Indictment accuses former Uvalde schools police chief of delays while shooter was 'hunting' children

ByJIM VERTUNO AP logo
Friday, June 28, 2024
Indictment accuses former Uvalde schools police chief of delays
The police chief for schools in Uvalde, Texas, made critical decisions that slowed the law enforcement response to stop a gunman who was "hunting" victims and ultimately killed 21 people at Robb Elementary, according to an indictment.

AUSTIN, Texas -- The police chief for schools in Uvalde, Texas, failed to identify an active shooting, did not follow his training and made critical decisions that slowed the law enforcement response to stop a gunman who was "hunting" victims and ultimately killed 21 people at Robb Elementary, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.

Pete Arredondo was arrested and briefly booked into the Uvalde County jail before he was released Thursday night on 10 state jail felony counts of abandoning or endangering a child in the May 24, 2022, attack that killed 19 children and two teachers. Former school officer Adrian Gonzales also was indicted on similar charges, the Uvalde Leader-News and the San Antonio Express-News reported, but that indictment was not yet public.

Arredondo and Gonzales are the first officers to be criminally charged for the police response to one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, and the indictments from a Uvalde County grand jury follow two years of calls from some families for such action.

The first U.S. law enforcement officer ever tried for allegedly failing to act during an on-campus shooting was a campus sheriff's deputy in Florida who didn't go into the classroom building and confront the perpetrator of the 2018 Parkland massacre. The deputy, who was fired, was acquitted of felony neglect last year. A lawsuit by the victims' families and survivors is pending.

The indictment against Arredondo, who was the on-site commander at the shooting, accused the chief of delaying the police response despite hearing shots fired and being notified that injured children were in the classrooms and that a teacher had been shot. Arredondo called for a SWAT team, ordered the initial responding officers to leave the building, and attempted to negotiate with the 18-year-old gunman, the indictment said.

Pete Arredondo
Pete Arredondo is seen at Robb Elementary School on May 26, 2022, left, and in a booking photo provided by the Uvalde County Sheriff's Office, right.
Uvalde County Sheriff's Office via AP

"After being advised that a child or children were injured in a class at Robb Elementary School (Arredondo) failed to identify the incident as an active shooter incident and failed to respond as trained to an active shooter incident and instead directed law enforcement officers to evacuate the wing before confronting the shooter thereby delaying the response by law enforcement officers to an active shooter who was hunting and shooting a child or children," the indictment said.

More than 370 federal, state and local officers converged on Robb Elementary, but they waited more than 70 minutes before confronting the shooter, even as the gunman could be heard firing an AR-15-style rifle. Terrified students inside the classroom called 911 as agonized parents begged officers - some of whom could hear shots being fired while they stood in a hallway - to go in. A tactical team of officers eventually went into the classroom and killed the shooter.

The indictment charges Arredondo with failing to protect survivors of the attack, including Khloie Torres, who called 911 and begged for help, telling a dispatcher, "Please hurry. There's a lot of dead bodies. Some of my teachers are still alive but they're shot."

The charges carry up to two years in jail if convicted. Arredondo does not have a listed phone number and the court clerk had no record of an attorney for him.

In an interview with the Texas Tribune two weeks after the shooting, Arredondo insisted to took the steps he thought would best protect the lives of students and teachers.

"My mind was to get there as fast as possible, eliminate any threats, and protect the students and staff," he told the newspaper.

Since then, scathing state and federal investigative reports on the police response have catalogued "cascading failures" in training, communication, leadership and technology problems.

Arredondo lost his job three months after the shooting. Several officers involved were eventually fired, and separate investigations by the Department of Justice and state lawmakers alleged law enforcement botched their response to the massacre.

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said the investigation should not stop with the two indictments against the school officers. Gutierrez has been critical of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the head of the agency, Steve McCraw, who testified before the grand jury in February.

It was unclear Friday whether the grand jury considered indictments against any other officers.

"Every single officer that stood down that day must be held accountable," Gutierrez said. We can't rest until we have justice."

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Associated Press journalist Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., contributed to this report