The Uvalde school police chief who has faced blistering criticism over his response to the Robb Elementary mass shooting is now saying he never considered himself the incident commander on-scene and that he did not give orders telling responding officers to stand down.
Pete Arredondo, speaking alongside his lawyer to the Texas Tribune, is revealing for the first time what he says happened on May 24 in Uvalde, Texas, where gunman Salvador Ramos killed 19 students and two teachers.
"Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children," Arredondo told the website. "We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat."
Since the massacre, police have faced unrelenting questioning from the public as to why they did not confront Ramos sooner. Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said in late May that responding officers didn't immediately engage the shooter because "the on-scene commander at the time" -- whom he identified as Arredondo – "believed that it had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject."
But Arredondo, the chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, told the Texas Tribune this week that he never considered himself to be in that role as the shooting was unfolding.
"I didn’t issue any orders," Arredondo said, noting that he "called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door" to the classroom that Ramos was inside.
The New York Times has reported that the group of U.S. Border Patrol agents who ultimately killed Ramos were told through their earpieces at one point to not enter that classroom – but Arredondo’s lawyer told the Texas Tribune that his client didn’t say that, and if it was said, he isn’t sure who did.
"It’s not that someone said stand down," said Arredondo’s attorney, George Hyde. "It was ‘Right now, we can’t get in until we get the tools. So we’re going to do what we can do to save lives.’ And what was that? It was to evacuate the students and the parents and the teachers out of the rooms."
Arredondo also said in the interview that he – without body armor – tried dozens of keys to try to get through the door separating police from Ramos.
"Each time I tried a key I was just praying," he told the Texas Tribune, which reported that it took 77 minutes after the shooting began for officers to enter the classroom.
Arredondo described the door to the classroom as one having a steel jamb that is designed to keep attackers in the hallways from forcing themselves in.
He reportedly said he wasn’t aware of 911 calls coming from students and teachers inside the classrooms begging for help because he didn’t have his police radio on him – and that nobody in the hallways said anything.
Arredondo, according to the Texas Tribune, wasn’t carrying the radio because he thought it would slow him down and that he wanted both hands free to hold his firearm in case he encountered Ramos.
Arredondo also has received death threats following the shooting and says he didn’t speak out sooner because he didn’t want to compound the community’s grief, the website added.