Only a locked classroom door stood between Uvalde, Tx., school police chief Pete Arredondo and a chance to bring down the gunman. It was built with a steel jamb, impossible to kick in. He needed one key to get through that door to the kids and the teachers. Arredondo thought he could shoot the gunman, armed with an AR-15, himself or at least draw fire while another officer shot back. Without body armor, he assumed he might die. Arredondo spent more than an hour in the hallway of Robb Elementary School, calling 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 one by one they failed to work, he tells the Texas Tribune. Finally, 77 minutes after the massacre began, officers were able to unlock the door and kill the gunman. Arredondo, 50, insists he took the steps he thought would best protect lives at his hometown school that he had attended himself as a boy. He noted that 500 students from the school were safely evacuated during the crisis.
Arredondo’s decisions are under intense scrutiny as federal and state officials try to decide what went wrong. Whether the inability of police to enter the classroom quickly prevented the 21 victims from getting life-saving care is not known, and may never be. There’s evidence, including the fact that a teacher died en route to a hospital, that suggests taking down the shooter faster might have made a difference. On the other hand, many victims likely died instantly. Arredondo has been singled out for much of the blame. Texas officials said he made the “wrong decision” that delayed officers from entering the classroom. Arredondo disagrees, saying, “Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children.” Critics told the Tribune that by running into the school with no key and no radios and failing to take charge of the situation, the chief appears to have contributed to a chaotic approach in which officers used inappropriate tactics, adopted a defensive posture, failed to coordinate their actions, and wasted precious time as students and teachers remained trapped in two classrooms with a gunman who continued to fire.