Uvalde CISD police chief shares account of mass shooting with Texas Tribune

Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo has been facing strong criticism from many people following the delayed police response to the massacre at Robb Elementary

Now, he's sharing his side of the story from the front lines in that school hallway. The chief spoke exclusively to the Texas Tribune and reporter Zach Despart.

ZACH DESPART: Glad to be here, Mike.

MIKE: You know, a lot of people have questioned why it took close to an hour to get into that classroom with the gunman and the students. What's Arredondo's reasoning for that delay?

ZACH DESPART: In short, his reasoning is a locked door. No key, Chief Arredondo told us that he was among the first officers to arrive at Robb Elementary. He and a couple other officers entered the school. By that point, the gunman had already barricaded himself into two adjoining classrooms and locked the door. Chief Arredondo, despite being the campus police chief, did not have easy access to keys to open that door. So he thought the best choice at that point was to wait to find the right guy. That process took more than 40 minutes. They had to go find a janitor or other staff to help them. They got a key ring with a ton of keys on it. He said that he had tried a couple of dozen that didn't work before finding one that did. And that was the reason why it took so long.

MIKE: Did he talk at all about was he treating this as sort of a hostage situation as opposed to an active shooter where the general training is move and engage the shooter as quickly as possible? Did you talk about that at all?

ZACH DESPART: He did, yeah. One of the reasons why he wanted to speak with me and my colleague James Barragan is to dispel the characterization of his conduct and actions that state police had laid out in their initial news conferences after the shooting. They described him as the incident commander who was calling the shots and was in charge of what police were doing on scene. Arredondo said that is not true. He did not consider himself to be the incident commander. He was not giving orders to anyone at any time. He said he saw himself as a Frontline first responder. Like I said, he was one of the first people in the door after they discovered that the door was locked. He decided he was going to station himself outside for that door for as long as it took to find the key. And in the interim, he was ready to to shoot the shooter should he try to leave.

MIKE: Okay. Does the chief think that he made any wrong decisions in this case? 

ZACH DESPART: Chief Arradondo told us that he feels that he did everything in his power, given the information he knew at the time, to end the shooting as quickly as possible and to protect as many lives. He wanted to push back on the idea that after officers found those doors locked, that they simply waited around for a key for about a 40-minute period. He said that while they were waiting, he wanted to make the best use of that, that he helped coordinate the evacuation of other classrooms they could get into. And he credited that for protecting about 500 people.

MIKE: In your conversations with him, what are the things that that struck you and that you think would strike the public since we've heard so much about him, but we've we've heard very little from him. What surprised you about the conversation with him?

ZACH DESPART: We were surprised by what is now a wide gulf in the accounts of Arredondo and state police with regard to who is the incident commander on the scene. Chief Arredondo told us that he feels devastated by how bad the shooting went in, that having to tell the parents at the end of that horrible day that their children have been killed was the lowest point in his career. He said that he felt he did everything in his power, given the information he knew at the time, to end the shooting quickly and to confront the shooter and to save as many people as possible. Unfortunately, that's resulted in 21 people being killed.

MIKE: Okay, we're out of time for now. But Zach Despart with the Texas Tribune. We appreciate you talking with us and telling about us, telling us about your conversation with him. So thanks very much.

ZACH DESPART: Thanks, Mike.