October 1, 2022

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Uvalde police chief fired for botched response to school shooting

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Uvalde school board fires Pete Arredondo for his much-criticised handling of the mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers.

A school board in the US state of Texas has fired a district police chief for his handling of the mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers in the city of Uvalde three months ago.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Board (UCISD) of Trustees voted unanimously on Wednesday to fire Pete Arredondo. He had been on unpaid administrative leave since shortly after the May 24 shooting.

Arredondo did not attend the meeting.

A written statement from his lawyer, George Hyde, was emailed to board members just before the board met. It cited death threats Arredondo has received and what it said was the district’s lack of efforts to provide any protection for him.

He also wrote that the district was in the wrong for dismissing Arredondo, saying it did not carry out any investigation “establishing evidence supporting a decision to terminate” him.

“Chief Arredondo is a leader and a courageous officer who with all of the other law enforcement officers who responded to the scene, should be celebrated for the lives saved, instead of vilified for those they couldn’t reach in time,” Hyde wrote.

A Uvalde police department officer, standing next to Uvalde CISD police chief Pete Arredondo, reacts during a press conference in Uvalde, Texas.
Uvalde CISD police chief Pete Arredondo, right, stands during a press conference in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022 [File: Eric Thayer/ Getty via AFP]

Arredondo has come under scathing criticism for his handling of the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a small town in Texas Hill Country, about 130km (80 miles) west of San Antonio.

Parents of children slain and wounded in the deadliest US school shooting in nearly a decade had demanded the school board dismiss Arredondo.

He was forced to resign his seat on the Uvalde City Council on July 2. Three weeks later, the board was scheduled to decide Arredondo’s fate as the school district police chief but postponed the meeting due to “process requirements” at the request of his lawyer.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), Arredondo acted as “incident commander” in charge of law enforcement’s response to the shooting.

DPS officials said 19 officers waited for an hour in a hallway outside adjoining classrooms where the gunman was holed up with his victims before a US Border Patrol-led tactical team finally made entry and killed the suspect.

Arredondo, they said, chose not to send officers to confront the suspect sooner, believing the immediate threat to students had abated after an initial burst of gunfire in the classrooms.

Arredondo, who oversaw a six-member police force before he was fired, has said he never considered himself the incident commander and that he did not order police to hold back on storming the suspect’s position.

He is the first officer dismissed over the law enforcement response to the May 24 tragedy.

Only one other officer — Uvalde Police Department Lieutenant Mariano Pargas, who was the city’s acting police chief on the day of the massacre — is known to have been placed on leave for his actions during the shooting.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which had more than 90 state troopers at the scene, has also launched an internal investigation into the response by state police.

School officials have said the campus at Robb Elementary will no longer be used. Instead, campuses elsewhere in Uvalde will serve as temporary classrooms for elementary school students, not all of whom are willing to return to school in person following the shooting.

New measures to improve school safety in Uvalde include “8-foot, non-scalable perimeter fencing” at elementary, middle and high school campuses, according to the school district. Officials say they have also installed additional security cameras, upgraded locks, enhanced training for district staff and improved communication.

However, according to the district’s own progress reports, as of Tuesday, no fencing had been erected at six of the eight campuses where it was planned, and cameras had only been installed at the high school.

Some progress had been made on locks at three of eight campuses, and communication improvement was marked as half complete for each campus.

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