[Breaking news update, published at 8:45 p.m. ET]
The Uvalde City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to deny Councilman Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, who is also the school district police chief. a leave of absence from future meetings. During the meeting, several Uvalde residents, including family members of victims, called for Arredondo to be removed from the council rather than be given leave.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said following the shooting at Robb Elementary on May 24 he was assured he would receive daily briefings from the Texas Department of Public Safety and other agencies but has gotten none. “We are just in the dark just like you are,” he told residents.
[Previous story, published at 6:24 p.m. ET]
The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday slammed the law enforcement response to last month’s mass shooting in Uvalde as an “abject failure” and harshly criticized the decisions of Uvalde school district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo.
“There is compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre,” Col. Steven McCraw told the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans.
“Three minutes after the subject entered the West building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject,” he continued. “The only thing stopping the hallway of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers baefore the lives of children.”
The stunning criticisms come more than a month after a gunman with an AR-15-style rifle entered two adjacent classrooms at at 11:33 a.m. and killed 19 children and two teachers. The gunman remained inside the classrooms — even as children inside called 911 and pleaded for help — until law enforcement finally breached the rooms and killed him at 12:50 p.m., according to a timeline from the public safety department.
What happened within those 77 minutes has remained unclear as Texas officials offered conflicting narratives of the response.
McCraw’s comments Tuesday represent the first time an official has provided substantive information on the shooting in weeks. He said that the decisions to wait contradicted the established active-shooter protocol — to stop the suspect as quickly as possible.
“The officers had weapons, the children had none. The officers had body armor, the children had none,” McCraw said. “The post-Columbine doctrine is clear and compelling and unambiguous: stop the killing, stop the dying.”
The public safety department’s timeline indicated that 11 officers arrived at the school, several with rifles, within three minutes of the gunman entering the classrooms. The suspect then shot and injured several officers who approached the classrooms, and they retreated to a hallway outside the rooms. The group of officers then remained in the hallway and did not approach the door for another 73 minutes.
“While they waited, the on-scene commander waited for a radio and rifles,” McCraw said, referring to Arredondo. “Then he waited for shields. Then he waited for SWAT. Lastly, he waited for a key that was never needed.”
Arredondo had previously told the Texas Tribune he did not consider himself the incident commander that day. However, at least one of the officers is noted at 11:50 a.m. expressing the belief that Arredondo was leading law enforcement response inside the school, telling others, “The chief is in charge,” according to the public safety department’s timeline.
Despite the criticisms, McCraw expressed discomfort in calling out Arredondo individually. “I don’t like singling out a person and shifting and saying he’s solely responsible, but at the end of the day, if you assume incident command, you are responsible,” McCraw said.
Officers did not try to breach doors for over an hour
In the initial days after the shooting, authorities said the suspect had barricaded himself behind locked doors, preventing outgunned responding officers from stopping him sooner.
Arredondo, who has been identified by other officials as the incident commander on the scene, had previously told the Texas Tribune that officers had found the classroom doors were locked and reinforced with a steel jamb, hindering any potential response or rescue. Efforts were made to locate a key to unlock the door, he said.
However, McCraw said video evidence showed no one ever put their hand on the door handle to check whether it was locked. Further, the doors at Robb Elementary were not able to be locked from the inside, McCraw said, calling it “ridiculous” from a security perspective.
In addition, Arredondo initially said that the responding officers needed more firepower and equipment to breach the doors. For example, at 11:40 a.m., Arredondo called the Uvalde Police Department’s dispatch by phone shortly after the gunman fired at officers and requested further assistance and a radio, according to a DPS transcript.
“We don’t have enough firepower right now, it’s all pistol and he has an AR-15,” Arredondo said, according to a DPS transcript.
However, two of the first officers to arrive to the scene had rifles, according to McCraw.
In the first minutes of their response, an officer also said a Halligan, a firefighting tool that is used for forcible entry, was on scene, according to the timeline. However, the tool wasn’t brought into the school until an hour after officers arrived and was never used, the timeline said.
One security footage image obtained by the Austin American-Statesman shows at least three officers in the hallway — two of whom have rifles and one who appears to have a tactical shield — at 11:52 a.m., 19 minutes after the gunman entered the school.
In all, officers had access to four ballistic shields inside the school, the fourth of which arrived 30 minutes before officers stormed the classrooms, according to the timeline.
Why responding officers followed Arredondo’s lead
One unidentified officer who arrived at 11:56 a.m. said that they needed to act.
“If there’s kids in there, we need to go in there,” the officer said. Another officer responded, “Whoever is in charge will determine that.”
Inside the classrooms was carnage. Starting at around 11:33 a.m., the gunman fired over 100 rounds in a couple of minutes, and then fired sporadically over the next hour, including at 11:40, 11:44, and 12:21 p.m.
Arredondo, however, treated the situation like a barricaded subject, McCraw said, and attempted to speak with the gunman in English and Spanish.
At the Senate committee hearing, members questioned McCraw on why Arredondo remained in charge of the scene despite the lack of action to stop the shooter.
McCraw said the person in charge is typically the “ranking official of the agency that has jurisdiction,” which in this case meant Arredondo, who was also on scene throughout the entire incident.
“The sheriff and the chief of the police of the Uvalde Police Department also deferred and said yes, he is the on-scene commander,” McCraw said. “So by actions and deeds, he issued commands and had information and provided information and controlled the scene.
“DPS, the Border Patrol, FBI, everybody that came in afterwards, US Marshals that came in afterwards, it is not the practice or policy to take over anything,” he said.
‘They let our kids down,’ father says
The reporting — in three different news outlets and citing unnamed sources — highlights Texas officials’ lack of transparency to the public in such a critical incident. Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat, told CNN on Monday that the reporting underscored his questions about why police did not try to breach the doors sooner.
“We see that there (are) officers with adequate munitions, adequate equipment to be able to breach that room,” he said. “I just don’t understand why that didn’t happen, why they didn’t breach the room.
“Those answers need to be had. They shouldn’t be dribbling through the media in this way. We should have law enforcement agencies tell us exactly what went wrong. And the fact that we’re not getting that information is just a travesty in and of itself.”
CNN has reached out to both Arredondo’s attorney, George Hyde, and the Uvalde Police Department regarding the reports.
Arredondo, who has not spoken in a public capacity since the incident, testified Tuesday behind closed doors to a Texas House committee investigating the shooting.
The new reporting further angered mourning families whose questions have still not been answered.
“I feel anger,” said Jose Flores Sr., whose 10-year-old son, Jose Flores Jr., was among the children killed. “They let our kids down, left them in there scared and, who knows, crying. They abandoned them,” Flores told CNN’s “New Day” when asked about the latest revelations.
“They’re supposed to be trained professionals,” Flores said of the police. “I don’t understand the reason why they stood back that long for them to go back in … Standing back a whole hour, leaving them inside with that gunman, is not right. It’s cowardly, cowardly, cowardly stuff.”
The city has been criticized for not releasing some records related to the investigation into the shooting. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said the district attorney for Uvalde County made the request to not release those records.
“There is no coverup. Anyone who suggests the City of Uvalde is withholding information without legitimate and legal reasons is wrong and is spreading misinformation,” McLaughlin said. “There are specific legal reasons the City cannot release information at this time.”
The statement comes after McCraw, the DPS director, testified his agency planned to eventually release footage from body cameras and the inside of Robb Elementary.
“Whenever the district attorney approves it, we are going to release all the body camera coverage, we’re going to release all the school video and the funeral video,” McCraw said during Tuesday’s committee testimony.
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