AP was the first national news organization on the scene the deadly mass shooting, setting the agenda with aggressive reporting on authorities’ response, and sensitive coverage of the victims and their families.
AP Photographer Dario Lopez-Mills and video journalist Eugene Garcia were on the U.S-Mexico border for an assignment on immigration and just leaving a Starbucks on May 24 when they got word of a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, some 50 miles away. They immediately gathered their gear and rushed away, arriving to chaotic scenes of police, SWAT teams and newly arrived FBI agents surrounding the school. Then, they went to work — Lopez-Mills making still images and Garcia setting up live video.
“This is going to be a mass shooting. Things are going to escalate,” Central Deputy News Director Kim Johnson had texted them en route. Lopez-Mills remembered the dread he felt. “There were two things I never wanted to cover in my career: a school shooting or an airport crash interviewing the relatives,” he said. “You feel really bad having to cover something so horrendous, but you know you have to do it.”
Their swift response to the unfolding tragedy made the AP the first national news organization on the scene. Their photos, video and live shots set the tone for the rest of the week — with the AP delivering dominant, all-formats coverage that explored not only the shooting that left 19 fourth graders and two teachers dead at Robb Elementary School, but inconsistencies in the actions and statements of police.
Reinforcing Lopez-Mills and Garcia, Texas government and politics reporter Acacia Coronado dropped her election night assignment in Austin and rushed the 180 miles to Uvalde, as did sports reporter Jim Vertuno. Immigration reporter Elliot Spagat, already on a long trip along the border himself, redirected his 4.5-hour drive and also made it to Uvalde that night.
As the story developed through the week and more staff deployed, the AP led the way in reporting skepticism on the early declaration by the governor that first responders showed “amazing courage by running toward gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives.” In fact, the gunman was in the classroom for more than an hour.
AP was first to report that the authorities needed a key to enter the room where the rampage occurred. It also had exclusive witness accounts about onlookers growing frustrated with the slow police response. The rich report included a localization guide, political enterprise about gun laws, and an image by photographer Jae Hong, who recognized Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, showing up unannounced to lay flowers at a memorial to the victims — those photos prompted huge interest from British clients and others.
The AP launched a series of stories about the children killed and fact-checked conspiracy theories, all the while handling the coverage with sensitivity. At the end of the week, editors shifted some resources to Houston to cover the suddenly newsworthy National Rifle Association convention.
By week’s end, the AP had produced more than 150 video edits related to the mass shooting. On Tuesday, the day of the shooting, pageviews regularly topped 3 million per story on AP News, and AP’s mainbar spot story made the front page of dozens of newspapers, online and print, from Phoenix to Miami to Austin, Texas, just a few hours away.
For a powerful example of the AP at its finest on a major news story that has led to an outpouring of sympathy for the families, questions about police practices and the latest reckoning on guns and school safety, the AP Uvalde coverage team earns Best of the Week — First Winner.