The first publicly released body-worn camera videos from officers at the Robb Elementary School massacre show Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the school district’s police chief, at the center of the police response: giving orders, conveying and receiving information, and officers deferring to his position when confused over their roles or response to the shooting.
The videos, together with other documents released so far, undermine Arredondo’s claim that he did not consider himself to be in command that afternoon. The footage shows officers taking their cues from him, waiting on his direction and Arredondo coordinating officers in the hallway outside the classroom where the shooter killed 19 students and two teachers.
Officers followed him where he went and referred to “Pete” being in command when others had ideas for how to approach the situation, body-worn camera footage from an Uvalde police sergeant shows. At one point, Arredondo said that people would wonder why officers were taking so long, and then explained himself.
“People are going to ask why we’re taking so long,” he said. “We’re just trying to preserve the rest of the life.”
Two reviews of the police response – by state legislators and the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University – have faulted Arredondo, though neither of those reports is considered a complete accounting of the day and its failures. And despite the release last week of the videos – by a Texas House of Representatives investigative committee – officials from Uvalde and other government agencies across Texas still haven’t released any raw or unedited footage or accounting of the police response that day.
Arredondo has not spoken substantively to the public about his actions that day and he has declined CNN requests for comment. His lawyer, who has not responded to CNN requests for comment, told the Texas Tribune that Arredondo was not the “incident commander.”
Arredondo told the House investigative committee that he did not “consider himself to have assumed incident command,” according to the legislative report – which quoted the chief as saying, “My approach and thought was responding as a police officer. And so I didn’t title myself.”
“As far as … I’m talking about the command part … the people that went in, there was a big group of them outside that door,” the chief told the committee, according to its report. “I have no idea who they were and how they walked in or anything. I kind of … wasn’t given that direction.”
The report said, “To the extent any officers considered Chief Arredondo to be the overall incident commander, they also should have recognized that was inconsistent with him remaining inside the building.”
The body-worn camera footage released last week shows Arredondo, leader of the district’s five-person police department at the time, among the officers who approached the door to a classroom where the shooter had opened fire. He and the others took fire before retreating.
Arredondo remained in the hallway and provided updates to dispatchers, requested resources throughout the morning and early afternoon, directed the position of a sniper, gave an assignment to keep clearing rooms, made assignments when attempting to key into a neighboring classroom and told a team of officers to “have at it” if they were ready to go.
“A lot of folks not acting were not acting because they were expecting or that they would be told what they should be doing,” said Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association. “I guess he can argue forever, ‘I didn’t think I was in command, just went in there trying to be one of the boys.’ Maybe. But you still had four stars on your shoulder, still telling people what to do and not to do, had the sergeant telling people ‘chief’s in there.’ There’s enough influence there that it had an impact, none of it good.”
And as officers nearby appeared to defer to his rank and position near the shooter, the preliminary report by the Texas House investigative committee faulted Arredondo for failing to “perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander. This was an essential duty he had assigned to himself in the plan … yet it was not performed effectively by anyone.”
“A complete cop out. That’s him trying to justify after the fact why he is not responsible for what happened,” said Bill Francis, a former FBI agent who was a leader on the bureau’s elite Hostage Rescue Team for 17 years, referring to Arredondo’s claim that he was not in charge. “He absolutely, in my opinion, considered himself in charge when he was in there. And he just made a series of bad decisions.”
Arredondo, who has nearly three decades of experience in law enforcement, has since been placed on unpaid leave, while the school board considers firing him. In addition, the city of Uvalde placed a police lieutenant, who was the city department’s acting chief that day, on administrative leave while it determines whether he should have assumed command. It’s not clear whether anyone else is on leave; city officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Chief, ‘fumbling’ with radios, drops them before entering school
The footage taken from the body cameras of four officers, released by the city of Uvalde last week, presents an incomplete picture of the police department’s response. But they were the first body-worn camera videos to be released by any agency. Twenty-five of its officers responded to the shooting.
The footage shows the chaotic early moments, with officers from the city and school district police departments converging on the school within the first couple minutes of the shooting.
Arredondo, whose officers normally carry a radio to communicate among the schools and another to monitor local police frequencies, “was fumbling with (his two radios) and they bothered him, so he dropped them by the school fence knowing that Sgt. (Daniel) Coronado, the sergeant on patrol, was there and ‘fully uniformed’ with his radio,” according to the Texas House committee report.
Footage from the camera of that sergeant provides the clearest picture yet of Arredondo’s role in the overall law enforcement response to the shooting. The edited portion of the video, about 75 minutes long, starts with Uvalde Police Sgt. Daniel Coronado running through the school campus.
Along the way, someone shouts at them from a building, Coronado shouts a warning to someone to be careful and pauses to share information with a dispatcher. While he’s talking, they hear gunfire and begin running toward the building where the shooter is already inside a classroom. Coronado approaches the school on the same side as Arredondo and two other police officers.
At 11:36 a.m. on May 24, Coronado’s body-worn camera captures him rushing into a blue-and-green corridor at Robb Elementary. He comes upon Arredondo – who is standing with another officer, guns in hand – as gun smoke and drywall dust blurs the Lone Star State flag above them. It’s one of the first recorded glimpses of the chief on the day of the massacre.
About the same time, another group of officers approaches from the north. Both groups, eleven officers in total, move down the hallway toward the classroom door where they encounter gunfire. They collectively retreat without returning fire or attempting to open the door where the shooter is located.
Coronado breathes heavily as his body camera pans over a bulletin board with a colorful collage of student art just two days before the summer break.
“Take cover, guys,” one officer says.
Chief’s ‘in charge right now,’ sergeant says
Coronado later makes his way outside the squat, stone-and-buff-brick school building, where he speaks with other officers.
Coronado – the sergeant from a different agency who Arredondo said was “fully uniformed” in offering his testimony for leaving his radios behind – retreats out the south door of the school and begins coordinating incoming resources.
“Chief is in there,” Coronado tells officers taking cover outside the school at 11:51 a.m. “He’s in charge right now. Hold on.”
Minutes later, Coronado asks a plainclothes officer, “But chief is making contact, right?” presumably referring to the shooter.
“No. No one’s making contact with him.”
It’s not clear from any of Coronado’s footage or other footage released if Arredondo had any contact with the sergeant outside – but Arredondo wasn’t carrying a radio, didn’t appear to utilize a runner with the sergeant outside who had radio contact with dispatchers.
“As the incident commander, that is his most important weapon. He could drop his gun. He could drop his body armor. He could drop all that, but he can’t drop that radio. That’s his most important tool,” Francis said. “His job is not to neutralize the gunman. It’s not to evacuate the kids. It’s not to negotiate with the gunman. It’s to direct everyone in a coordinated effort to save lives.”
The information typically shared over radios isn’t just useful to people speaking to each other. Any responding officer listening to their radio can use the information – the facts, but also the cadence of their delivery, the tone of voice, the background noise – to evaluate the situation and mentally prepare for what they’re encountering. Dispatchers can also use that to coordinate resources from other agencies, even those outside law enforcement.
‘This could be peaceful. Could you tell me your name?’
During the siege, children made multiple phone calls to the police as officers waited in the hallway. An 11-year-old girl who survived said she smeared herself in the blood of a dead classmate and played dead. That information was also conveyed to officers on scene, through radios.
“You can’t have a good picture of what’s happening overall. If you’re in that fight you just get tunnel vision on your little piece of the pie … He has no situational awareness of what’s going on outside, what’s happening at other potential breach points. The intel that’s coming over the phone from the calls from the kids, because he’s actively involved in that fight, he’s unable to assess that information, to access it,” Francis said.
A public information officer for the Uvalde Police Department, and other officials, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the officers involved and the scope of videos released.
At various points throughout the released footage, other officers arrive and attempt to give direction or ask questions about who is in charge. But it doesn’t appear from the videos that any of those officers are in charge, either.
“Who’s the (officer in charge),” an officer asks at the other end of the hallway.
“Chief,” someone says, according to another officer’s body camera footage released by the city. “Chief Arredondo.”
The city of Uvalde didn’t release footage from two officers who were with Coronado, and it’s not clear if they wore cameras at the time. From Coronado’s video, it appears at least one of those officers remained inside with Arredondo.
Just after noon, about 30 minutes after stepping outside, Coronado is back in the school hallway. The body cam footage shows Arredondo standing with his gun in his right hand – just below his waist – and cellphone to his ear in the other. Three officers with rifles stand to his left, looking down the corridor to the classroom where the gunman is holed up.
An officer tries to communicate with the shooter: “This could be peaceful. Could you tell me your name.”
Arredondo is heard talking about a master key. At 12:12 p.m., the chief says into his phone, while talking about clearing kids from classrooms: “You keep on doing that on that side.”
Minutes later, Coronado’s body camera captures Arredondo standing in the hall talking to a group of at least four officers crouching for cover at a school entrance, one of them peering through the bullet-resistant glass of a ballistic shield. The chief is talking about a sniper and pointing in different directions.
“He’s going to have vision on us,” says Arredondo, standing across the hall from a yellow bulletin board with construction paper cutouts of tiny hands and the words, “Together we can change the world.” Next to him is a sign that says, “Congratulations Class of 2022.”
Chief barks orders: ‘Get these kids out’
Arredondo, his sunglasses perched on the back of his bald head, is back on the phone a few minutes later. He appears to give orders, ends the call and waves over officers at the end of the hall.
“Careful chief, I’m right behind,” Coronado says as Arredondo takes a few steps toward a classroom on the other side of the hall, a set of keys in his hand. He tries to open to the door without success, one key after another, then turns around.
“Tell them to f**king wait. No one comes in,” he says at one point.
At least five officers, several carrying rifles and one a ballistic shield, stand in line behind the chief as he tries the rest of the keys. Coronado, at Arredondo’s direction, stands near where the door would first crack open if the keys worked. But they don’t.
“F**k,” someone says. Another officer tries to pry the door open with a knife or a tool. Two officers lie flat on the floor nearby, rifles pointed down the hall. In all, at least 10 officers are in position around the chief.
At 12:21 p.m., moments after Arredondo asks for a breaching tool, a volley of four shots echoes through the hallway. The officers take cover. The chief tries to communicate with the shooter.
“Can you hear me, sir? Can you hear me, sir?”
About a minute later, Arredondo barks orders.
“How about this, guys, break this window and get these kids out,” he says.
“We’re going to get these kids out,” another officer agrees. Yet another lawman reminds them that they need a breaching tool.
“If he starts shooting, we’re going to get more kids,” an officer says, apparently referring to additional deaths if the rampage continues.
“You’re right,” one officer says.
The wait and the siege continue
Arredondo again directs his attention to the shooter.
“Sir, if you can hear me, please put your firearm down, sir. We don’t want anybody else hurt.”
The chief tells other officers, “That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to get him out.”
Arredondo yells at the gunman again: “Sir, if you can hear, please put the gun down. We don’t want anybody else hurt.”
“Tell him in Spanish,” someone says.
In Spanish, Arredondo says: “If you can hear me, put the weapon on the ground. We don’t want any more injuries. Please respond.”
The chief asks officers for an update, “Let me know when the room is clear.”
“A teacher is shot in there,” someone says later.
“Chief, that room is clear,” one officer reports at 12:27 p.m.
It’s unclear if Arredondo is on the phone again but he can be heard saying, “People are going to ask why it’s taking so long. We’re trying to preserve the rest of the life first. So that’s what we’re doing.”
“Team ready to go? Got a team ready to go?” the chief asks officers moments later. “Have at it.”
“F**k, we don’t have a key,” one officer says seconds later. “He probably has it barricaded anyway.”
Arredondo gets on his phone.
“I’m going to get more keys,” he says, adding that the master keys are not opening the doors.
Just before 12:30 p.m., now off the phone, the chief is heard apparently formulating a plan and assigning roles.
“We’re ready to breach,” he tells a tactical officer in the hall. “But that door is locked.”
Still, the wait continues.
‘There are some injuries in there’
US Marshals and other tactical officers move down the hall.
“We’re going to get a door jammer real quick,” Arredondo tells them.
At 12:33 p.m., Arredondo is on his phone. He talks about getting a key and opening the door or having officers shoot “his f**king head off” through the classroom window.
“Offer that to them because going in through the door is going to be harder than popping him through the window,” he says. “Something to think about if they can get a shot.”
At 12:38 p.m. Arredondo and another officer again try to engage the gunman in English and Spanish – this time referring to him by his last name.
“Can you hear us sir. Please don’t hurt anyone. These are innocent children. Please put your firearm down. We don’t want anybody else hurt. Can you hear me, sir? Please put your firearm down,” the chief says.
No response is heard, according to the footage.
At 12:42 p.m. Arredondo is back on the phone: “Just so you understand, I think there are some injuries in there. And what we did, we cleared off the rest of the building so we wouldn’t have any more besides what’s in there, obviously.”
Four minutes later, Arredondo says into his phone: “If you all are ready to do it, you do it. But you should distract him out that window.”
The chief, at 12:47 p.m., informs the officers around him, “He’s going in! He’s going in! … Let them know!” It’s unclear who he is referring to.
Border Patrol tactical officers breached the classroom door three minutes later – at 12:50 p.m. – and killed the gunman. Nineteen students and two teachers were dead. Notably, city officials did not release video of this.
‘Failure point was in the individuals’
A state of confusion and chaos is broadly predictable in active-shooter situations, and police who go through related training are taught to improvise to accomplish their two primary responsibilities: stopping the killing and stopping the dying.
“The video also does give a lot more clarity as to how much chaos there was, and there was a lot. That type of chaos, that many people, from that many agencies, absolutely contributes to a lot of inaction,” said Eells, of the National Tactical Officers Association. “Particularly, the assisting agencies aren’t going to be as quick to assume command, control, initiative and go do things on their own, without trying to deconflict, without trying to establish some communication, to talk about what has been done, what hasn’t been done, what do you know, whose done this, whose done that. It’s going to take time, and if you’re not getting answers quickly, the timeline gets drawn out longer.”
Though Arredondo told the committee his approach would have changed if he knew victims were inside, the committee concluded that Arredondo’s approach never changed, “despite evidence that Chief Arredondo’s perspective evolved to a later understanding that fatalities and injuries within the classrooms were a very strong probability.”
But the early problems officers encountered – unclear location on the gunman, multiple agencies on scene, Arredondo dropping his radios to run toward the school – don’t absolve police of their responsibility here, Eells says. It doesn’t change their responsibilities. Police should know that training is different than real life, and to be able to “really step it up” when they encounter something like this, according to Eells.
“You can’t say they weren’t trained, they had training. You can’t say they didn’t have the right equipment, they had the right equipment. The failure point was in the individuals,” Eells said. “You can’t set out and recreate something as messed up on so many levels as this is. Just a complete failure.”
Though Arredondo has drawn the most scorn for his conduct as chief of police that day, the state report also faulted ranking members of other agencies (though not by name) for not assuming command once they arrived and encountered an obvious state of chaos.
A lieutenant from the Uvalde city police department, and the sergeant who was the commander of the city police department’s SWAT team, were also among the first on scene. Within a few minutes, officers from other agencies started to arrive.
“Despite an obvious atmosphere of chaos, the ranking officers of other responding agencies did not approach the Uvalde CISD chief of police or anyone else perceived to be in command to point out the lack of and need for a command post, or to offer that specific assistance,” according to the legislative report.
The lieutenant acting as chief of the Uvalde Police Department was in the building early in the police response but testified before the Texas House Investigative Committee that “he was never in communication with Chief Arredondo, and that he was unaware of any communication with officers on the south side of the building” and that “he figured that Chief Arredondo had jurisdiction over the incident and that he must have been coordinating the law enforcement response.”
All told, almost 400 officers from two dozen agencies would arrive. It’s a predictable outcome in an active-shooter event. That’s why the state agency that trains officers emphasizes the importance of tight command and communication as the police response balloons during a mass-casualty incident.
“If I didn’t know better, it’s almost as if they were intentionally trying to screw up, it’s so bad. I know they weren’t, I know there’s no willful malice, but it’s that bad,” Eells said. “It’s that far off of what you’d expect, what I’d expect as a law enforcement professional. I’d never in my entire life fathom that we, as a profession, would fail so horribly across the board.”