Texas school police chief criticized for his actions duringsaid in his first extensive comments since the massacre, published on Thursday, that he did not consider himself responsible as it unfolded and assumed that someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response.
Pete Arredondo, 50, police chief for the Uvalde school district, also told The Texas Tribune that he intentionally left police and campus radios behind before entering Robb Elementary School.
An 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers behind a locked classroom door that the boss said was reinforced with a steel frame and could not be kicked in.
Poor radio communications are among theand why they didn’t confront the gunman for more than an hour, even as distressed parents outside the school asked the officers to come inside.
Separately, the New York Times reported on Thursday that documents show that police waited for protective gear while delaying entry to campus, even though they knew some victims needed medical treatment.
Arredondo told Tribuna that, from the school hallway, he used his cell phone to ask for tactical equipment, a sniper and keys to enter the classroom. He said he kept away from the door for 40 minutes to avoid provoking gunfire and tried dozens of keys brought to him, but one by one they didn’t work.
“Each time I tried a key, I was just praying,” he told the Tribune.
In the more than two weeks since the shooting, Arredondo’s actions have come under intense scrutiny from state officials and experts trained in mass shooting responses.
But Arredondo defended his actions and those of other law enforcement officials, telling the Tribune that “not a single police officer hesitated, not for a moment, to put himself at risk to save children,” Arredondo said. “We responded to the information we had and had to adjust to what we faced. Our goal was to save as many lives as we could, and the removal of students from classrooms by everyone involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and faculty before we gain access to the sniper and eliminate the threat.”
Steven McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the school’s chief of police, who he described as the incident’s commander, made the “wrong decision” not to order officers to storm the classroom more quickly to confront the shooter.
But Arredondo, who told the Tribune he believed carrying radios would delay him entering the school and that he knew radios didn’t work in some school buildings, said he never considered himself the scene incident commander and gave no instruction that police shouldn’t try to break into the building.
“I didn’t give any orders,” Arredondo said. “I called for help and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”
roundinginterview requests and questions from the Associated Press.
Arredondo’s account and the records obtained by the Times were published on Thursday, as law enforcement and state officials struggled to come up with an accurate timeline and details. They also made frequent corrections to earlier statements, and no information about the police response has been formally released by investigators since the days following the attack.
According to documents obtained by the Times, a man investigators believe to be Arredondo can be heard in body camera footage talking about how much time has passed.
“People are going to ask why we’re taking so long,” the man said, according to a transcript of body camera footage of officers obtained by the newspaper. “We are trying to preserve the rest of life.”
Sixty officers had gathered at the scene when four officers entered, according to the report. The two classrooms where the shooting took place included 33 children and three teachers.
Not all of the victims were found dead when officers finally entered: a teacher died in an ambulance and three children died in nearby hospitals, according to records obtained by the Times, which included a review of police documents and collected videos. as part of the investigation.
The family of Xavier Lopez, 10, said the boy was shot in the back and lost a lot of blood while waiting for medical attention.
“He could have been saved,” Leonard Sandoval, the boy’s grandfather, told the paper. “The police didn’t come in for over an hour. He bled.”
Records obtained by the Times offered other new details, including that the shooter, Salvador Ramos, had a “hellish” trigger device intended to allow an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle to be fired more like an automatic weapon, but they do not appear to have it used during the attack. Ramos spent more than $6,000 amassing an arsenal of weapons that included two AR-15-style rifles, attachments and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, according to the documents.
The Times reported that some of the officers who arrived at the school had long guns and that Arredondo discovered the gunman’s identity while inside the school and tried to communicate with him through the closed classroom doors.
Eva Mireles, one of the teachers killed, made a phone call to her husband, a police officer from the Uvalde school district, during the attack. Documents obtained by the Times show that Ruben Ruiz informed first responders at the scene that his wife was still alive in one of the classrooms.
“She says she was shot,” Ruiz could be heard saying to other officers when he arrived at the school at 11:48 am, according to the body camera transcript obtained by the Times.
At 12:46 pm, Arredondo appeared to give his approval for officers to enter the room, the Times reported.
“If you’re ready to do it, you do it,” he said, according to the transcript.
About a week after the shooting, public safety officials said Arredondo was no longer cooperating with the agency and did not respond to interview requests from the Texas Rangers, the agency’s investigative unit.
Arredondo’s attorney, George E. Hyde, told the Tribune for Thursday’s report that Arredondo was unable to give an interview the day the Rangers asked because he was covering shifts for his officers. Hyde said Arredondo is willing to cooperate with the Rangers’ investigation, but would like to see a transcript of his earlier comments.
“That’s a fair thing to ask before he has to argue again because as time goes on, all the information he hears is hard to understand,” Hyde said.