The Uvalde school district fired Police Chief Pete Arrendondo on Wednesday, making him the first officer to lose his job over the hesitant and clumsy response from law enforcement officers at a Texas elementary school when a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in a fourth-grade classroom. .
In a unanimous vote, held after months of angry calls for his impeachment, the board of trustees of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District dismissed Arredondo in an auditorium of parents and survivors of the May 24 massacre. His resignation came three months after one of the deadliest classroom shootings in US history.
Arredondo, who has been on furlough from the district since June 22, has come under the most intense scrutiny from the nearly 400 officers who rushed to the school but waited more than an hour to confront the 18-year-old gunman in a fourth-grade classroom. , even when parents outside reportedly pleaded with them to take action.
State police and a damning investigative report in July criticized the police chief of the approximately 4,000 student school district for not taking charge, breaking into the classroom earlier, and wasting time looking for a key to a likely unlocked door.
Arredondo was not present at the school board meeting but, through his lawyer, released a torrid and defiant 17-page letter that lashed out at state officials, defended the police response to the May 24 massacre and accused the school board of his safety in endangering him by not allowing him to carry a weapon to the meeting, noting that he has received death threats.
“Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynchings,” his attorney, George Hyde, wrote in the statement.
When the news broke that Arredondo would not be attending the meeting, some in the room, including the victims’ parents, shouted, “Coward!” and “What about our children?”
Arredondo’s attorney wrote in the statement that he was treated like a “fall guy” and “sacrificial lamb”. Hyde accused the school district of being unprepared for an attacker and described the actions of Arrendondo and hundreds of other officers on the scene as “reasonable”.
Heavily armed law enforcement officers arrived at the school within minutes of the attack, but police did not penetrate the classroom for more than an hour and did not confront the gunman, a response widely criticized as failing to comply with the “active gunman”— protocols developed in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school shooting.
But Arredondo’s attorney argued that a more aggressive law enforcement approach to the gunman in the classroom could have resulted in a “cop gunfight” and a hail of bullets that may have killed “20 or 30 kids across the hall.” , including some possibly killed by police bullets.
“Chief Arredondo did the right thing,” he wrote.
The school district itself had made deadly mistakes before the shooting, the police chief’s lawyer argued: “If the district had put up six-foot fences around the school and only had one entrance/exit, things could have been different. If school officials did as they were told and kept their doors locked at all times during schooling periods, as dictated by district policy, things could have been different.”
Hyde called Arredondo “a leader and a brave officer who, along with all the other law enforcement officers who came to the scene, should be celebrated for the lives saved, rather than vilified for those who couldn’t reach them in time.
Hyde did not immediately respond to a request for comment following the news of Arredondo’s termination.
Uvalde school officials are under increasing pressure from the victims’ families and community members, many of whom have called for Arredondo’s termination. Chief Inspector Hal Harrell had first started firing Arredondo in July, but postponed the decision at the request of the police chief’s lawyer.
Among those at Wednesday’s meeting was Ruben Torres, Chloe Torres’ father, who survived the shooting in room 112 of the school. He said that as a former Marine he took an oath that he faithfully and willingly carried out, and did not understand why officers took no action when leadership failed.
His daughter, who is still very young, “is having a hard time coping with this horrific event,” Torres said.
Arredondo’s firing was “the first victory” for the victim’s families, Nikki Cross, who lost her 10-year-old nephew in the shooting, said at the rally. “They should fire the rest of them.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which had more than 90 state agents on the scene, has also launched an internal investigation into the state police’s response.
As is typical after school shootings in the United States, officials have moved to further strengthen school buildings against attacks, rather than pass sweeping gun control laws.
New measures to improve school safety in Uvalde include “8ft, non-scalable fencing” on elementary, middle and high school campuses, the school district said. Officials say they have also installed additional security cameras, upgraded locks, improved training for district personnel and improved communications.
However, according to the district’s own progress reports, by Tuesday no fencing had been installed on six of the eight campuses where it was planned, and only cameras had been installed in the high school. Some progress had been made with the locks on three of the eight campuses, and the improvement in communications was considered half-complete for each campus.
School officials have said the Robb Elementary campus on Old Carrizo Road will no longer be used. Instead, campuses elsewhere in Uvalde will serve as temporary classrooms for primary school students, not all of whom are willing to return to school in person after the shooting.
School officials say a virtual academy will be offered for students. The district has not said how many students will attend virtually