UVALDE, Texas (AP) — The Uvalde School District on Wednesday fired Police Chief Pete Arredondo under mounting pressure in the grieving Texas town to punish officers for letting a Robb Elementary School gunman stay. in a fourth grade classroom for over an hour with an AR-15 style rifle as 19 children and two teachers were killed.
In a unanimous vote, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees fired Arredondo to an auditorium of parents and survivors of the May 24 massacre. Arredondo, who did not attend the meeting, becomes the first officer to lose his job following one of the deadliest classroom shootings in US history.
His ousting came three months to the day after the tragedy, and less than two weeks before pupils return to school in Uvalde, where some children remain too scared or scarred to return to a classroom.
Crowd cheers followed the vote, and some parents walked out of an auditorium in tears. Outside, several Uvalde residents called for other officers to be held accountable.
“Cowardly!” some in the audience shouted as the meeting began.
Arredondo, who has been on leave from the district since June 22, has come under scrutiny from the nearly 400 officers who rushed to the school but waited more than 70 minutes to confront the 18-year-old shooter in fourth year. Classroom.
Most notably, Arredondo was criticized for not ordering officers to act sooner. Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Arredondo was responsible for law enforcement’s response to the attack.
Minutes before the Uvalde school board meeting began, Arredondo’s attorney released a scathing 4,500-word letter that was the police chief’s most comprehensive defense to date of his actions. Over 17 provocative pages, Arredondo is not a fumbling school police chief who damning state investigation accused of failing to take command and wasted time looking for the keys to a door that was probably unlocked, but a brave officer whose measured decisions saved the lives of other students.
He alleges that Arredondo warned the district about various school safety issues a year before the shooting and claimed he was not responsible for the scene. The letter also accused Uvalde school officials of putting his safety at risk by not letting him carry a gun to the school board meeting if he were to attend, citing “legitimate risks of harm to the public and Chief Arredondo”.
“Chief Arredondo is a courageous leader and officer who, along with all other law enforcement officers who responded to the scene, should be celebrated for the lives saved, not vilified for those they could not reach in time,” George Hyde wrote. .
After the vote, Hyde’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Uvalde school officials have come under increasing pressure from the families of the victims and members of the community, many of whom have called for Arredondo to be fired. Superintendent Hal Harrell initially decided to fire Arredondo in July, but postponed the decision at the request of the police chief’s attorney.
Among those present at the meeting was Ruben Torres, father of Chloe Torres, who survived the shooting in room 112 at the school. He said that as a former Marine, he took an oath which he faithfully carried out of his own free will and did not understand why officers did not step in when leadership failed.
“Right now, being young, she’s having a hard time dealing with this horrible event,” Torres said.
Shirley Zamora, the mother of a Robb Elementary student, said the liability should not end with Arredondo being fired.
“It will only be the beginning. It’s a long process,” she said.
Only one other officer – Lt. Mariano Pargas of the Uvalde Police Department, 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 on the scene, also opened an internal investigation in the state police response. State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde, said McCraw, the state police chief, also deserves scrutiny.
“You fail at something so bad that people get hurt, so certainly we have to have a bigger responsibility,” he said. “And responsibility means losing your job, so be it.”
School officials said the Robb Elementary campus will no longer be used when students return Sept. 6. Instead, campuses elsewhere in Uvalde will serve as temporary classrooms for elementary 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 to students. The district did not specify how many students will participate virtually, but a new state law passed last year in Texas in the wake of the pandemic limits the number of eligible students receiving remote instruction to “10% of all students enrolled in a given school system”.
Schools can request a waiver to exceed the limit, but Uvalde has not done so, according to the Texas Education Agency.
According to the school district, new measures to improve school safety in Uvalde include “non-scalable 8-foot perimeter fencing” on elementary, middle and high school campuses. Officials say they have also installed additional security cameras, upgraded locks, improved training for district staff and improved communication.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
For more AP coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting