AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas school police chief, who was criticized for his actions during one of the deadliest classroom shootings in US history, said in his first comprehensive commentary, published Thursday, that he did not consider himself responsible when the carnage unfolded. and assumed someone else had taken control of law enforcement.
Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde School District Police Chief, also told the Texas Tribune that he deliberately left both his police and campus radios behind before attending Robb Elementary School. An 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers behind a locked classroom door that the chief said had been reinforced with a steel door frame and could not be kicked in.
Poor radio communications are one of the concerns raised about how police handled the May 24 shooting and why they didn’t confront the gunman for more than an hour, even as harried parents outside the school urged officers to enter.
Separately, The New York Times reported Thursday that documents show that police were waiting for protective gear when they stopped entering the campus, even noticing that some victims needed medical treatment.
Arredondo told the Tribune that from the school hallway he used his cell phone to summon tactical gear, a sniper and keys to enter the classroom. He said he held off the door for 40 minutes to avoid gunfire and tried dozens of keys brought to him, but one by one they didn’t work.
“Every 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 become increasingly critical from both state officials and experts trained in responding to mass shootings. Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, has said the school’s chief of police, who he described as the incident commander, made the “wrong decision” not to order officers to break into the classroom faster. to confront the shooter.
But Arredondo, who told the Tribune that he believed wearing radios would slow him down if he entered the school and that he knew radios in some school buildings didn’t work, said he never considered himself the incident commander and no instructions. gave. that the police should not attempt to enter the building.
“I gave no orders,” said Arredondo. “I called for help and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”
Arredondo did not respond to repeated interview requests and questions from The Associated Press.
Arredondo’s account and data obtained by the Times were published Thursday as law enforcement and state officials struggled to present an accurate timeline and details. They have also regularly made corrections to previous 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 who investigators believe to be Arredondo could be heard on body camera images about how much time had passed.
“People are going to ask why it’s taking us so long,” the man said, according to a transcript of the body camera footage of officers obtained by the newspaper. “We try to preserve the rest of life.”
According to the report, 60 officers had gathered at the scene by the time four officers entered. There were 33 children and three teachers in the two classrooms where the shooting took place.
Not all victims were found dead when officers finally went inside: A teacher died in an ambulance and three children died in nearby hospitals, according to data obtained by the Times, including a review of law enforcement documents and video collected as part of the research.
The family of Xavier Lopez, 10, said the boy had been shot in the back and lost a lot of blood while he waited for medical attention.
“He could have been saved,” Leonard Sandoval, the boy’s grandfather, told the newspaper. “The police did not come in for more than an hour. He bled to death.”
The records obtained by the Times offered other new details, including that the shooter, Salvador Ramos, had a “hellfire” trigger device intended to fire a semiautomatic AR-15-style rifle more like an automatic weapon. to fire, but did not appear to have used it during the attack. Ramos had spent more than $6,000 collecting an arsenal of weapons, including two AR-15 rifles, accessories and hundreds of ammunition, according to the documents.
The Times reported that some of the officers who first 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 locked classroom doors.
Eva Mireles, one of the murdered teachers, phoned her husband, a police officer in the Uvalde school district, during the attack. Documents obtained by the Times show that Ruben Ruiz informed emergency workers at the scene that his wife was still alive in one of the classrooms.
“She says she was shot,” Ruiz was heard to say to other officers as he entered the school at 11:48 a.m., according to the body camera transcript obtained by the Times.
At 12:46 p.m., Arredondo appeared to be giving his approval to officers to enter the room, the Times reported.
“When you’re all ready, do it,” he said, according to the transcript.
About a week after the shooting, the public safety department said Arredondo was no longer cooperating with the agency and had not responded to requests for interviews from the Texas Rangers, the agency’s investigative unit.
Arredondo’s attorney, George E. Hyde, told the Tribune for Thursday’s story that Arredondo was unable to do an interview the day the Rangers requested because he was covering services for his officers. Hyde said Arredondo is willing to cooperate with the Rangers investigation but would like to see a transcript of his previous comments.
“That’s a fair thing to ask before he has to discuss it again, because over time all the information he hears becomes hard to keep straight,” Hyde said.
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting