Uvalde school police chief: Uh, I didn't know I was in charge at the scene

I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again: What was the point of the mass shooting drills organized by the district if they failed to iron out basic details like the chain of command once a shooting started?


They didn’t have protective shields at the ready. Their police radios didn’t work well inside the building. The school doors didn’t lock automatically. They didn’t have a master key that could quickly unlock any door in the district.

And now, it seems, even the chief didn’t know who was supposed to be in charge.

What did they do with that $69,000 grant they got from the state a few years ago to “harden” the school?

Pete Arredondo, the head of Uvalde school PD, finally gave an interview to the media after 17 days of silence. Jazz wrote about the case of the missing keys this morning, in which Arredondo resorted to trying one key after another on the locked classroom door before police rustled up one that worked. Cops couldn’t kick in the door because it was reinforced with a steel door jamb, ironically a measure designed to keep shooters out. And they didn’t have a master key because … they’re asleep on the job, I guess. “Robb Elementary did not have a modern system of locks and access control,” the Texas Tribune reported as part of its interview with Arredondo. “You’re talking about a key ring that’s got to weigh 10 pounds,” his lawyer told them.

“Make sure police can quickly enter any room in the district if necessary” never made it into the mass shooting protocols, evidently.

The stunner from the interview, though, is Arredondo insisting that he wasn’t the officer in command even though standard police training would suggest that he was. He was among the first officers to enter the building after shots began and remained camped out in the hallway for the duration, which led him to believe that he was a front-line responder in this case. Even though he was literally the highest-ranking school cop in the district.


He said he never considered himself the scene’s incident commander and did not give any instruction that police should not attempt to breach the building. DPS officials have described Arredondo as the incident commander and said Arredondo made the call to stand down and treat the incident as a “barricaded suspect,” which halted the attempt to enter the room and take down the shooter. “I didn’t issue any orders,” Arredondo said. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”…

Hyde said Arredondo did not issue any orders to other law enforcement agencies and had no knowledge that they considered him the incident commander.

The National Incident Management System, which guides all levels of government on how to respond to mass emergency events, says that the first person on scene is the incident commander. That incident commander remains in that charge until they relinquish it or are incapacitated.

The Times reported recently that Border Patrol agents had been told by an unknown officer at the scene not to breach the door but ignored that order and went in anyway. Arredondo’s lawyer claims he didn’t give the order. Who did?

Another reason cited by his attorney for why he couldn’t be the incident commander was because he didn’t have his police radio on him, preventing him from coordinating with officers outside the hallway. But the reason he didn’t have the radio is inexplicable, in the words of one expert on police tactics:


One of Arredondo’s most consequential decisions was immediate. Within seconds of arriving at the northeast entrance of Robb Elementary around 11:35 a.m., he left his police and campus radios outside the school.

To Arredondo, the choice was logical. An armed killer was loose on the campus of the elementary school. Every second mattered. He wanted both hands free to hold his gun, ready to aim and fire quickly and accurately if he encountered the gunman…

Thinking he was the first officer to arrive and wanting to waste no time, Arredondo believed that carrying the radios would slow him down. One had a whiplike antenna that would hit him as he ran. The other had a clip that Arredondo knew would cause it to fall off his tactical belt during a long run.

The tactical expert told the Tribune he’d never, ever heard of a cop purposely ditching his radio, and called it “inconceivable” that Arredondo’s force didn’t have a plan for entering any room on any school campus in the district. Arredondo claims that he knew from experience that the school district’s radios wouldn’t work inside some school buildings, which raises the question of … why the hell he didn’t make it a top priority to get fully functioning radios before this incident.

How can a school district police force use radios that don’t work inside schools?

What we need is a minute-by-minute timeline of what the officers in the hall were doing. How long was it between the time the cops finally found a key that worked and the time they entered the classroom? The Tribune article doesn’t say, instead stressing that Arredondo tried 30+ keys brought to him by a janitor before other officers on the scene got one that opened the door.


Did they still hold back after they were able to enter? If so, for how long?

Another detail that’s hazy from the Tribune piece is how long it took the cops to begin evacuating the rest of the school once the gunman had locked himself inside the classroom. One might think that would have happened immediately after the standoff began, wanting to get kids in other rooms out of harm’s way before the final confrontation occurred and bullets started flying. But the impression left by the Tribune story is that there was some delay. “At some point, Arredondo tried to talk to the gunman through the walls in an effort to establish a rapport, but the gunman did not respond,” the paper notes; only after that, with shots from inside the classroom penetrating the walls, did it occur to the chief to have police outside pull kids in other rooms to safety through the windows.

You’re left with the sense that children were inside the building for an egregiously long time as the cops in the hallway figured out their next move. Remember, Uvalde mom Angeli Gomez reportedly drove 40 miles to the scene after news of the shooting broke, was briefly handcuffed by federal marshals outside, and then made her way into the school to find her two children still inside. (Fortunately they weren’t in the classroom with the gunman.) Why on earth were her kids still in the building at that point?


Exit question: If I’m not mistaken, the classroom occupied by the gunman is on the first floor. Was there any attempt to position a sniper outside to take him out through the window in case he strode into view?

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