Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo spoke to media Thursday for the first time since the tragic May 24 Robb Elementary School shooting, but his responses in an interview with the Texas Tribune bring more questions than answers. Most concerning, he said he never considered himself to be the incident commander and did not give orders telling responding officers to stand down.
Then who was, and who did?
Law enforcement has been under heavy criticism since that terrible day for the more than 67 minutes it took them to breach the building and kill the shooter. RedState’s Cameron Arcand reports that roughly a dozen children were still alive in two classrooms during that long period. No one will ever know how many students and teachers could have been saved if police had attacked instead of waited.
Further tarnishing the image of the on-site police, it was Border Patrol agents who finally went in, and despite Arredondo’s insistence that no stand-down order was given, they claim to have been told through their earpieces at one point to “not enter that classroom.” Arredondo denies it was his voice.
“I didn’t issue any orders,” Arredondo said, noting that he “called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door” to the classroom where the shooter was barricaded. He continued:
Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children. 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.
One can sympathize with someone who has just witnessed horror, but his statement is completely at odds with what’s already been uncovered. What do you mean, not a single officer hesitated? It’s been proven that 19 officers hesitated in a hallway for over an hour. When he talks about saving as many lives as possible and prioritizing the extraction of the students, the evidence contradicts him. Cops did not go in to free the kids, at least not in the shooter’s location—and forcefully stopped parents who attempted to do so. Meanwhile he says “we” gained access and eliminated the threat. No, “we” didn’t; it was the Border Patrol.
The Chief also didn’t carry his radio because he thought it would slow him down, and he wanted both hands free to hold his firearm. Do Uvalde police not have utility belts?
He also describes how he tried dozens of keys to get through the door separating police from the shooter. “Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” he said. You’re the Chief of School Police and you don’t have a key to one of the schools under your command? There’s nobody who can give you one?
Although the Tribune’s story was not heavily critical and attempted to let the chief tell his side of the story, they did note that they interviewed seven law enforcement experts who thought Arredondo made serious mistakes:
Most strikingly, they said, by running into the school with no key and no radios and failing to take charge of the situation, the chief appears to have contributed to a chaotic approach in which officers deployed inappropriate tactics, adopted a defensive posture, failed to coordinate their actions, and wasted precious time as students and teachers remained trapped in two classrooms with a gunman who continued to fire his rifle.
This story has been awful at every turn, and the confusion and ineptitude of the police on the scene only adds to it. Part of me just wants to turn away and not think about it and not write about it. I certainly don’t wake up with the desire to criticize a school police chief. He receives death threats, he’s routinely called a coward and a villain, and presumably knows a lot of the families of the victims in the small town.
There’s no getting around it: the response was simply awful, from lost keys to long delays, to not having radios, to apparently not even knowing who was the incident commander. If you read his long account of those fateful 67 minutes in the Tribune, you can see he made efforts —but his decisions were disastrous. Tellingly, although he claims he did not order a stand down, it doesn’t appear he gave the crucial order to go in, either.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Texas Department of Public Safety are both investigating the response, and our only hope is that they come up with some answers to what happened–along with some solutions to prevent it from ever happening again.