The Texas school police chief criticized for his actions during one of the deadliest classroom shootings in U.S. history said in his first extensive comments, published Thursday, that he did not consider himself the person in charge as the massacre unfolded and assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response.
Pete Arredondo, the police chief of the Uvalde school district, also told the Texas Tribune that he intentionally left behind both his police and campus radios before entering Robb Elementary School. An 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers behind a locked classroom door that the chief said was reinforced with a steel jamb and could not be kicked in.
Poor radio communications is among the concerns raised about how police handled the May 24 shooting and why they didn’t confront the gunman for more than an hour, even as anguished parents outside the school urged officers to go in.
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NBC News has not independently confirmed Arredondo's account. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Arredondo told the Tribune that from the hallway of the school he used his cell phone to call for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside the classroom. He said he held back from the door for 40 minutes to avoid provoking gunfire and tried dozens of keys brought to him, but that, one-by-one, they failed to work.
“Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” he told the Tribune.
In the more than two weeks since the shooting, Arredondo’s actions have come under intensifying scrutiny from both state officials and experts trained in mass shooting responses. Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, has said the school police chief, who he described as the incident commander, made the “wrong decision” to not order officers to breach the classroom more quickly to confront the gunman.
More on the Uvalde School Shooting:
But Arredondo, who told the Tribune he believed that carrying radios would slow him down as he entered the school and that he knew that radios did not work in some school buildings, 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.
“I didn’t issue any orders,” Arredondo said. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”
Arredondo has not responded to repeated interview requests and questions from The Associated Press.
Arredondo’s account and records obtained by the Times were published Thursday as law enforcement and state officials have struggled to present an accurate timeline and details. They have also made frequent corrections to previous statements, and no information about the police response has been formally released by investigators since the days that followed the attack.
About a week after the shooting, department of public safety officials said Arredondo was no longer cooperating with the agency and had not responded to interview requests from the Texas Rangers, the agency's investigative unit.
Arredondo's attorney, George E. Hyde, told the Tribune for Thursday's story that Arredondo could not do an interview on the day the Rangers asked because he was covering shifts for his officers. Hyde said Arredondo is willing to cooperate with the Rangers investigation but would like to see a transcript of his previous comments.
“That’s a fair thing to ask for before he has to then discuss it again because, as time goes by, all the information that he hears, it’s hard to keep straight,” Hyde said.
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting