By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) – Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo said he never considered himself the incident commander of the scene of last month’s school shooting in Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, and that he did not order police to hold back on breaching the building.
The police response after the gunman entered Robb Elementary School and began shooting on May 24 has come under close scrutiny from the public, including the role of Arredondo. He gave an interview to the Texas Tribune that was published late on Thursday.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) said days after the shooting that as many as 19 officers waited about an hour in a hallway outside classrooms 111 and 112 before a U.S. Border Patrol-led tactical team finally made entry.
The Texas Tribune quoted Arredondo as saying: “I didn’t issue any orders”. He added: “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.” The doors to the two classrooms were locked, the Texas Tribune reported.
DPS officials have said that Arredondo made the choice to hold off on sending officers in to neutralize the gunman, believing the immediate threat to students inside had abated after an initial flurry of gunfire in the classrooms.
The Texas Tribune said DPS officials have described Arredondo as the incident commander. Arredondo told the newspaper that he had assumed that some other officer or official had taken control of the larger response and he took on the role of a front-line responder.
Arredondo told the newspaper that he left his two radios outside the school because he wanted his hands free to hold his gun. He said he also called for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside, holding back from the doors for 40 minutes to avoid provoking sprays of gunfire. When keys arrived, he tried dozens of them, but they failed to work, he said.
“Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” Arredondo told the newspaper.
He answered questions to the newspaper via a phone interview and in statements provided through his lawyer, the Texas Tribune said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety did not respond to requests for comment.
Arredondo said that at some point he tried to talk to the gunman through the walls in an effort to establish a rapport, but the gunman did not respond, the newspaper reported.
Arredondo said that when the gunman was still firing sporadically, he realized that children and teachers in adjacent rooms remained in danger if the gunman started shooting through the walls, the newspaper reported. Arredondo said he told officers to start breaking windows from outside other classrooms and evacuating those children and teachers.
The U.S. Justice Department will review the law-enforcement response to the shooting and make its findings public, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Wednesday. Texas state and county authorities say they are conducting their own inquiry.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry)