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‘Very angry’: Uvalde residents grapple with role played by school district police chief

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Blame for an excruciating delay in the shooting of the gunman at a Texas elementary school — even as parents outside begged police to rush and panicked children called 911 of the interior – was assigned to the local school district police chief.

Residents of the small town of Uvalde are struggling to reconcile what they know about the beloved local lawman after the state police superintendent says the commander at the scene – Pete Arredondo — had made the “bad decision” not to breach a classroom at Robb Elementary School earlier, believing the shooter was barricaded inside and the children were not in danger.

Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at Friday’s press conference that after tracking the shooter into the building, officers waited more than an hour to enter the room. class. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the shooting.

Arredondo, who grew up in Uvalde and graduated from high school here, was due to be sworn in on Tuesday in his new place on the city council after being elected earlier this month. The 50-year-old has spent much of a nearly 30-year career in law enforcement in Uvalde, returning in 2020 to serve as the school district’s police chief.

When Arredondo was a boy, Maria Gonzalez used to drive him and his children to the same school where the shooting happened. “He was a good boy,” she said.

“He dropped the ball maybe because he didn’t have enough experience. Who knows? People are very angry,” Gonzalez said.

Another woman from the neighborhood where Arredondo grew up began to sob when asked about him. The woman, who did not want to be named, said one of her granddaughters was at school when the shooting took place but was not injured.

Juan Torres, a U.S. Army veteran who was visibly upset by reports of the response, said he’s known Arredondo since high school.

“You sign up to respond to those kinds of situations,” Torres said. “If you’re scared, then don’t be a policeman. Go flip the burgers.

After his election to city council, Arredondo told the Uvalde Leader-News earlier this month that he was “ready to go”.

“I have a lot of ideas and I certainly have a lot of drive,” he said, adding that he wanted to focus not only on the city’s fiscal responsibility, but also on getting projects done. street repair and beautification.

At a candidates’ forum before his election, Arredondo said, “I guess for me, nothing is complicated. Everything has a solution. This solution starts with communication. Communication is the key.

McCraw said Friday that within minutes of the shooter entering the school, city police entered through the same door. For more than an hour, law enforcement from multiple agencies arrived at the scene. Finally, according to officials, a US Border Patrol tactical team used a janitor key to unlock the classroom door and kill the shooter.

McCraw said students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help while Arredondo told more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway. The directive – which goes against established protocols for active shooters – has raised questions about whether more lives have been lost because officers did not act more quickly.

Two law enforcement officials said that when the shooter shot students, law enforcement officers from other agencies urged Arredondo to let them move in because children were in danger. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Arredondo began his career in law enforcement working for the Uvalde Police Department. After spending 16 years there, he traveled to Laredo, a border town 209 kilometers south, where he worked for the Webb County Sheriff’s Office and then for a local school district, according to a 2020 article in the Uvalde Leader-News upon his return to his hometown to serve as the school district’s police chief.

Ray Garner, the police chief for the Laredo District where Arredondo worked, told the San Antonio Express-News in an article published after the Uvalde shooting that when Arredondo worked in the Laredo District, he was “easy to who to talk to” and worried about the students.

“He was a great officer here,” Garner told the newspaper. “Here we do a lot of training on active fire scenarios, and he was involved in those.”

Arredondo, who spoke only briefly at two short press conferences on the day of the shooting, appeared behind state officials speaking at press conferences over the next two days, but was not not present at McCraw’s press conference on Friday.

After this press conference, members of the media converged on Arredondo’s home and police cruisers took up their posts there. At one point, a man answering the door of Arredondo’s home told an Associated Press reporter that Arredondo was “indisposed.”

“The truth will come out,” the man said before closing the door.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he asks a lot of questions after “so much has gone wrong.”

He said a family told him that a first responder told them their child, who had been shot in the back, had probably bled. “So absolutely, those mistakes may have resulted in the deaths of those kids as well,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said that while the question of which law enforcement agency had or should have had operational control is a “significant” concern to him, he also “suggested” to McCraw “that he not ain’t fair to put it on the local (school district) cop”.

“At the end of the day, everyone failed here,” Gutierrez said.


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