Uvalde School District Police Chief Says He Didn't Know He Was in Charge of Shooting Scene

In an interview, Chief Pete Arredondo defended his actions during the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two adults

Uvalde, TX May 24, 2022 Shooting at Robb Elementary School kills 19 students and 2 teachers. Early stages outside the school. Credit: Uvalde Leader News free of charge. Contact: Meghann Garcia: mgarcia@ulnnow.com 830 278 3335
Photo: Uvalde Leader News

Three days after a gunman entered Robb Middle School in Uvalde, Texas, and opened fire, killing 19 students and two teachers, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety told reporters that the incident commander on the scene made the "wrong decision" to wait before breaching the classroom doors.

Now the Uvalde School District Police Chief has spoken out to defend himself.

Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo told The Texas Tribune in a new report that he did not consider himself to be the commanding officer on the scene that day.

In phone interviews and statements provided to the Tribune through his lawyer, Arredondo said that he never told any officers to stand down from breaching the building and that no one told him about the 911 calls that came in during the 77 minutes before the gunman was shot.

In the interview, published over the weekend, Arredondo commended the officers on the scene.

"Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children," Arredondo said. "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."

But one of Arredondo's subordinate officers disputes Arredondo's claim that he did not realize that he was in charge.

"We were looking to him for guidance," says the officer, who spoke to PEOPLE immediately after the incident and again on Monday. "We wanted him to tell us what to do. He was the chief. He knew the school building better than anyone. So he knew we were all looking to him for decisions. I was literally five feet away from him as we asked what we should do."

"You have to remember that it was chaos," the officer continued. "There were so many people there, so I get that it was confusing who was in charge. But for sure, [Arrendondo] was the one who I thought was in charge, and I know I was not the only one."

In his interview, Arredondo says that they struggled to breach the door where the gunman held the students hostage, and had to wait until he found a master key.

"Each time I tried a key I was just praying," Arredondo told the Tribune.

Seventy-seven minutes passed before officers were able to unlock the door and kill the gunman.

"We waited and waited for that f---ing key," the officer tells PEOPLE. "It seemed like it took forever."

The Texas Department of Public Safety is investigating the police response — and now, the state legislature is opening a second investigation. A bipartisan panel is seeking testimony from law enforcement agencies, as well as physical evidence from the scenes.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also conducting a critical incident review that is not a criminal investigation.

Through his attorney, Arredondo says that he will cooperate with any inquiries into his actions.

"At no time did he communicate his unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation," attorney George E. Hyde told the Tribune. "His phone was flooded with calls and messages from numbers he didn't recognize, and it's possible he missed calls from DPS but still maintained daily interaction by phone with DPS assisting with logistics as requested."

The investigation is ongoing.

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