This story is part of a KXAN series of reports called “Stop Mass Shootings,” providing context and exploring solutions surrounding gun violence in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans, as well as for lawmakers who are convening a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Explore all “Stop Mass Shootings” stories by clicking here.
UVALDE, Texas (KXAN) — Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Hal Harrell placed the district’s embattled police chief on administrative leave.
Harrell said in a statement that Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who has become the center of national criticism as details come out about how he and his officers responded to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School, is on leave effective Wednesday.
Harrell didn’t want to make any personnel decisions until the investigation into the shooting was complete, but because of “the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations,” he felt he had to make the call, the statement read.
“From the beginning of this horrible event, I shared that the district would wait until the investigation was complete before making personnel decisions,” the statement said. “Today, I am still without details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies.”
Harrell said Lt. Mike Hernandez will be the interim chief, and the district will, “continue to seek qualified candidates to join our police department as we prepare for the new school year.”
Arredondo testified in a private Texas House committee hearing Tuesday and didn’t answer any questions from reporters as he left the chamber. Arredondo has come under increased scrutiny after Steve McCraw, the Texas Department of Public Safety director, called his response to the shooting “an abject failure” during a public hearing in the Texas Senate chamber, also on Tuesday.
“There’s 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,” McCraw said. “The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from any room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.”
A statement by the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas said Arredondo, “should have been placed on administrative leave immediately following the mass murder of 19 children and two teachers who were under his watch and care at the Uvalde Independent School District Police Department.”
“As the On-Scene Commander, Uvalde ISD Chief Arrendondo should answer to his employer and the community for his failure to act use normal police protocols to act immediately to kill the shooter and save lives,” the statement continued.
In a June 9 interview with The Texas Tribune, Arredondo defended his response, saying, “not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children. We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced.”
The announcement comes just days after many in Uvalde called for Arredondo to be fired during a school board meeting.
“How is Mr. Arredondo still with the program? How is he still employed?” said one man.
“Do what is right, remove Pete [Arredondo] from employment,” said Brett Cross, who identified himself as the parent of a slain student.
Police had enough officers and firepower on the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to have stopped the gunman three minutes after he entered the building, and they would have found the door to the classroom where he was holed up unlocked if they had bothered to check it, the head of the Texas state police testified Tuesday, pronouncing the law enforcement response an “abject failure.”
Officers with rifles instead stood in a hallway for over an hour, waiting in part for more weapons and gear, before they finally stormed the classroom and killed the gunman, putting an end to the May 24 attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
“I don’t care if you have on flip-flops and Bermuda shorts, you go in,” McCraw said in blistering testimony at a state Senate hearing.
Delays in the law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School have become the focus of federal, state and local investigations.
McCraw lit into Arredondo, who McCraw said was in charge, saying, “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 officers’ lives before the lives of children.”
Arredondo made “terrible decisions,” said McCraw, who lamented that the police response “set our profession back a decade.”
But some say there are more who bear responsibility for the mass shooting response. In a Uvalde city council meeting that same night, mayor Don McLaughlin blasted back at McCraw, saying his officers were also at the campus and didn’t try to open the classroom door.
“Colonel McGraw has an agenda, and it’s not to present a full report on what happened and to give factual answers to the families of this community,” McLaughlin said on Tuesday.
Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde, wants answers from all responding agencies.
“Every one of those law enforcement units failed. I need to know why. Why their radios didn’t work, why their systems didn’t work, why there was inoperability,” he told KXAN on Wednesday.
Gutierrez filed a lawsuit against the DPS on Wednesday.
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, thinks it’s still too early for a blame game, since investigations are not yet complete, and information to the public keeps changing.
“If there are people that there were mistakes that were made that need ever, people need to be fired or people need to be prosecuted, that’s fine, but let’s wait for the facts to come out,” Lawrence said. “In the meantime, what can we do to protect our citizens? Because… our citizens not only have a right to be safe, they have a right to feel safe. And right now they don’t.”
Lawrence is set to testify in a House hearing on Thursday.
“We are absolutely in support of being as transparent as possible and coming out and telling our citizens here’s what we know so far,” he said. “But we should limit it to what we know we should not allow ourselves to be drawn into this trap of, of making guesses, making conjecture, making and making conclusions on less than all the facts. And I think that’s what’s happened here.”
He said although multiple agencies responded to the shooting, they all probably had different training, and likely never trained with each other.
“We have 2,900 law enforcement agencies, and they report to 2,900 different bosses,” Lawrence explained. “We need to do a much better job of coordinating our responses.”
He said that’s part of what he’ll be talking to state lawmakers about on Thursday.