.
For Cross and the families of both victims and survivors, it's not enough.
"It's been 18 weeks since our children were murdered, and they haven't done anything," Cross said. "The time for asking is over. I've played it their way — I went to the board meetings; I've tried to get individual meetings to discuss these things — and everything fell through. They don't listen. So we're not asking. We're demanding. There will be change."
Cross and other victims' parents and family members are demanding that district officials suspend all school district officers who were present on May 24 until a third-party investigation into their actions is concluded.
They don’t listen. So we’re not asking. We’re demanding. There will be change.
"It's simple. I don't know why they thought it was a reach," Cross added. "That's what we've asked of them for the last nine days. But now, we're also calling for Elizondo to be fired. She's gotta be gone."
Former DPS officer Crimson Elizondo responded to the shooting on May 24 and was later investigated for her actions, according to a recent CNN report. Elizondo can be heard on recorded audio obtained by CNN telling other officers on the scene, "If my son had been in there, I would not have been outside. I promise you that."
Elizondo left her DPS post in the summer, CNN reports, and was hired by the Uvalde School District. Her job: To patrol the schools and protect some of the very same students who were inside Robb Elementary School the day of the shooting.
During hour 222 of Cross camping outside the school district building, the district issued a statement announcing Elizondo's immediate termination.
"We are deeply distressed by the information that was disclosed yesterday evening concerning one of our hired employees, Crimson Elizondo," the statement said. "We sincerely apologize to the victim's families and the greater Uvalde community for the pain that this revelation has caused."
TODAY Parents reached out to Texas DPS and the Uvalde School District for comment, but did not hear back at the time of publication.
Cross says the district still isn't listening and has not agreed to suspend the officers on scene until a full investigation is conducted. He noted that the school district has taken action to put up gates at the administration building.
"The gates aren't even finished at the schools," he explained. "But since I've started protesting and sitting out here they have already put two gates to keep people coming— so you see where their priorities are. Their priorities are with themselves, and not our children."
Cross said he's played audio of his son’s and other victims’ voices and school administration officials requested he stop because it was “too hard on them.” Since Cross has started protesting, some officials have stopped coming to work in the building to avoid Cross and the other parents protesting there.
"This administration doesn't care," Cross said. "We can't even properly grieve because we've had to fight since pretty much day one."
Cross lives just two blocks away from the building he has been sitting, eating and sleeping outside of day and night for the past 10 days. His wife often visits him after she gets their surviving school age kids off to school in the morning and with the help of their 20-year-old daughter. She stays with him until it's time to go home and make dinner.
When the days are particularly hard and Cross "gets down" or starts "to wonder if this is worth it," he said, he hears his son, Uziyah, encouraging him.
"His voice is always in my mind, saying, 'You got this.' That's what keeps me going," Cross said. "I think he'd be right here with me, if things were different."
Cross is not alone. Other victims' parents and family members frequently keep him company in the hopes of getting some answers and action from the school district, too.
"We've all become a family," Cross explained. "As much as I hate the way that it happened for us to become close, I'm truly grateful that I have these people here because we couldn't do this alone."
At times, Cross said the families sit outside the building and they laugh, sharing memories of their loved ones. Other times, they cry. One person in the group will be cracking a joke, while another is wiping away tears.
"We can be laughing and crying at the same time," Cross added. "It's an emotional rollercoaster that unless you've lived it, you won't understand."
Cross is determined to continue riding that rollercoaster outside the Uvalde school district offices until the demands of the victims families are answered.
He remembers how Uziyah ran everywhere he went — from the school bus to home; from one end of his living room to another while playing a video game; into the loving arms of his mother, father and six siblings. Now, Cross is staying put for Uziyah.
"My son wanted to help people, and his wanting to help people is what drives me. In his honor, everything that we do ... is because of him. It's because of the other children. We are not going to let them die in vain — we are going to save people, because of them."