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Uvalde schools superintendent announces retirement after new details following the Robb Elementary massacre

<i>Eric Gay/AP</i><br/>Hal Harrell
Eric Gay/AP
Hal Harrell

By Shimon Prokupecz, Holly Yan and Amy Simonson, CNN

Hal Harrell, superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, announced his retirement Monday, according to a Facebook post by his wife, Donna Goates Harrell.

“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,” the post read. “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.”

Harrell has been under scrutiny since the May 24 slaughter at Robb Elementary School left 19 students and two teachers dead.

Before a school board meeting Monday, Harrell was greeted and hugged by a throng of people.

CNN tried to ask him questions about the district hiring a former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper under investigation for her response to the Robb shooting, and he responded by saying, “I think I’m going to enjoy this right now, thank you.”

When pressed further by CNN, Harrell said, “I’m going to visit (with people).”

During the meeting the board went into closed session to discuss replacing Harrell and upon returning to the public portion of the meeting voted unanimously to adopt a motion to conduct a search for a new superintendent. Harrell will remain until a successor is named, the Facebook post said.

An emotional divide at the meeting was clear, with mostly white supporters of the superintendent outside the school board meeting cheering him on and mostly Hispanic families of victims inside the meeting crying and pleading to the board for accountability.

Harrell received a standing ovation from his supporters before Uvalde residents addressed him and the board in an open forum.

Brett Cross, guardian of victim Uziyah Garcia, said, “I will say this, if it had been 17 white kids, all of those people out there would have been in here. All of our kids matter.”

Another resident said it was disheartening for many of the people present to see so many outside cheering on Harrell. She asked the board to not just consider the resignation but to “make it a done deal” Monday.

“Nineteen children, two teachers, someone has to take responsibility for those deaths. We can’t just all sit back and wait for an investigation to be completed. We’re not asking for criminal charges. We’re asking for accountability,” the resident said. “You appointed Dr. Harrell, accept his retirement and let’s move on and do what we need to do as a community.”

The sister of victim Irma Garcia — whose heartbroken husband, Joe Garcia, died days after the shooting — 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.

While Harrell announced a series of new safety measures for this school year, some Uvalde parents have been calling for the superintendent’s removal for months.

District officials recently suspended its police force

Months after the massacre, details are still emerging about the school district’s response to the shooting.

“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’s Facebook post said.

According to the post, the superintendent asked his wife “to post this message since he doesn’t have Facebook.”

Last week, Harrell emailed staff about his intention to retire.

“I am in my 31st year in education, all served and dedicated to the students and families here in Uvalde,” Harrell wrote.

That message came hours after the school district announced it was suspending operations of its police force and placing a lieutenant and another top school official on leave as part of its investigation.

The email also came after CNN reported the Uvalde school district had recently hired Crimson Elizondo, a former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper under investigation for her response to the massacre.

Elizondo arrived minutes after the shooting started and was heard on body-worn camera video saying she would have responded differently had her own son been inside the school.

“If my son had been in there, I would not have been outside,” she told another officer. “I promise you that.”

The school district apologized to the victims’ families and the Uvalde community “for the pain that this revelation has caused,” the district said last week. “Ms. Elizondo’s statement in the audio is not consistent with the District’s expectations.”

Elizondo has been fired from the school district and declined to speak with CNN.

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CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz reported from Uvalde and Amy Simonson and Holly Yan reported and wrote in Atlanta. Matthew J. Friedman and Rachel Clarke contributed to this report.

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