The school police chief in Uvalde, Texas, made a series of decisions that further call into question the police response during the massacre of 19 children and two teachers there last month.
Pete Arredondo, who has since been sworn in as an elected member of Uvalde’s city’s council, told the Texas Tribune his version of events from that tragic day. In the interview, he defended his actions and those of the other officers, saying their only concern as they stood outside the classroom where the killings took place was how to obtain a key to get inside and stop the shooter.
But Arredondo also admitted several other stunning details. He left his two police radios outside the school intentionally, which he says would have slowed him down, made him a less accurate shot and possibly got him detected by the gunman. But it also kept him from hearing key information that was being communicated—including the fact that children inside the class were making desperate 911 calls—over police frequencies. He also said he did not realize he was the de facto incident commander on the scene, and therefore gave no orders to officers who arrived after him about how to handle the situation.
We might never know whether any of those decisions directly contributed to the extraordinary death toll inside Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School. It’s unclear whether Arredondo ever fired his weapon once a key arrived and law enforcement was able to get inside the classroom. Ultimately, it was U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents who killed the 18-year-old gunman.
But Arredondo’s account simultaneously gives a window into the the thinking of the earliest and highest-ranking officer to arrive on scene and opens up more questions about police’s response to the tragedy as it unfolded. That response is already under investigation by the Justice Department.
From the Texas Tribune
Arredondo’s decisions — like those of other law enforcement agencies that responded to the massacre that left 21 dead — are under intense scrutiny as federal and state officials try to decide what went wrong and what might be learned.
Whether the inability of police to quickly enter the classroom prevented the 21 victims — 19 students and two educators — from getting life-saving care is not known, and may never be. There’s evidence, including the fact that a teacher died while being transported to the hospital, that suggests taking down the shooter faster might have made a difference. On the other hand, many of the victims likely died instantly. A pediatrician who attended to the victims described small bodies “pulverized” and “decapitated.” Some children were identifiable only by their clothes and shoes.
In the maelstrom of anguish, outrage and second-guessing that immediately followed the second deadliest school shooting in American history, the time Arredondo and other officers spent outside that door — more than an hour — have become emblems of failure.
Uvalde’s school police department has six members. Arredondo, 50, has been in in law enforcement for 29 years and led the department since 2020. He was elected to city council last month, before the shooting and sworn in just days later.