Uvalde, TX – Uvalde Consolidated Independent Schools District (UCISD) Police Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave on Wednesday as more details continue to emerge regarding the delayed law enforcement response to the Robb Elementary School massacre that left 21 people dead and 17 more wounded.
Nineteen of the murdered victims were children.
UCISD Superintendent Hal Harrell announced on June 22 that he placed Chief Arredondo on administrative leave, KABC reported.
Harrell did not specify why he removed the police chief, but said it is still too soon to know how long the investigation into the shooting will take.
“Today, I am still without details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies,” he said, according to USA Today. “Because of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective on this date.”
UCISD Lieutenant Mike Hernandez will fill in as the department’s chief while Chief Arredondo’s administrative leave status remains in effect.
“My understanding — and I had this discussion with the superintendent — that school will be demolished,” McLaughlin said during a city council meeting on June 21. “You can never ask a child to go back or teacher to go back in that school ever.”
Officials had previously announced on June 3 that staff and students would not be returning to the school campus, Insider reported.
Harrell said the school will be moved to another location, and that the building will be razed so the property can be used for “something other than a school site.”
It is unclear where students will be attending school next year.
The Uvalde City Council also unanimously voted on Tuesday to deny Chief Arredondo’s request for a leave of absence from his role as a newly-elected city council member, USA Today reported.
The police chief was elected to the city council approximately two weeks prior to the June 24 school shooting.
He failed to attend an emergency city council meeting held shortly after the massacre, and also didn’t show up to Tuesday night’s meeting, USA Today reported.
The city council can remove Chief Arredondo from the council for abandoning his office if he misses the next two scheduled meetings.
Many residents attended the council meeting on June 21 to voice their disapproval of the police chief’s request for leave, USA Today reported.
“We heard our citizens tonight, loud and clear,” McLaughlin said. “If he misses his three meetings, I’m sure Pete will go. … I’ll vote yes [to remove him].”
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw characterized the law enforcement response to the massacre as “an abject failure,” CNN reported.
“There’s compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre,” Director McCraw said.
“Three minutes after the subject entered the west building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” he continued. “The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”
Director McCraw further revealed that none of the radios used by state or local police would have worked inside the west building of the school, CNN reported.
He said that the U.S. Border Patrol has a tower in Uvalde that they use to boost their own radio transmissions, but that their radios also wouldn’t work when they tried to patch their signals with those of local law enforcement.
“Cellphones work, it’s just the portable radios that first responders have didn’t — the irony of ironies,” the DPS director told the committee.
By the time the classroom door was opened and officers were able to fatally shoot the gunman, 77 excruciating minutes had passed since the attack had begun, The Texas Tribune reported.
“What officers were being told was, ‘The subject is contained, the chief is in the classroom or the office, negotiating or talking to the subject,’” Director McCraw said on Tuesday, according to Today. “You’re being told this, there’s no reason to discount that. Now, certainly if you heard, ‘Well, wait a minute, we’re getting 911 calls from children in the classroom.’ And we didn’t know the timeline.”
McLaughlin blasted Director McCraw’s briefing, saying that they have told him and other local officials to keep quiet about the incident while investigations are still pending, USA Today reported.
“They can go to Austin and have public deals to talk about it…and not share a damn thing with this city or anybody in this community, and that’s wrong,” the mayor said. “That’s totally wrong.”
“I actually wonder who the hell’s in charge of this investigation ‘cause you can’t get a straight answer,” McLaughlin added. “It pisses me off that I can’t give you answers or can’t get you answers.”
The mayor expressed extreme frustration over the “lies,” “misstated information,” and “leaks,” released by some state agencies since the school shooting occurred, NBC News reported.
He said that everyone who waited in the school hallway before engaging the gunman need to provide answers about what transpired during the police response.
“Not just Pete Arredondo, not just local Uvalde Police Department, but the U.S. Marshals need to answer, the Border Patrol needs to answer, the DPS needs to answer…” the frustrated mayor told NBC News.
Director McCraw has alleged that Chief Arredondo was the on-site commander who oversaw the police response to the massacre, but Chief Arredondo said he believed he was in the role of a front-line responder and that someone else was commanding the larger police response to the situation.
He also 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.”
But according to a source with knowledge of the investigation, security footage from inside the school showed that neither Chief Arredondo nor any of the officers who responded to the school ever attempted to open the classroom doors prior to obtaining the keys, ABC News reported.
The source further alleged that investigators have determined the 18-year-old gunman could not have locked the doors to the classrooms from the inside as officials initially believed, ABC News reported.
The video footage allegedly showed the shooter opening the door to room 111 from the outside.
The door was supposed to lock automatically, but he appeared to enter without obstruction.
The investigation into whether or not the doors to room 111 and 112 remained unlocked during the entire incident remains ongoing, ABC News reported.
Records further indicate that police were well-equipped to breach the classrooms much sooner than originally believed, The Texas Tribune reported.
An officer brought an ax-like Halligan bar used by firefighters to force entry through locked doors within minutes of the first officers responding to the school, but police did not use it and instead waited for keys, according to The Texas Tribune.
Police also had access to rifles and four ballistic shields – at least one of which was available for them to use 58 minutes prior to the time the team actually breached the classroom.
“They had the tools,” active-shooter expert and former Seguin Police Chief Terry Nichols told The Texas Tribune. “Tactically, there’s lots of different ways you could tackle this. … But it takes someone in charge, in front, making and executing decisions, and that simply did not happen.”
New information about the conversations between officers at the scene has also been coming to light.
One such interaction occurred after a DPS special agent arrived at the school approximately 20 minutes after the shooting began, The Texas Tribune reported.
“Are there still kids in the classrooms?” he asked another officer at the scene. “If there is, then they just need to go in.”
The other officer responded that it was “unknown at this time.”
“Y’all don’t know if there’s kids in there?” the special agent angrily responded. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”
“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” another officer replied.
The frustrated special agent then turned his attention to the children in other classrooms throughout the school who needed to be evacuated to safety, The Texas Tribune reported.
“Well, there’s kids over here, so I’m getting kids out,” he said.
At one point, someone said it was “critical for everybody to let PD take point on this,” according to the transcript.
“It sounds like a hostage rescue situation,” a DPS special agent said. “Sounds like an [undercover] rescue. They should probably go in.”
The special agent then said he wanted to go evacuate more students.
“Don’t you think we should have a supervisor approve that?” an unknown officer asked.
“He’s not my supervisor,” the DPS special agent replied.
The DPS said the total time between the time police first arrived at the scene and the moment the shooter was killed by the team that breached the classroom was one hour, 14 minutes, and eight seconds.
Sources said Chief Arredondo has not been cooperating with investigators who are looking into the police response to the school massacre, ABC News reported.
The chief has denied those allegations.