Updated Jun 10, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Uvalde schools police chief defends shooting response

Memorial tributes to the 19 children and two adults killed on May 24 in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The chief of the Uvalde school district police department, in an interview with the Texas Tribune on Thursday, defended the delay in officers confronting the gunman in last month's shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers.

Driving the news: Law enforcement officials in Texas, and Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo in particular, have faced intense criticism over why it took so long for officers to confront and stop the Robb Elementary School shooter on May 24.

Meanwhile, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news conference late last month that as the commander on the scene, Arredondo made "the wrong decision" by not breaching the classrooms where the gunman was with students and teachers sooner.

  • McCraw said Arredondo considered the gunman barricaded and that the school was not in an active-shooter situation, despite 911 calls from students inside two connected classrooms.

Yes, but: Arredondo's lawyer, George Hyde, told the Tribune his client didn't think he was the incident commander — despite official guidance saying the first person on the scene takes up this role — because he thought he was acting as a first responder.

  • Hyde said once Arredondo became "intimately involved on the front line of this case, he is one of those that is in the best position to continue to resolve the incident at that time."
  • While the official process may be to identify him as incident commander, "in practicality, you see here he was not in the capacity to be able to run this entire organization," Hyde said.
  • So Arredondo said he "didn't issue any orders" but "called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door."

What else they're saying: Arredondo defended his decision not to have a radio with him inside the school, which meant he couldn't receive 911 calls from students inside the classrooms asking for police to intervene while officers waited outside the locked door for 77 minutes.

  • He told the Tribune he wanted to keep both hands free so he could be ready to confront the gunman quickly and accurately with his own gun, and he knew radios didn't always work inside schools, so left two radios outside the school.
  • Arredondo said he also encountered problems with a reinforced door once near where the gunman had locked himself inside two connected fourth-grade classrooms.
  • He said he asked for extrication tools that never arrived and several keys a janitor gave him failed to open the door.
  • Arredondo said before officers called his phone to say they had keys his focus was to "do what we can do to save lives" and evacuate as many people as possible. "Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children," he said.

What to watch: Arredondo and his lawyer also responded to Texas officials' claims that he ignored a follow-up interview request, saying he was open to cooperating with investigations, but he wanted to see a transcript of his previous comments.

  • "That's a fair thing to ask for before he has to then discuss it again because, as time goes by, all the information that he hears, it’s hard to keep straight," Hyde said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further context.

Go deeper