Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo was one of the first to arrive at Robb Elementary, two minutes after a gunman entered and opened fire on a classroom full of children. He ended up serving as commander to direct response on May 24. But in the weeks since the tragic incident, law enforcement’s response to the shooting has come under question as information and vital missteps continue to come to light.
As The New York Times reports in a damning investigation into what happened, the problem allegedly started the moment Arredondo arrived on the scene — and without a police radio. The absence of his radio ultimately delayed the confrontation, the Times reports. In the interim, 19 children and two teachers were killed before the shooter was taken out by Border Patrol more than an hour after the incident began.
Arredondo used his cell phone in lieu of having a police radio to relay information to police dispatchers, which may have been detrimental in his attempt to quickly communicate with his team. Arredondo made the call to fall back as two supervisors from Uvalde PD were grazed by the gunman’s bullets. He placed a call to a police landline using his cell saying that the gunman had an AR-15, but he told them the gunman was contained. He advised they needed more firepower in order to surround the building before going in.
Ignoring the typical protocol put in place after the killings at Columbine High School in 1999, the growing law enforcement on the scene did not confront the gunman immediately. Instead, they held back for more than an hour. The delayed police response may have contributed to more deaths at the school, and delayed the needed medical attention to those who were wounded, the Times found in their report, which included interviews with law enforcement officials, children who survived, parents who were witnesses outside the school, and police protocol experts.
According to the Times, a tactical team helmed by Border Patrol officers ignored Arredondo’s apparent orders to fall back and not breach the classroom, following a call from a 10-year-old girl who called 911 and said two of the teachers needed medical attention.
“There is a lot of bodies,” Khloie Torres told a 911 dispatcher 37 minutes after the gunman began shooting inside the classrooms, per the Times’ review of a transcript of the call. “I don’t want to die, my teacher is dead, my teacher is dead, please send help, send help for my teacher, she is shot but still alive.” She stayed on the line for about 17 minutes, during which the sound of gunfire was heard.
The officers who breached the locked classrooms using a janitor’s key were not an officially formed tactical unit. Instead, the officers banded together on their own and circumvented the “do not breach” command. Together, they entered the room and killed the gunman.
More than 140 officers were under the direction of Arredondo. The force included local, state, and federal agencies. Texas Rangers and the Department of Justice, and the local district attorney’s office are each conducting overlapping investigations into the response.
Rolling Stone’s requests for comment from Uvalde school district police chief Arredondo and Uvalde police chief Daniel Rodriguez were not immediately returned. Texas DPS cited its active and ongoing investigation and directed requests be made to Uvalde’s District Attorney Christina Busbee, who did not return a request for comment.
On the outside, it seems unusual that the chief of the school district’s police force would serve as a command during the incident. UCISD’s force only has six members who are all employed by the school board. However, as the Times notes, it follows how events are typically handled in the early stages, according to the experts and leaders of school district police departments in Texas the paper consulted. When shooting incidents are prolonged, control may be passed to a larger department, though that did not happen in Uvalde.