The police chief for the Texas elementary school where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers has been placed on administrative leave amid outrage that officers did not intervene sooner to stop the shooter.
Under the command of Pete Arredondo, the police chief for the Uvalde school district, officers held back for about an hour and 15 min outside the classrooms where an 18-year-old with an AR-15 had opened fire on children and teachers, according to the Texas state police.
Amid ongoing federal and state investigations into the police’s conduct during the 24 May massacre at Uvalde’s Robb elementary, district superintendent Hal Harrell announced that Arredondo would be placed on leave.
“Today, I am still without details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies,” Harrell said. “Because of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective on this date.”
Neither Arredondo nor his attorney immediately responded to a request for comment.
At a state hearing investigating the shooting, Steve McCraw, Texas’ public safety chief, said the police response was an “abject failure” and that officers could have stopped the shooter three minutes after arriving on scene.
“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering Room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” McCraw said.
McCraw’s scathing rebuke of Arredondo came following weeks of contradictory and misleading statements from police and local officials about officers’ response to the shooting. This week, the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV found that officers were equipped with the firepower and equipment needed to breach the classroom doors and stop the gunman – and transcripts and records obtained by the Texas Tribune revealed that some officers were raring to go despite orders to stay back.
During the massacre, parents begged officers to move in and called 911 for help as officers waited in the hallway.
Outrage against the officers who stood back for 77 minutes as students died has mounted since then. Arredondo “failed us,” said Berlinda Arreola, grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, one of the students killed. “We’re begging – get this man out of our lives,” she said at a meeting calling for his resignation from public posts.
Arredondo was also sworn in as a Uvalde city council member not long after the shooting, but has not been attending meetings. The council denied his request early Tuesday for a leave of absence from future meetings. The mayor said he would vote to replace Arredondo if he misses three consecutive meetings.
The embattled police chief has differed from other law enforcement sources in his account of what happened at Robb elementary, telling the Texas Tribune that he did not consider himself the commander on scene.
In light of contradictory statements from law enforcement agencies, Texas state senator Roland Gutierrez on Wednesday sued department of public safety as a way to force it to release records detailing officers’ response to the shooting.
“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government,” Gutierrez said in the lawsuit. “To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame.”