After the late intervention of the police in the massacre at the elementary school in Uvalde, the chief of the school police in the small Texas town is the center of criticism. Now he has expressed himself for the first time in detail.
It took emergency services in Uvalde more than an hour after arriving at Rob Elementary School on the morning of May 24 to eliminate the assassin. When they finally entered the classrooms where the attacker was and shot him, 19 children and two teachers were dead. The officers’ late intervention has drawn much criticism, centered in particular on Pete Arredondo, the boss the school police of the small Texan town. In the US newspaper “Texas Tribune”, Arredondo has now commented in detail on the massacre for the first time and has rejected the allegations.
“I gave no orders”
“Not a single officer hesitated for a moment to put themselves in danger to save the children,” the police chief told the newspaper. “We acted on the information we had and had to adapt to whatever we found. Our goal was to save as many lives as possible and the evacuation of students from classrooms by everyone involved saved more than 500 of our students and teachers from Uvalde before we could gain access to the shooter and eliminate the threat.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety had portrayed Arredondo as the incident commander who ordered officers to treat the attacker as a “barricaded subject” rather than an active gunman. The 50-year-old contradicted this in the “Texas Tribune”. He merely directed the front-line operation and assumed another officer had taken control of the larger operation. He never gave instructions that the police should not try to break into the rooms. “I gave no orders.”
Arredondo told the newspaper that he ran into the building minutes after the gunman arrived at the school. He didn’t take his two radios with him because he assumed that every second counted, that the devices would slow him down and that he didn’t have both hands free to quickly point his gun at the attacker. That’s why he didn’t have any contact with the many other officers at the crime scene and didn’t know about the emergency calls from the classrooms that the police received while the emergency services were already there.
“My goal was to be on site as quickly as possible, eliminate any threat and protect the students and staff,” said the police chief. Because he didn’t have radios, he called police headquarters from his cell phone and asked for a tactical unit, snipers, and keys or tools to open the doors.
According to the report, the doors of the connected rooms 111 and 112 were sturdily built, locked and secured with steel bolts – measures that were actually intended to protect against attackers like the 18-year-old. They could therefore not have simply been entered by the emergency services.
Bullets smashed through the door and walls
Once he tried to talk to the shooter through the walls, but he didn’t react, Arredondo described the events. Another time, a colleague noticed that he was not wearing a protective vest and wanted to cover him so that he could get to safety. “Fuck you. I’m not leaving this hallway,” he replied.
According to Arredondo, the 18-year-old sporadically fired shots. Some of the bullets went through the door, others went through the classroom wall and got stuck in the opposite hallway wall. He therefore made sure that the students and teachers were evacuated from the other rooms.
“The ammunition was penetrating the walls at this point,” Arredondo said. “We cornered him, we couldn’t get to him. It became clear that we had to evacuate the classrooms while we found a way to get inside.” He therefore instructed the officials to smash the windows of the other classrooms and get the children and teachers out. They shouldn’t come into the hallway because he was afraid the noise would draw the gunman’s attention.
Tools that could have been used to break open the door never arrived, the Tribune reported. And several attempts to open it with keys failed. “Every time I tried a key, I prayed that one of them would open the door,” the Arredondo newspaper quoted as saying. At some point, a suitable key was found and a team of emergency services broke into the classroom and shot the attacker.
Ministry of Justice investigates crackdown in Uvalde
Whether the delayed entry of the police into the classroom cost additional lives may never be clarified with certainty. But there are signs, reports the Texas Tribune. One of the teachers died while being transported to the hospital, suggesting that eliminating the shooter more quickly could have made a difference. On the other hand, many of the victims were probably dead immediately, writes the paper. A pediatrician who looked after the students described the small bodies as “powdered” and “decapitated”. Some of the children could only have been identified by their clothing and shoes.
The actions of local, state and federal agencies in the Uvalde massacre are under investigation by the US Department of Justice and the Texas Department of Public Safety. It is also the subject of a committee of inquiry in Congress in Austin.
Sources: Texas Tribune, NBC, NPR, CNN