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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/26/22

Guests: Tony Plohetski, Radley Balko, Nicole Hockley, Eulalio Diaz

Summary

Grief-stricken husband of teacher killed in school shooting dies of heart attack. Frustration and anger grows in Uvalde shattered by school massacre. Actions taken by Texas School resource officer are unclear.

Transcript

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Chris, thank you and good evening to you.

And thank you at home for joining us this hour.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 more. This is perhaps more. This is "Uvalde Leader News" today and the date is May 24th, 2022.

This, of course, is the day, two days ago. It`s been 48 hours since the gunman killed 19 children, and two teachers right here at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

And today, another death. The grieving husband of one of the slain teacher has died. Joe Garcia, who`s married to the teacher Irma Garcia, collapsed, and died today, according to his family. They say he was preparing for the funeral of his wife of 24 years.

They were college sweethearts. They were high school sweethearts. His death leaves their four children paralyzed.

It is a reminder, as if this town needed one, the Tuesday`s tragedy is not over. The shockwaves will reverberate across this community in, countless ways, for countless weeks, months, and years. The raw grief among the residents here is, of course, no less than it was on Tuesday.

But increasingly, the sadness is mingled with frustration, and anger, as people here have been unable to get straight answers about exactly happened here, as people learned that the shooter was in this school for over an hour before he was shot and killed by law enforcement and as new videos raised questions about how parents were treated by authorities as the massacre unfolded.

Now, in the aftermath of any horrific event, information is spotty. Our understanding of what happens evolves over time, but even by those standards of breaking, and developing news, the inability of officials to give a consistent, and coherent account of a key portion of the timeline of attack is, frankly, confounding.

Initial reports suggested that when the shooter approached the school, an armed resource officer, a school resource officer, exchanged fire with him. But, the gunmen was able to get past him, and into the school. Then, yesterday, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a briefing, the school resource officer had, quote, engaged the shooter in some way, but not fired his weapon, and the shooter then entered the school. That was a little hard to understand.

Today, a different official with the Department of Public Safety told "The Washington Post" that they were not sure if the officer had shot the gunman but they were going to interview the officer to find out.

Just an hour after that report, a third DPS official held a news conference laying out the timeline and at the very end almost as an aside, this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICTOR ESCALON, REGIONAL DIRECTOR TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: One more thing I forgot to mention that that I want to clear up that came out early on. It was reported that a school district police officer confronted the suspect that was making entry not accurate.

TOM LLAMAS, NBC NEWS: Tom Llamas with NBC News. My question is this, was there a school officer on campus and was that school officer armed? Because that`s what we`ve been told.

ESCALON: So at this time, no, no. There was not an officer readily available armed, no.

LLAMAS: Was there an officer?

ESCALON: No, no, nothing, I can`t answer that yet. I`ll circle back with you. Again, as we do that investigation, we have all these questions we want to answer. So, but I`ll get back with you, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: There was no officer at all or maybe he`s not sure. Who are they interviewing then?

This press conference this afternoon, it didn`t get better from there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LLAMAS: There`s a 12-minute gap from when he crashes his truck to when he enters the school, 12 minutes. What happened in that 12 minutes?

ESCALON: So you got to understand, 11:30 is the information we have at this point that we can confirm, 11:30 a.m., the PD gets a -- we got a crash and a man with a gun, and then you have responding officers. That`s what it is. If it`s 12 minutes from 11:30 to 11:40, that`s the information we have right now.

Look at the end of the day, our job is to report the facts and have those answers. We`re not there yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: We don`t have the answers and it does seem important. He ended the press conference shortly thereafter once it being became clear that he didn`t have answers for these reporters` questions.

Now, let`s just be clear, no one expects officials to have all the details nailed down quickly. This is important stuff but there`s this worrying lack of clarity around a central question about this attack. We`re told the gunman crashed his car outside the school at 11:28 a.m. on Tuesday.

[21:05:04]

We`re told he entered the school at 11:40 a.m. And then it was less than -- at least an hour -- maybe closer to an hour and a half before a tactical team -- this team that you`re looking at from U.S. Customs and Border Protection broke into the classroom where the gunman had murdered 21 people and they shot and killed him.

Today, new videos have emerged showing parents gathered outside the school during that agonizing period, arguing with police who were stationed outside, begging them to go into the school to stop the shooter. And I`m going to show you a couple of these videos but I want to be clear about what we do not know here. We do not know the original source of this video.

NBC has been able to verify through our technology that it was shot outside of Robb Elementary school here on Tuesday, but we don`t know what time the video was shot and what else was going on at the time. The parents in this video are questioning why law enforcement officers are not going into the school but we don`t know if other police officers were in fact already inside the school at that time.

And I`m going to warn you, the footage is not graphic but it`s deeply emotional. So take care while watching. As the video begins, it seems that the person filming it has just seen a law enforcement officer shove someone who appears to be a parent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don`t push me, man.

OFFICER: Because I`m having to deal with you! Get across the street! Get across the street!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, we`re going to back up, are you going to walk in through that gate and get him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know those are kids, right? Little kids. They can`t defend themselves. Six-year-olds in there, tThey don`t know how to defend themselves from a shooter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. There`s another video was shot outside the school as the shooting was underway. We in the video which you`re going to see in a moment, you -- we appear to see what would appear to be law enforcement officers restraining a man on the ground outside the school. Another officer has this Taser clearly drawn and visible this is in a crowd of parents who are screaming as they learn that a gunman is in the school with their children and who are begging the heavily armed officers around them to go into the school.

Now, again, we do not have the full context for these videos. We don`t know who was in the school at the time. But the anguish that they reflect from parents here in Uvalde is confirmed by reporting from several news outlets today.

"The New York Times" spoke to Desirae Garza whose niece Amerie Jo Garza was killed. She told "The Times" that, quote, when her brother angel who is Amarie`s stepfather learned from a fleeing child that a girl named Amarie had been shot inside, he ran to try and reach his daughter. But it was handcuffed by a local police officer.

Another man told "The Times," we were wondering what the heck is going on? Are they going in? The dads were saying give me the vest, I`ll go in there. Police would say, get back, get back, active shooter. They were putting up caution tape and people were cutting the tape.

And perhaps the most jaw-dropping account came from Angeli Rose Gomez, a parent of second and third graders here at Robb Elementary. "The Wall Street Journal" reports, quote, Ms. Gomez said she was one of numerous parents waiting outside the school who began encouraging first politely and then with more urgency police and other law enforcement to enter the school sooner. After a few minutes, she said U.S. marshals put her in handcuffs telling her she was being arrested for intervening in an active investigation.

Ms. Gomez said she convinced local Uvalde police officers whom she knew to persuade the marshals to set her free. She said she saw a father tackled and thrown to the ground by police and a third pepper sprayed, end quote.

The Texas Department of Public Safety official was asked about some of these reports this afternoon at the press conference. He would only say those reports have not yet been verified and look the point in raising all these questions about the law enforcement response is certainly not to pick on officers who may well have been very brave and doing their best in an unbelievably stressful and highly threatening situation. But law enforcement -- more and more law enforcement is pretty much the only response to school shootings that have been proposed or allowed by the Republican officials who run the state of Texas.

After the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas in 2018, the state passed multiple bills to, quote/unquote, harden schools. The Uvalde school district doubled its security budget. It created its own police force and threat assessment teams at each school.

If that is the only answer that Texas has to the scourge of school shootings, not to prevent them but to guard and respond to schools better, when they happen -- well, they`ve got to show that plan works. And tonight, the people of Uvalde have a lot of questions about how well it worked.

[21:10:05]

Joining me now here in Uvalde, Texas, is Tony Plohetski. He`s an investigative reporter with "The Austin American Statesman".

Tony, thank you again for joining us tonight.

You and I both covered these before. There is always a moment of confusion, sometimes there`s weeks of confusion about what led up to a particular gunman making an attack. But there`s generally not confusion about that detail about what happens once the attack is underway. You`ve been digging into this.

What are you finding? What`s behind all of these change statements and what the confusion really?

TONY PLOHETSKI, AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN REPORTER: Well, I think that law enforcement is trying to just unpack everything, as you mentioned. I mean, certainly, in a dynamic fluid situation with a lot of people involved and a lot of responding officers, it`s not unusual to have these types of discrepancies.

But one of the things that has really flagged the Texas Rangers, the leading law enforcement agency who is conducting this investigation, is just the array of discrepancies between what witnesses and people who saw the shooting are telling law enforcement versus other eyewitnesses. There`s just quite a gulf between the statements from various people and so that has caused law enforcement to really almost expand their investigation, to really examine as you mentioned the response in its totality and try to figure that out. And they`re doing that in a number of different ways.

VELSHI: You`re here in Texas. You`ve seen this happen before you and I were in Sutherland Springs together. Often in a small town like this, you`ll have layers and layers of police and in this case, you`ve got the Texas Rangers who you`ve got here, you`ve got local police, you`ve got county, you had assisting agencies from other places we had the Customs and Border Patrol officers who were the ones who uh who stormed the place, obviously, the FBI is now involved.

So there`s always a little bit of confusion. All right. Unless this happens in a big city where there`s one police force that`s dealing with all of it, what what`s your sense of what`s happening here? Why we`re getting different stories?

PLOHETSKI: I mean, frankly it is perplexing because now we`re now on the second day, 48 hours later from when this happened and the inability to really put together a concise coherent narrative is jarring not only to those of us who are covering this, but I want to be clear, it`s especially jarring and upsetting to these families. Obviously, they are grief- stricken, but as we know from talking to victims of crime over time, one of the ways that they can finally begin to comprehend the incomprehensible is having clear facts. And unfortunately as we stand here tonight, they just don`t have them.

VELSHI: Tell me. Let`s go one level higher here. We`ve got the NRA meeting in Houston on Saturday. We`ve got uh Republican officials and Democratic officials sort of going at each other in very much a way that typically happens when these things happen. But Texas almost feels like ground zero for this conversation because it`s got some of the most liberal gun laws in the country and it`s got a whole lot of people who really want those laws changed.

PLOHETSKI: And I want to tell you it`s not just controversial at the capitol in Austin. It`s controversial right over there in the city park where I was earlier today listening and observing conversations from people. Keep in mind that this is Texas. This is a very gun-friendly atmosphere. Obviously, it`s also a very much, you know, back the blue atmosphere among some people who really can`t even grapple with the possibility that law enforcement performed anything less than admirably.

But on the other end of that spectrum, again, not just playing out in Austin at the capitol but here in the community, people are very concerned and upset and at a minimum, they want clear answers and they want them sooner rather than late.

VELSHI: And again I want to reemphasize, we don`t know whether what happened -- we don`t know whether police did the right thing or the wrong thing. It`s really just it`s a bit of confusion about the messaging.

That said, I am -- I haven`t met a single person here who says they want the ability of people to own guns in Texas take it away. It`s nuanced it`s even more nuanced than it is in Austin amongst the population. But there are people who are saying there`s got to be something between the polar opposites that can be done.

I`ve had people talk to me here as I`m sure you have said, look, I don`t want people`s guns taken away.

PLOHETSKI: Right.

VELSHI: But what we`re doing here it doesn`t seem to be working.

PLOHETSKI: Absolutely, and so again, the question is, which I suppose if anyone had the answer to, perhaps we would we would migrate there. But how do you get to that center, how do you strike that balance that obviously when you look at this memorial behind us, you can`t help but to think that that something -- some compromise has got to be reached.

VELSHI: And do you sense that because you`ve been following this fairly closely. It doesn`t feel like anybody`s moving on anything right now.

PLOHETSKI: I think one of the things that that can happen based on what people tell me and just what I observe as a working journalist is that in the immediate aftermath, what we can often see and I think to some extent what we are seeing is almost a doubling down of positions instead of a softening of positions. But who knows what the future may hold of course.

[21:15:02]

VELSHI: Tony, thank you for your reporting. I appreciate it. Thank you for being with us again.

Tony Plohetski is "The Austin American Statesman" investigative reporter who`s joined us now for a couple nights in a row.

Joining us now is Radley Balko. He`s "Washington Post" columnist. He`s a policing expert and author of "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America`s Police Forces".

Radley, good to see you. Thank you for being with us tonight.

I want you to help us through some of the stuff that we`ve been hearing. Today in a press conference, Victor Escalon, the South Texas regional director of the Department of Public Safety, he was the person that our viewers were just watching in those videos, was asked why the police officers didn`t storm the fourth grade classroom that the suspect had entered, why they didn`t do it sooner.

And he said that`s a tough question. Authorities were still gathering information on what the answer is to that, they don`t have an answer.

Talk to me about the protocol for police. Has it changed since -- let`s say Columbine in which police go and actively confront shooters.

We`ve seen that happen more than what we seem to have seen here, this perimeter set up and then waiting for something to happen.

RADLEY BALKO, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. so over the last five or ten years we`ve seen the protocol change where uh instead of waiting for a tactical team our swat team the first responding officers are supposed to go in and a lot of departments. We`ve seen those officers have sort of bigger guns which a lot of cases, they`re -- you know, they`re told to keep in the trunk of their patrol cars and only take them out in situations like this. And so, that has been kind of the standard training that police officers around the country have gotten since you know we`ve really seen an uptick in mass shootings.

But, you know, this was a failure. I mean, you`re right there are lots of different narratives right now. The story from the police keeps changing by the hour which in itself is a problem.

But you know the town has a SWAT team, and you know, those of us who have criticized the proliferation of SWAT teams into towns, you know, the size of about a -- with just about 16,000 people, we said you know why does a town that small need a SWAT team, and the response is always this, this, this is exactly the reason why these towns claim that they need to have a SWAT team.

And yet, and yet it took over an hour for this shooter to be confronted. It took over 40 minutes after it was in the classroom, and it wasn`t the about a SWAT team that confronted him. It was a Customs and Border Patrol.

So why have this SWAT team if you`re not going to use it, why spend, you know, 40 percent of your town budget on policing if in a situation like this where people need the police the most, not only do they not get the protection that they wanted, they get harassed and they get threatened because you know they care about their kids. They want to know what happened to their kids.

VELSHI: What -- talk to me about this Customs and Border Patrol tactical team that did ultimately get here and shoot the killer? What -- you are specialist in why these police end up as heavily armed as they are as militarized as they are. Why Customs and Border Patrol? Why are they as heavily as armed as they were and why would they have been called into this?

BALKO: So, first, let`s you know give them credit. They stop the shooter. They act heroically and bravely and, you know, they did what needed to be done once they got there and I`m talking about the Customs and Border Patrol team.

This is a team or a unit within Customs and Border Patrol that has a pretty nasty reputation. We we`ve learned a lot about them uh during the George Floyd protest when they were deployed to handle some of the protests. But in this case, they performed pretty heroically.

You know, I think those of us who think that SWAT is overused and that and that police are over-militarized, you know, you do need a tactical team to be able to respond to these kinds of situations and if you`re not going to have them in every small town and every county sheriff`s department which I don`t think you should, you do need regional teams that can respond, whether it`s the state police, whether it`s -- you know, a federal agency.

So, you know, I think in this case, that they performed bravely and heroically they took the shooter out they stopped uh him from continuing to kill people. But I still think, you know, if you`re a resident of the town, you have to ask, you know, why are we -- why are we spending percent of our budget on policing? Why does -- why do we have a SWAT team? Why do we have a small team that was actually trained actually visited the local schools to learn the layout of the schools?

They visited in full tactical gear. They went to the schools in February and took tours and posted on Facebook -- how they were learning about the sort of the layout of the school`s local schools.

So what happened? Why weren`t they deployed? And the answer is that it`s a part-time SWAT team, a full third of the department is on the SWAT team, of about a third. I guess it`s out of about 35 members.

And, you know, when you have a part-time SWAT team, you can`t deploy on a moment`s notice. Well, then, why I have one at all? And what you inevitably find is that they`re used to serve drug warrants. That`s primarily how they`re used. They`re not used for their primary justification which is an event like this.

VELSHI: Radley, thanks for your analysis. We always appreciate it.

Radley Balko is a "Washington Post" columnist, policing expert. We appreciate your time tonight.

Well, as the nation grieves the loss of these 19 children and two teachers, the rest of the world is asking the question, why do America`s political leaders let this kind of thing continue to happen.

Today, a reporter from our British partner Sky News put that question to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Is this the moment to reform gun laws?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): You know, it`s easy to go to politics.

REPORTER: But it`s important. It`s at the heart of the issue.

CRUZ: I get that that`s where the media likes to go.

REPORTER: It`s not. It`s where many of the people we`ve talked to here like to go.

CRUZ: The proposals from Democrats in the media inevitably when some violent psychopath murders people --

REPORTER: A violent psychopath who`s able to get a weapon so easily, 18- year-old, with two AR-15s.

CRUZ: If you want to stop violent crime, the proposals the Democrats have, none of them would have stopped this.

REPORTER: Why does this only happen in your country? I really think that`s what many people around the world just -- they cannot fathom. Why only in America? Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?

CRUZ: You know, I`m sorry you think American exceptionalism is awful.

REPORTER: I think this aspect, I think this aspect of it.

CRUZ: You get your political agenda.

REPORTER: No, it`s us --

CRUZ: God love you.

REPORTER: Senator, it`s not. I just want to understand why you do not think that guns are the problem?

REPORTER: Why is this just an American problem?

REPORTER: It is just an American problem, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: It`s just an American problem. In just a minute -- a minute, I`m going to talk to the man who tried to unseat Ted Cruz in his last election who`s now running for governor of Texas. Democratic candidate Beto O`Rourke says we can do something about gun violence in America and in Texas. My interview with him is next.

(COMEMRCIAL BREAK)

[21:26:14]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: You`ve had this conversation on a national level, when you ran for president, when you run for statewide office, in Congress. For people who don`t follow it as closely as you do, what`s the most effective change that they can vote for, that they can choose? What`s the thing that is going to reduce us coming out on a on a semi-weekly basis and talking about mass shootings?

BETO O`ROURKE, (D-TX), CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR: The only thing that is going to change this is political power. You leave the same people in the same offices and expect a different result, then you`re crazy. And you`re going to get more of the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That was Texas`s Democratic candidate for governor, Beto O`Rourke, talking with reporters here in Uvalde. Shortly after that exchange, I followed up with the candidate and asked him about the choices that Texan voters will face this November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O`ROURKE: The choice is to vote for people who reflect and represent your values. What I`m trying to say is that too often, we dismiss folks who belong to another political party and say, all Republicans are this or that all Democrats are this and that. I`m just saying that the majority of us in Texas, which includes Republicans and Democrats, want the right thing and their values are un-reflected by those in power who continue to ignore this kind of slaughter that we`re seeing in our schools.

And yes, it so happens that Democrats right now who are on the ballot are for common sense gun laws. Democrats are for a woman`s right to choose. Democrats are for a state that`s big enough for all of us regardless of who you love or how you love. Democrats are for what I think allows this state to fulfill its promise and its potential.

But when you meet with the parents of a ten-year-old girl who was shot and killed two days ago, as I did, and they tell you that girl will never live to her potential promise and she was the most beautiful girl, she was the happiest girl, she was the most talented girl and she`s never -- she`s never going to get there, you`ve got to vote like our lives depend on it, because clearly the lives of these kids depend on it and I`ve just got to make that case to the people of Texas, to make sure that they understand there is an option right now to do something better, that this doesn`t have to be our future.

This isn`t our fortune. This isn`t our fate. This is on us to do something about it and in Texas history, there are so many examples of people who stood up and stepped up and over years and sometimes decades been able to achieve the big important thing they were fighting for against tough odds, wasn`t easy, maybe they failed a couple times along the way. But ultimately, they got there and that describes the people of Texas right now.

We are going to get there and we cannot give up hope. We cannot succumb to despair. We`ve got to stand and fight.

VELSHI: Why then though if you`ve got a state which has led the country in abortion restrictions, which has led the country in transgender discriminatory laws, and now with guns, how do you feel that you move the needle on this? Are Texans prepared to say enough, we`re not going down that road? Because it doesn`t seem to be any punishment for Republicans who are on the wrong side of these issues in your opinion?

O`ROURKE: There will be a reckoning and an accounting on the 8th of November of this year. I just want to make sure that that every Texan has the opportunity to make that choice and I`m asking the people who are working on this campaign to go out and meet their fellow Texans without regard to party affiliation or past voting history or anything else and just make sure that each of us has a chance to do the right thing. I think that`s all that we want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: So how do the people who want to see change in Texas and in this country make sure that what happened here in Uvalde matters this November.

[21:30:04]

Joining us now is Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise. Her six-year-old son Dylan was killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. Dylan would have turned 16 this year. Nicole, I`m sorry that we talk at these times and I thank you for joining us. You have been fighting this fight for a decade.

Do you believe -- do you agree with Beto O`Rourke that there can and will be a reckoning this year?

NICOLE HOCKLEY, SANDY HOOK PROMISE CO-FOUNDER AND CEO: I think there can and will absolutely be a reckoning I hope it begins this year and I hope it continues. I`ve always said this is going to be generational change I mean I certainly never expected over the last decade that our politics would become this partisan and this divisive. I hadn`t reckoned on that.

But I do think this growing generation you know my surviving son will be turning 18 in a couple of months. He`ll become a voter. All he`s known his whole life is school shootings and active shooter drills to prepare for school shootings.

That`s what this generation has experienced and I believe they are going to be the true reckoning that makes the long-term change happen because they will not accept this for their kids because this is what they`ve had to live with every day.

VELSHI: On tomorrow, and Saturday, there`s going to be a convention of the NRA meeting in Houston. Most of the Republican politicians in this state will be here, there`ll be Republican politicians from all over the country. The NRA -- we`re going to talk about it later -- but it`s a protection racket for people who will support their positions on things.

What`s the -- what`s the model for success, for punishing elected officials who will not be reasonable about gun laws because they`re beholden to the NRA?

HOCKLEY: Well, you got to vote them out. I mean, that`s a very simple answer and the problem is we you know we don`t have term limits so this thing just keeps continuing but use your vote use your voice put the pressure on. These are elected officials. They`re supposed to represent their constituents. If they`re not doing that, then they shouldn`t be in office, plain and simple.

And with so many people wanting common gun safety regulations, I mean, people that have never been political in the last couple of days have been coming out and saying, I want to see change happen, I`m ready to have conversations about this. That`s what needs to happen and people like Ted Cruz are a little bit out of touch with what`s actually going on in America right now. So they need to be removed and paved the way for people that are actually prepared to have conversations and that doesn`t mean we`re always going to agree, but at least come to the table and have a conversation for Christ`s sake. I mean that`s what we need to be focusing on right now.

VELSHI: And that`s what people have been telling me here. It`s -- they don`t think it`s a binary conversation but they want to have it. They want to see their politicians having it, but those who are recipients of advertising and support from the NRA do not feel like having any part of that discussion.

The NRA`s support and power has dwindled a little bit. But when you say they people have to come out and vote for it, what does that look like? Because typically, it`s money, it`s resources, right? To take out these ads, to do these things. Is that enough or is sentiment going to do it? What`s the answer?

I think -- I mean, I don`t have all the answers but I think it`s part of both and the NRA`s power has been dwindling and personally, I`ve been very encouraged to see that there have been people -- politicians, entertainers pulling out of the NRA convention.

So, I mean ,the NRA leadership does not represent its membership. So I think that`s important to remember as well and they`re not -- the money isn`t -- the money isn`t worth life. You can`t say that donations to a political -- politician are worth 19 children`s lives and two teachers. This is -- this is the value equation that makes no sense.

So it shouldn`t be about money. It should be about sentiment and it should be about people voting with their hearts and their minds about what do they want. What`s the kind of America that they want to live in? And if your politicians aren`t delivering that, vote them out.

VELSHI: You`ve gone through this. I mean, you are a mother who has gone through the horrible experience of losing a child to gun violence at school. There`s nobody who`s -- not nobody, but most people are not going to disagree with you that this is one of the most serious things our society faces.

And yet, it`s not still not front of mind for everyone. There are people who support solutions like universal background checks and red flag laws and closing gun shop -- gun show loopholes and yet they will still vote for politicians who oppose them because it`s not the biggest issue to them.

What do you say to those people who say this is your child living at school has got to be the biggest issue to you?

HOCKLEY: You know, in the last two days alone, how many people have taken their kid to school in the morning and really had pause for thought about is my child going to be safe today? If that`s not keeping you awake at night, if that`s not a priority for you I beg to understand what is a priority our children, our most innocent people in our lives the ones that we`re supposed to put on the highest pedestal and protect at all costs they have to come first.

[21:35:01]

There is no future without them. They must come first for all of us.

VELSHI: I`m so sorry about how you became an expert on this, but I thank you for your expertise and for bringing it to us. Nicole Hockley is the co- founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise. We thank you for your time tonight.

Just ahead, I`m going to talk with a member of the Uvalde community about living through this excruciating time. But first we want to say some of the names of the victims of this horrific massacre and I`m going to tell you a little bit about them.

Nevaeh Bravo turned 10 in January. Her family says she put a smile on everyone`s face.

A family friend says year old Miranda Mathis was fun spunky and very smart. Her brother was her best friend. He was also inside Robb Elementary School at the time of the shooting.

Ten-year-old Leila Salazar won six races at Robb Elementary`s field day she and her dad would listen to their favorite song "Sweet Child of O` Mine" on their way to school in the mornings.

Maite Yuleana Rodriguez`s cousin says she was kind to others and her dream was to attend Texas A&M University to become a marine biologist. She was 10 years old.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: This city Uvalde, Texas, is too small to have its own coroner or medical examiner. So the task of identifying the dead in Tuesday`s mass shooting here at Robb Elementary School fell to the justice of the peace, Eulalio Diaz.

Just to give you some context, before the shooting, the biggest number of casualties he had seen at one time was after a car accident that killed four people. I spoke to Justice Diaz, earlier today Judge Diaz earlier today, and I asked him about walking into Robb Elementary School where he himself had once been a student to identify the people who had been killed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EULALIO DIAZ, UVALDE COUNTY JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: So, my sense of urgency was to get the -- get them get the examiner everything they needed to release these victims back to their families as quickly as we could, because then you start the grieving process and it`s hard whenever your loved one is not with you there. And that was very personal I took that. Very -- that`s what really hurt me more because normally somebody passes away at somebody`s bedside, they`re there with them, they watch them, they`re with them, they can kiss them, they can hug them. They can`t do any of that.

VELSHI: Can`t do anything.

DIAZ: And I hate that that this person took that from them.

VELSHI: How about you? How did you process that? I mean, to most people, thank God we`ll never walk into a room with dead children.

DIAZ: Well, when I was doing the investigation, of course, I really couldn`t tell who the children were. I knew the names. But it wasn`t till I got home. You know, I have a senior in high school who was going to supposed to graduate tomorrow and have an eighth grader and my wife and I get home and they look at me like then I`m sorry for what you had to do, right? You -- I -- we know your job, they know what I do.

VELSHI: Right.

DIAZ: I talk to them all the time about what I go out and do but then they start sharing me Facebook photos of all the people that had missing children and we know -- we know the majority of them. And it just breaks my heart knowing but now you start putting pieces together.

So you think you`re going to go to sleep, you think you`re going to relax, you don`t. You wake up early, your mind`s still racing. You come to work because now I need to -- I need to get these families --

VELSHI: You got work to do here.

DIAZ: Yeah, I got work to do, so I come back and so we`ve been trying to just do the best we can, trying to process everything, stay strong and then get my job done so that then I could be a part of the support staff for the family and for the community because this didn`t just affect that school, it affected the whole town because everybody`s connected like you said.

This is a small community. Everybody knows somebody was related to somebody that is that that was affected and every child in this -- in the Uvalde school district was affected with this. So, now, what we need is we need because I appreciate all the assistance that is being sent to us by larger cities for counseling but they need to be here whenever all the cameras leave. They need to be here whenever school starts in August, because some of these children school that out they went home and they`re not going to ask for help.

So in most cases, we need to meet -- we need to be proactive and going out to them or wait until we get to school and really have a talk with everyone and see how they are because this is -- this was traumatic for everybody and everybody in the community and it`s just something you don`t ever prepare for.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: It`s just something you don`t ever prepare for. That was the Uvalde justice of the peace, Eulalio Diaz, who along with the rest of this community is reeling under the weight of this unimaginable loss.

People have been coming by the way to Robb Elementary School, this memorial that`s behind me all day to pay their respects and lay flowers. Look at the flowers that are there. Look at the 21 crosses. This happened after the show last night. There`s one cross each bearing the name of a person who was killed in this horrific shooting. There`s a Texas Ranger who is literally every seconds they are walking up and putting flowers down there`s a lineup of people who are handing flowers to the Texas Rangers to place at this memorial.

Coming up next, we were talking a bit about the NRA. It is still holding its annual meeting here in Texas tomorrow. It`s not the first time the annual gathering of the gun lobbyists runs right up against a mass murder committed using the products that they push.

More on that ahead.

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[21:49:37]

VELSHI: It was days after the shooting at Columbine high school in Littleton, Colorado, that killed 13 people, five students were still hospitalized. But the NRA`s big annual meeting that year had already been planned. It was set to take place in Denver, about a half an hour drive from where the shooting took place. And the NRA decided the show must go on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: A feeling that out of respect for the victims, the National Rifle Association should not have held its annual meeting here, just 15 miles from Littleton.

[21:50:04]

Denver`s mayor had asked the group not to come.

MAYOR WELLINGTON WEBB, DENVER: It was my hope that they, as an organization, would say that they don`t think this is appropriate.

REPORTER: Some area business leaders took out a full page newspaper ad, not casting blame but asking for understanding.

REPORTER: The NRA did scale back its convention from three days to just one. They removed billboard ads and canceled gun exhibits. But pulling out altogether? Out of the question.

So, as thousands of NRA member showed up for the group`s business meeting, thousands of protesters marched from the capital to the convention site, a few blocks away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Eight thousand people protested outside the NRA meeting in Denver that year. Tomorrow, the NRA is holding its annual meeting in Houston, just three days after the mass shooting here in Uvalde, Texas.

President Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz are all scheduled to speak by the loudest voices may be outside. Protests of the events are being planned by groups like Moms Demand Action and Indivisible Houston and Houston, Youth for Beto, Houston Black Lives Matter chapter and local religious organizations.

Now, it`s shocking to learn that the NRA has had two annual meetings this close in both time and proximity to major mass shootings. But it makes sense. The meeting is annual, the shootings are far too common.

But that is not why I wanted to direct your attention back to batten or a convention in Denver 1999. It is worth focusing on the convention because it had seen incredible audio that NPR unearthed last year, giving us a window into what the NRA which is ostensibly a member-led and democratic organization thinks about its own members.

This audio is of the leaders of the NRA debating whether to still have their annual convention after the Columbine shooting. They ultimately decided they would scale it down, remove the exhibit halls that could lead to pictures being taken of kids holding guns and other bad optics, and just have the speeches and the members meeting.

This is one of the key lobbyists for the NRA at the time talking about why scaling back might be a problem for them.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MARION HAMMER, NRA LOBBYIST: If you pull down the exhibit hall, that`s not going to leave anything for the media except the members meeting and you`re going to have the wackos with all kinds of crazy resolutions, with all kinds of dressing like a bunch of hillbillies and idiots and it`s going to -- it`s going to be the worst thing you can imagine.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

VELSHI: That`s right. The worst thing this lobbyist from the NRA can imagine is what he called the NRA`s own hillbilly idiot members.

The NRA hasn`t had an annual meeting for the past two years because of COVID but its last meeting was in 2019. It was consumed by infighting. The president of the organization was forced out by its board. Its longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre was nearly ousted by a vote of no confidence.

The source of the drama -- well, if you were an NRA member in that year preceding the convention you might have noticed that their fundraising efforts were becoming more and more desperate. This is an email to members from CEO Wayne LaPierre. Quote: The Second Amendment cannot survive without the NRA and the NRA cannot survive without your help right now.

But at the same time, the NRA had reduced spending on its avowed core mission, gun education, safety and training to less than 10 percent of its total budget and public reporting was showing all sorts of fun ways that that money was being spent instead, $39,000 for one day of shopping in Beverly Hills for the CEO Wayne LaPierre, $200,000 for air transportation for a two-week trip to the Bahamas over Christmas for the CEO Wayne LaPierre.

And this one never ended up materializing but "The Wall Street Journal" got its hands on documents confirming that the NRA was going to buy a $6 million mansion for Wayne LaPierre, and that`s just Wayne LaPierre. It turns out lots of board members are being heavily assisted by their member donation piggy bank.

Remarkably, Wayne LaPierre is still the NRA CEO. He will be at the event in Houston tomorrow. And while the organization may tout itself as one designed to defend the Second Amendment`s rights of its members, the facts tell a different story.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, the Violence Policy Center discovered that the gun industry donated tens of millions of dollars to the NRA with nearly two dozen gunmakers lining the organization`s coffers. And while the NRA is only spending 10 percent of its money on its actual core mission and then a little on top of that for Wayne LaPierre`s lavish lifestyle, the one thing it is serious about and does spend big money on is its messaging -- messaging that helps gun manufacturers keep selling more guns.

So when you see images coming out of the NRA meeting tomorrow, video, crowds of people cheering on Donald Trump and Wayne LaPierre, remember that the NRA uses its members to get what its leaders and the gun lobby wants not the other way around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:59:05]

VELSHI: This is what it looked like at oxford high school in Michigan, earlier today. Hundreds of students filing out of the school to honor the 21 people including 19 fourth graders, killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday.

Hundreds of kids walked out of their classes, marching over the football field, where they formed the shape of a U with their bodies, U for Uvalde. The students at Oxford know firsthand the tool that a school shooting takes, one claimed the lives of four high school students just this past November.

In Wisconsin, students at Whitefish Bay High School, there was a walk out, protesting gun violence in schools across the country. Students in Woodland Hills, California, shouted enough is enough, as they walked out of their classes earlier today. Students from several schools in Providence, Rhode Island, left class to do a die-in in front of the Rhode Island state house. They laid like that for three minutes.

In Missouri, students walked out to protest the lack of legislation to curb gun violence. One student said, with a sign, I want to feel safe, written in red paint. It had red hand prints on it.

Students walked out in cities and towns across this country. In Spokane, Washington, in Falls Church, Virginia, in Maplewood, New Jersey, thousands of students left their classrooms in the middle of the day to say that they have had enough. And that they are tired of the inaction on gun reform policy. They are tired of hearing for their lies while they try to learn.

They are done. They want us to pay attention. They want the adults in power, the adults who can vote to stop failing them. The question is, will we listen?

That does it for us tonight.

It`s time now for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

And, Lawrence, that question that the students are proposing, it`s a good one. They are done. Will we listen? When we do something about it?