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Editor’s Note: This story contains explicit language.
This week, Uvalde Schools Police Chief Pete Arredondo and his attorney gave an exclusive interview to the Texas Tribune to detail his version of what happened inside Robb Elementary School on the 24th May, when a gunman killed 21 people.
Arredondo communicated with the Tribune through a telephone interview, an in-person interview with his attorney, and multiple emails.
He described the moments since arriving at school ready to face the shooter. He walked into the school, heard gunshots, and was unable to get through a locked door to take down the shooter.
Arredondo, who is currently in hiding, has been publicly criticized for his role leading law enforcement’s response to the school shooting, as it took more than an hour after he arrived at the scene to have law enforcement enter the classroom and kill the shooter.
Here are five key takeaways from our comprehensive coverage.
Arredondo never thought he was the incident commander
Arredondo suffered the brunt of the criticism for his slow response, as he was publicly referred to as the incident commander.
At a press conference, Public Safety Department Director Steve McCraw identified Arredondo as the incident commander and said it was the chief’s decision to treat the shooter as a “barricaded suspect.” “rather than as an active shooter. He said it was the “wrong decision, period.”
Arredondo said he never called to step down or treat the incident as a “barricaded suspect.”
“I gave no orders,” Arredondo said. “I called for help and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”
The National Incident Management System, which guides all levels of government on how to respond to mass emergency events, says the first person on the scene is the incident commander. This Incident Commander remains in this charge until he relinquishes the role or is incapacitated.
George E. Hyde, an attorney for Arredondo, acknowledged those guidelines, but said Arredondo’s initial response to the shooting was not that of an incident commander, but of a first responder.
“Once he got engaged, intimately involved on the front lines of this case, he’s one of the best people to continue to resolve the incident at that time,” Hyde said. “So while it’s easy to identify him as the incident commander because of this NIMS process, in practice you see here he wasn’t in a position to run this whole organization.”
The decision to leave the radio was intentional
Much has been reported about how Arredondo had no radio inside the school, preventing him from being able to receive and transmit crucial details to other law enforcement.
Arredondo said the move was intentional. He told the Texas Tribune that he expected to face the shooter and wanted both hands free to hold his gun, ready to aim and fire quickly and accurately. He left the two radios outside the school.
Arredondo thought carrying the radios would slow him down. One had a whip-like antenna that hit him as he ran. The other had a clip that Arredondo knew would knock him off his tactical belt during a long run.
But the move also meant that for the rest of the ordeal he was out of radio contact with the dozens of other officers from at least five agencies who thronged the scene.
He was blocked by a door
When Arredondo entered the school, he remembers the shooter firing a flurry of shots from inside the classroom.
Arredondo checked if one of the two classroom doors would open but found it locked.
Arredondo described the classroom door as reinforced with a large steel post, designed to prevent an attacker outside from forcing his way through. But with the shooter inside the room, it prevented law enforcement from immediately knocking on the door and confronting the shooter.
Finding no way to enter the room, Arredondo called police dispatch from his cell phone and requested a SWAT team, snipers and extrication tools, such as a fire hook, to open the door. gate.
The extrication tools never materialized, but Arredondo had also asked for keys that could open the door. Eventually, a concierge provided six keys. Arredondo tried each on a door adjacent to the room where the shooter was, but it did not open.
Later, another keychain with between 20 and 30 keys was brought to Arredondo.
“I was praying that one of them would open the door every time I tried a key,” Arredondo said in an interview.
Eventually, officers on the north side of the hallway called Arredondo’s phone and told him they had obtained a key that could open the door.
His strategy was to save as many children as possible
With no way to enter the classroom, Arredondo said he and other officers worked to get the other children out of the school.
“It’s not that anyone said to stand down,” Hyde said. “It was ‘Right now we can’t go in until we have the tools. So we will do what we can to save lives. And what was it? It was a question of evacuating the pupils, the parents and the teachers out of the rooms.
Arredondo told officers to start breaking windows outside other classrooms and evacuate those children. He wanted to keep the students out of the hallway, where he feared too much noise would attract the shooter’s attention.
At one point, a policeman from Uvalde noticed that Arredondo was not wearing a bulletproof vest. Worried for the Chief’s safety, Uvalde’s officer offered to cover Arredondo while he ran out of the building to get him.
“I will be very frank. He said, ‘Fuck you. I’m not leaving this hallway,” Hyde recounted. “He wasn’t going to leave without those kids.”
Law enforcement experts say Arredondo made critical mistakes
The Tribune spoke to seven law enforcement experts about Arredondo’s description of the police response. All but one said serious errors in judgment had occurred.
Most strikingly, they said, by rushing into the school without his 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 valuable time as students and teachers were trapped in two classrooms with a gunman who continued to fire his rifle.
Steve Ijames, a police tactics expert and former Deputy Chief of Police from Springfield, Missouri, said it was highly unusual for a police officer to intentionally drop their radio while responding to a call.
“I’ve never heard anything like this in my life,” Ijames said.
Ijames added that it is “inconceivable” that Arredondo officers did not plan to access any room or building on campus at all times, given that the school district constitutes the entire jurisdiction. of small force.