UVALDE, Texas (CN) — At a tense public meeting on Wednesday, the Uvalde school board voted unanimously to fire school police chief Pete Arredondo as part of the ongoing fallout over a mass shooting at a local elementary school in May.
After more than an hour in closed session, board member Laura Perez said there was "good cause" to fire the controversial police chief "effective immediately." The motion prompted applause from the audience — and after all other board members voted for it, the meeting quickly adjourned.
The shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde on May 24 killed 21 people — making it the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, as well as the deadliest school shooting since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012. As with Sandy Hook, many of the victims were small children.
Though technically in charge of the response, Arredondo has been widely condemned for what critics say were key tactical errors. Among other things, he classified the shooting as a “barricaded subject” rather than “active shooter” incident — giving responding law enforcement the false impression that they could move slowly and deliberately in rescuing children and securing the school.
More than 375 officers from 23 different agencies responded to the scene — and yet it took authorities more than an hour to confront and kill the attacker. Critics have argued that were it not for the sluggish response, more lives inside of Robb Elementary could have been saved.
An investigation by Texas lawmakers determined there were “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making” both leading up to and during the day of the killings. Few officials have provoked the wrath of local parents quite like Pete Arredondo.
As police chief for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, Arredondo had appointed himself “incident commander” in the district’s active shooter plan, charged with coordinating response efforts. In spite of this, Arredondo later said he didn’t know he was in charge on the day of the shooting.
Although Arredondo was one of the first officers inside the school, he quickly retreated after taking fire. Afterwards, he reportedly spent around an hour looking for a master key to the school.
“Each time I tried a key" to get into a classroom where the shooter was, he told The Texas Tribune, “I was just praying." Subsequent revelations cast doubt on much of Arredondo's story.
The principal of Robb Elementary had a master key to the school — and “yet despite all the effort to find a key, nobody called her,” the Texas House investigation found. Meanwhile, surveillance video revealed that Arredondo had not in fact tried to open the door, which was probably not locked anyway.
Wednesday's meeting started with a moment of silence, then with a prayer. James Garza, a pastor at Risen Community Church and math teacher at Uvalde High School, prayed for "healing and restoration for our community as a whole."
"Lord, there's so much hurt in these last months. We want to see those things changed," Garza said. "Lord, I just ask that you help rebuild trust in our community, camaraderie in our community."
As the public-comment period started, the rage in the room was palpable. Speakers were limited to one minute. Brett Cross, whose 10-year-old nephew Uziyah Garcia was killed in the shooting, told the board "these time limits ain't going to work."
"We’ve seen this trend where you take comments from people that are here, then go into closed session," Cross said. Closed sessions did not provide needed transparency to grieving families," he said, and "that needs to stop."
In Texas, decisions on firing public employees are typically done in closed session. Without Arredondo's approval, they needed to go into closed session, one board member explained to the audience.
Arredondo, who was placed on administrative leave in June, was not present at the meeting. In a statement released shortly beforehand, he said he would not "participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching." He asked the board to reinstate him "with all backpay and benefits."
Instead, the board fired him — siding with outraged parents and community members who have called for his removal. During public comments, one small girl prompted a standing ovation when she called on Arredondo and other officers to "turn in your badge and step down" because "you don't deserve to wear one."
Another speaker urged the board "do the right thing" and fire Arredondo.
"If you want the community and families to start healing," that speaker said, "you just have to terminate him."
Arredondo is hardly the only official taking heat in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting.
Although a local gun store that sold weapons to the killer claimed there were no red flags, other patrons at the store told the FBI he had “bad vibes,” seemed “very nervous” and “looked like one of those school shooters.”
Local police have also been criticized for missing violent and threatening warning signs. A few months before the shooting, the killer allegedly drove around Uvalde with another person, displaying a dead cat in a plastic bag.
Then, there’s criticisms of Uvalde’s local school district. The district had received accolades for its detailed active-shooter plan — but when faced with an actual shooter, those plans were all for naught.
Although Robb Elementary was supposed to keep its doors locked, there was a “culture of noncompliance” in the district, the House investigation found. Administrators and school police "tacitly condoned" keeping doors unlocked or propped open.
One door — which Arredondo falsely claimed to have tried opening, and which the killer apparently used to enter a classroom — was known by teachers and administrators to have a faulty lock, the investigation found. On Monday, victims of the shooting served the Uvalde school district with a $27 billion lawsuit.
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