Texas school shooting: Uvalde school police chief defends law enforcement response

Uvalde, Texas - The Uvalde, Texas, school police chief claims he didn't wait to act when gunfire erupted inside Robb Elementary School in his first extended interview since the mass school shooting last month.

Mourners pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Mourners pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.  © REUTERS

Pete Arredondo told the Texas Tribune in an interview that he strategized and requested tactical gear, a sniper, and the key to the classroom where the gunman was hiding.

As head of the six-member police force responsible for keeping Uvalde schools safe, Arredondo has been at the center of the backlash in the weeks following the May 24 massacre. Critics have taken issue with his decision against immediately engaging the shooter, who stormed the school and then barricaded himself inside a classroom. There was also plenty of outrage at the police department's ever-shifting story and timeline of events.

Arredondo was one of the first officers outside the door, which he said was reinforced with a strong steel jamb, designed to keep an attacker on the outside from forcing their way in. It prevented authorities from immediately busting it down, he said, so he quietly tried key after key, in provoking the shooter, hoping for the best with each twist.

At one point, Arredondo even tried to talk to the gunman through the wall, he said, but there was never a response.

"Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children," he 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."

After an excruciatingly long 77 minutes, authorities finally managed to unlock the door. By then, Ramos had gunned down two teachers and 19 students.

The suspected shooter was ultimately killed by a responding agent with the United States border patrol. Many have since argued that quicker action from law enforcement could have saved lives.

Arredondo doubles down on self-defense

Flowers, toys, and other objects are laid to remember the victims of the Uvalde school shooting.
Flowers, toys, and other objects are laid to remember the victims of the Uvalde school shooting.  © REUTERS

In the immediate aftermath of the carnage, Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw said that the chief wrongfully thought the attack "had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject."

Arredondo, whom he called the incident commander, believed that there was no longer a threat to students, despite the terrified 911 calls made by students trapped inside the building.

The police chief said he wasn't aware of the calls for help because he was without his radio at the time, believing the pair of devices he usually carries would only slow him down.

Arredondo told the Texas Tribune he took the best course of action based on the information he was provided at the time. As he stood in the hallway, he planned to take down the gunman himself, but he wanted body armor first, given the suspect was armed with an AR-15.

"The only thing that was important to me at this time was to save as many teachers and children as possible," the officer said.

His lawyer, George Hyde, maintains that his client, armed with decades of law enforcement experience, immediately sprang into action, adding that he was quick to run toward the danger.

"It’s not that someone said stand down," Hyde said. "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,'" Hyde said. "And what was that? It was to evacuate the students and the parents and the teachers out of the rooms."

Cover photo: REUTERS

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