Uvalde, TX – Uvalde Consolidated Independent Schools District Police Department (UCISDPD) Chief Pete Arredondo has insisted he and the officers under his command “never hesitated” while responding to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School last month.
Twenty-one people were killed and 17 more were injured during the May 24 attack.
Nineteen of the murdered victims were children.
Chief Arredondo, the alleged on-site commander who Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steve McCraw said oversaw the police response to the massacre, spoke publicly about the shooting for the first time during a recent interview with The Texas Tribune.
“The only thing that was important to me at this time was to save as many teachers and children as possible,” the chief said. “My mind was to get there as fast as possible, eliminate any threats, and protect the students and staff.”
Approximately 500 students were safely evacuated from the school during the chaos, he added.
As the head of the six-member UCISDPD force, Chief Arredondo has become the target of outrage, blame, and second-guessing after he spent more than an hour outside the door of the classroom where the 18-year-old gunman was located prior to engaging with him, The Texas Tribune reported.
The officers came under fire multiple times during the incident.
Chief Arredondo said he tried dozens of keys on multiple key rings in an effort to unlock the door to the classroom where the shooter and victims were located, The Texas Tribune reported.
The door was reinforced with a steel jamb, which was specifically designed to keep a potential attacker from being able to breach the room.
In this case, it kept police out.
“Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” he recounted. “I was praying one of them was going to open up the door…”
As police frantically tried to get inside, children in the classroom repeatedly called 911, pleading for police to save them, USA Today reported.
Cell phone footage released by ABC News appeared to capture police radio transmissions from a 911 dispatcher during the school shooting.
“Child is advising he is in the room, full of victims,” the dispatcher alerted at one point. “Full of victims at this moment.”
The dispatcher provided another update minutes later, saying there were “eight to nine children” inside.
It is unclear whether or not the on-scene commander was aware of those transmissions.
By the time the door was unlocked and officer were able to fatally shoot the gunman, 77 minutes had passed since the attack had begun, The Texas Tribune reported.
Chief Arredondo said he has received death threats in the wake of the school massacre, and that people have called him incompetent and cowardly.
He has been forced into hiding due to the throngs of news crews posted up outside of his home, The Texas Tribune reported.
During a press conference on May 27, Director McCraw released more details about the shooting, to include acknowledging that Chief Arredondo made the “wrong decision” by treating the situation as a barricaded suspect instead of an active shooter.
Director McCraw said that the on-scene commander determined the incident had “transitioned” into a “barricaded subject situation” as opposed to an active shooter situation and believed the children were not at risk.
“The on-scene commander considered a barricaded subject and that there was time and there were no children at risk,” Director McCraw said. “Obviously, you know, based on the information we have, there were children in that classroom that were at risk, and it was, in fact, still an active shooter situation and not a barricaded subject.”
Chief Arredondo argued that the blame and ridicule he and his officers are facing is both inaccurate and unfair.
“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” the chief told The Texas Tribune. “We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat.”
All but one of seven law enforcement experts consulted by The Texas Tribune said they believe lapses in judgement occurred during the police response at Robb Elementary School.
Several experts criticized Chief Arredondo for running into the school without his police radio or a key to the classroom where the gunman was barricaded.
They alleged the chief created a chaotic, uncoordinated response that wasted time and potentially caused more victims to die, The Texas Tribune reported.
But Chief Arredondo’s attorney, George Hyde, said all the armchair-quarterbacking has failed to take into account the fact that the chief ran without hesitation or body armor into gunfire while armed with nothing more than his Glock 22.
He was determined to stop the gunman, even if it meant losing his life in the process, Hyde told The Texas Tribune.
The attorney further noted that Chief Arredondo’s small department does not have the benefit of the resources and equipment available to agencies in more heavily-populated areas.
Chief Arredondo said he believed he was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at Robb Elementary on the day of the shooting, The Texas Tribune reported.
He said he ditched his radios outside the school so his hands would be free in the event he had to shoot his duty weapon during an encounter with the gunman, The Texas Tribune reported.
The chief explained that one of the radios had a clip that he knew would cause the device to fall off his belt if he was running.
The other radio had a long antenna that would whip him in the face when he ran.
But because he discarded his radios, Chief Arredondo was unable to communicate with the law enforcement officers who responded to the scene in droves from at least five other agencies, The Texas Tribune reported.
Once inside the school, Chief Arredondo encountered an Uvalde police officer who had already arrived at the scene.
They began searching for the shooter room-by-room before a teacher showed them the wing where the gunman had gone to on the west side of the campus, The Texas Tribune reported.
Chief Arredondo and the officer were running towards that area when they heard an explosion of gunfire coming from adjoining classrooms 111 and 112.
As another group of Uvalde Police Department (UPD) officers entered the building from the north, the chief and another officer tried opening the doors to the classrooms, but found them securely locked, The Texas Tribune reported.
That’s when the gunman opened fire from inside the room, grazing multiple UPD officers who were approaching from the north side of the building, Chief Arredondo said.
Several rounds traveled through the classroom door and wall and lodged in the wall of an adjacent hallway with classrooms on the other side, he told The Texas Tribune.
“The ammunition was penetrating the walls at that point,” Chief Arredondo said. “We’ve got him cornered, we’re unable to get to him. You realize you need to evacuate those classrooms while we figured out a way to get in.”
Chief Arredondo said he ultimately determined the situation turned into a barricaded suspect situation with other potential victims and that it was no longer an active shooter situation.
He said that without his radio, he did not know about the 911 calls the children and others were placing.
The team outside the classroom was also trying to remain as quiet as possible in order to help prevent the gunman from determining their exact locations, so anyone with a radio had it turned off, The Texas Tribune reported.
The only way to communicate information without potentially drawing gunfire was to whisper to one another, Chief Arredondo said.
Police tried to find another way to enter the classrooms, but were unable to do so.
That’s when Chief Arredondo used his cellphone to call for snipers, a SWAT team, and additional equipment to breach the door, The Texas Tribune reported.
Although Director McCraw said Chief Arredondo was the on-site commander during the response to the school shooting, the chief said he believed he was in the role of a front-line responder.
He said he believed that someone else was commanding the larger police response to the situation, and vehemently disputed allegations that he told law enforcement officers to stand down and not breach the building, The Texas Tribune reported.
“I didn’t issue any orders,” Chief Arredondo said. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”
He said he attempted to negotiate with the gunman at one point, but the shooter refused to respond, according to The Texas Tribune.
The chief told officers to start breaking the windows outside other classrooms in the building to evacuate children and school personnel without having them brought out into the hallway where they would potentially make noise and alert the shooter.
When one of the UPD officers realized Chief Arredondo wasn’t wearing a ballistic vest, he told the chief he would cover for him while he ran outside to get one, The Texas Tribune reported.
“I’ll be very frank,” Hyde told the paper. “[Chief Arredondo] said, ‘Fuck you. I’m not leaving this hallway.’ He wasn’t going to leave without those kids.”
Hyde explained that the chief never ordered officers to “stand down” at any point.
“It was ‘Right now, we can’t get in until we get the tools. So, we’re going to do what we can do to save lives.’ And what was that? It was to evacuate the students and the parents and the teachers out of the rooms,” the attorney told The Texas Tribune.
The New York Times ran a story 10 days after the school shooting saying that a group of U.S. Border Patrol agents stormed the classroom despite receiving a directive in their earpieces to stand down.
Hyde said that if anyone did issue such a directive, it wasn’t Chief Arredondo, The Texas Tribune reported.
The U.S. Border patrol declined to comment when asked about who the order came from, according to the paper.
The New York Times later reported that Chief Arredondo did not object to the Border Patrol team’s decision to breach.
After the gunman was fatally shot, the chief and other officers formed a line to help carry the wounded children out of the school to medical personnel positioned outside, The Texas Tribune reported.