The Uvalde school district’s police chief, who has faced intense scrutiny in the aftermath of the May tragedy that left 19 teachers and two children dead, is denying that he was designated the on-scene commander during the shooting and that he ordered law-enforcement officers to stand down while the carnage unfolded in the classroom.
“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” Pete Arredondo told the Texas Tribune in his first public account of the event. “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.”
Arredondo spent more than an hour in the hallway of Robb Elementary School, urgently requesting tactical gear, a sniper, and keys to get inside the fourth-grade classroom where the gunman, Salvador Ramos, was massacring the students and faculty with an AR-15, he told the Tribune. The door was built with a steel jamb and was therefore impossible to break down, the publication noted.
Since the shooting, speculation and anger have flared up surrounding the allegation that the police on duty delayed storming the classroom to neutralize the perpetrator. Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw said in late May that responding officers didn’t rush to confront Ramos because “the on-scene commander at the time,” who he said was Arredondo, “believed that it had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject.” Arredondo reportedly ordered officers to fall back.
McCraw said Arredondo wrongly believed that the gunman had barricaded himself without further endangering children at the school and that there was time to call reinforcement officers and equipment for a “tactical breach.”
“From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision: It was the wrong decision, period.” McCraw said. “There’s no excuse for that.”
Some federal law-enforcement officials have said that the Border Patrol tactical unit that eventually killed Ramos entered the school in defiance of Arredondo’s orders.
However, Arredondo denied to the Texas Tribune that that was his role and that those were his actions. “My mind was to get there as fast as possible, eliminate any threats, and protect the students and staff,” he said. He said he never issued direction to other officers on the scene to not attempt to breach the building.
“I didn’t issue any orders,” Arredondo told the Tribune. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”
George Hyde, Arredondo’s lawyer, supported this explanation.
“It’s not that someone said stand down,” he said. “It was, ‘Right now, we can’t get in until we get the tools. So we’re going to do what we can do to save lives.’ And what was that? It was to evacuate the students and the parents and the teachers out of the rooms.”
On Thursday, the Department of Justice appointed a panel of nine experts to probe the response by Uvalde police officers at the time of the shooting.