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Uvalde under scrutiny: What we know about key figures connected to the massacre response

New details keep emerging about those at the center of controversy. Here’s what we know about officials in charge and officers who have been ousted.

The inexplicable slaughter of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School propelled law enforcement officers, public officials and school administrators into the national spotlight.

Some grieving families are haunted by the chance some of the victims might have been saved had authorities not waited over an hour to enter the scene of carnage. At least two slain victims were still alive while police waited outside.

Officials have repeatedly changed their stories of what happened during the deadliest US school shooting in almost a decade. Now, several key figures are under public scrutiny for their actions before, during or after the May 24 massacre in two adjoining classrooms in Uvalde, Texas.

Here’s what we know about them – and how they’ve responded:

Texas Department of Public Safety

Its connection to the massacre: More than 90 Texas DPS officers responded to the scene – the most from any agency except for the US Border Patrol, according to a report by a state House of Representatives investigative committee.

Texas DPS is also the state agency investigating law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde massacre. The agency includes the Texas Rangers, an investigative branch of the Texas DPS.

Why it's under scrutiny: Victims’ families have denounced the dozens of DPS officers who responded to the scene but did not try to immediately stop the gunman.

Seven DPS officers have been referred to the agency’s inspector general for their actions – or inaction – at the scene.

One DPS trooper who arrived at the scene minutes after the massacre started was outside the school during part of the response and said she wouldn’t have been outside if her own son were in the school.

The latest: Several DPS officers have been under investigation, and at least one has been fired.

Sgt. Juan Maldonado has been served termination papers, a DPS spokesperson said in October. The agency did not disclose its grounds for termination, but sources told CNN that Maldonado was fired over his role in the response to the massacre.

Capt. Joel Betancourt is under investigation after he tried to delay a team of officers from entering the classrooms, telling investigators he thought a more skilled team was on its way.

Texas Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell is under investigation after surveillance footage and bodycam footage showed him speaking on the phone and, at one time, apparently offering to negotiate with the gunman. (The DPS director has chastised attempts by the school district police chief to negotiate with the shooter, saying it was the “wrong decision.”)

Sources said Kindell told investigators he was focused on providing his bosses with updates and did not discuss options to breach the classrooms.

Maldonado, Betancourt and Kindell have either declined to comment or not responded when contacted by CNN.

Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Col. Steven McCraw

Title: Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott)

His connection to the massacre: McCraw leads the state agency investigating authorities’ response to the Uvalde massacre.

He called the law enforcement response “an abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.

McCraw identified the incident commander as the school district police chief and slammed the chief’s decision to not immediately breach the classroom door. Officers waited in or around a hallway for more than an hour after the shooting began.

“It was the wrong decision, period,” McCraw said. “There’s no excuse for that.”

But the House investigative report said others could have assumed command and that 91 DPS officers were among the 361 responders at the scene.

Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training “teaches that any law enforcement officer can assume command, that somebody must assume command, and that an incident commander can transfer responsibility as an incident develops,” the report says.

Why he’s under scrutiny: Evidence shows members of McCraw’s own agency were among the first to respond to the scene – but did not attempt to stop the gunman.

Seven DPS officers have been referred to the agency’s inspector general for their actions – or inaction – at the scene.

Initially, McCraw said one trooper had entered the hallway at 11:42 a.m., or nine minutes after the shooter entered the school. But Uvalde police bodycam video showed a DPS trooper at the west entrance of the school at 11:37:51 – about five minutes earlier than previously acknowledged.

A DPS trooper was on scene outside Robb Elementary just 2 minutes and 28 seconds after the gunman entered, CNN was first to report August 2.

The head of Texas’ largest police union has called for an “outside independent source” to investigate DPS’ role in the shooting aftermath.

"I don't know that we can trust (DPS) to do an internal investigation," said Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, which represents some law enforcement officers in Uvalde. "I would say that DPS was fast to wash its hands, to point fingers and to make sure that the general public, particularly the elected officials, knew that they were spotless, blameless and that this was a local problem.”

The latest: In October, five months after the massacre, McCraw admitted some DPS officers “absolutely” failed in their response. But he also said DPS “did not fail the community.”

“If DPS as an institution failed the families, failed the school, or failed the community of Uvalde, then absolutely, I need to go,” McCraw said at a Texas Public Safety Commission meeting. “But I can tell you this right now: DPS as an institution right now did not fail the community, plain and simple.”

McCraw in September had vowed to “tender (his) resignation to the governor” if his department is found to have any culpability related to the shooting.

Brett Cross was among the victims’ relatives who attended the meeting and demanded McCraw’s resignation or termination by the governor. He said McCraw contradicted himself by saying DPS did not fail, but officers from his agency did.

“Therefore, DPS failed,” Cross told McCraw. “Therefore, there is culpability. Therefore, if you’re a man of your word, then you would retire.”

Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis/Getty Images

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District

Its connection to the massacre: The district’s elected seven-person school board oversees (and has the power to terminate) the superintendent, the district police chief and principals. It can also announce new measures to improve school safety.

Why it's under scrutiny: Victims’ families have lambasted the school district for months, demanding the removal of Superintendent Hal Harrell; the immediate firing of district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo; and the prompt sidelining of the other school officers who responded to the massacre but didn’t try to quickly stop the gunman.

Five Uvalde school district police officers responded to the scene of the May massacre, according to the Texas House investigative report.

At an August school board meeting, Diana Olvedo-Karau was frustrated to see some of the responding officers still working in the field.

“You have four officers, some of them are here tonight," she said. “And we continue to see them on duty getting paid as if nothing happened on May 24.”

Brett Cross lost his 10-year-old nephew Uziyah Garcia in the massacre. He was raising Uziyah like a son.

"All of the school board needs to be gone," Cross told CNN.

At the August 8 school board meeting, a member of the public asked the superintendent if he had thought about conducting an independent investigation.

“I have not," Harrell said. "But I'll look into that."

The latest: In October, the superintendent announced his retirement. The school board accepted Harrell’s retirement on October 19 and named Gary Patterson as the interim superintendent.

“The school board and I will do our best to ensure a smooth transition,” Harrell wrote in an October 24 message to the community. “Gary Patterson will be the Uvalde CISD interim superintendent beginning November 1st, and I will transition into Superintendent Emeritus status.”

On October 7, the Uvalde school district suspended its entire police force and put two district officials on leave.

The district cited unspecified “recent developments” that “uncovered additional concerns with department operations.”

“The District has made the decision to suspend all activities of the Uvalde CISD Police Department for a period of time. Officers currently employed will fill other roles in the district,” the Uvalde CISD said in a statement.

“The District has requested the Texas Department of Public Safety to provide additional troopers for campus and extra-curricular activities,” the statement said. “We are confident that staff and student safety will not be compromised during this transition.”

And after months of pressure from community members, the school board voted unanimously in August to fire school district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo.

Before the start of this school year, the Uvalde school district announced a series of new safety measures. Those new measures include hiring 10 additional school police officers, adding metal detectors and identifying one point of entry for each school.

The superintendent also announced the installation of 500 security cameras; the assignment of 33 Texas DPS officers to the Uvalde school district in the new school year; and a search for an interim police chief who can audit the department.

But parents like Adam Martinez were skeptical about whether more police would actually help. "Who cares about the officers?” he said his son told him. “They didn't go in anyway. They're scared."

Martinez said community members have filed at least six grievances against the school board and Harrell.

Photo: Eric Gay/AP

Crimson Elizondo

Title: Former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper and former Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police officer

Her connection to the massacre: Elizondo was one of the first Texas DPS troopers to arrive at the scene, less than two minutes after the gunman entered the school. She was outside the school for part of the response and was heard on bodycam video saying she would have reacted differently if her own son were inside the school.

Why she’s under scrutiny: Elizondo has been under investigation by the Texas DPS for her response to the massacre but was still hired by the Uvalde school district as a district police officer.

Elizondo also came under criticism after CNN reported what she said in bodycam audio during the response. After another officer asked Elizondo whether her son was OK, she told him her son was not yet old enough for school.

“If my son had been in there, I would not have been outside. I promise you that,” she said.

Elizondo has declined CNN’s request for comment.

The latest: The Uvalde school district fired Elizondo after CNN identified her as one of the officers under investigation for her actions the day of the massacre.

The school district also cited the audio and publicly apologized “for the pain that this revelation has caused.”

“Ms. Elizondo’s statement in the audio is not consistent with the District’s expectations.”

Photo: Uvalde CISD Police Department

Pedro “Pete” Arredondo

Title: Former Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police chief and former Uvalde City Council member

His connection to the massacre: Arredondo was one of the first officers to enter Robb Elementary School after the gunfire started. As the school district’s police chief at the time, Arredondo was the de facto incident commander at the scene, state investigators and law enforcement analysts said.

Arredondo has said he did not consider himself to be the incident commander. But police bodycam footage showed Arredondo giving orders to other officers multiple times during the police response.

Arredondo wrote the school district’s active shooter policy, which said the school district’s police chief would be the incident commander, according to a Texas state House of Representatives investigative report.

Why he’s under scrutiny: Victims’ families, state investigators and law enforcement experts have lambasted Arredondo’s decision to not immediately enter the classroom where the gunman was holed up. Instead, it took more than 70 minutes after police first arrived before law enforcement, including members of a Border Patrol unit, eventually entered the classroom and killed the gunman.

It’s not clear how many of the 21 slain victims could have been saved had police entered sooner. During the police response, one of the wounded teachers called her husband to say she had been shot. She later died.

“(G)iven the information known about victims who survived through the time of the breach and who later died on the way to the hospital, it is plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait 73 additional minutes for rescue,” according to the Texas House report.

While the investigative report pointed to Arredondo's inaction, it also cited failures by more than a dozen law enforcement agencies and the hundreds of law enforcement officers present.

Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training "teaches that any law enforcement officer can assume command, that somebody must assume command, and that an incident commander can transfer responsibility as an incident develops," the report said. "That did not happen at Robb Elementary, and the lack of effective incident command is a major factor that caused other vital measures to be left undone."

The latest: Arredondo spent much of the summer on unpaid administrative leave before he was fired by the Uvalde CISD school board on August 24 – exactly three months after the massacre.

Parents in Uvalde had demanded Arredondo’s termination for weeks and denounced the school board for not firing him sooner. Previous termination hearings had been postponed at the request of Arredondo or his attorney.

Arredondo didn’t show up to the August 24 meeting at which he was fired. Before the meeting started, his attorney George Hyde sent a 17-page press statement claiming a letter from the school district suspending Arredondo without pay doesn’t count as an official “complaint” required by law to consider termination.

“Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching and respectfully requests the Board immediately reinstate him, with all backpay and benefits and close the complaint as unfounded,” the statement said.

The school board voted unanimously to fire Arredondo. The Uvalde school district has been searching for an interim police chief.

Separately, Arredondo was elected to the Uvalde City Council weeks before the massacre. Following criticism of his response to the shooting, Arredondo was privately sworn in as a city council member on May 31. About a month later, Arredondo resigned from the city council. He wrote in a letter that he wanted “to minimize further distractions.”

Photo: Mikala Compton/USA Today Network

Don McLaughlin

Title: Mayor of Uvalde

His connection to the massacre: The shooting took place in his city of 15,000 people about 80 miles west of San Antonio. The mayor publicly accused the Texas Department of Public Safety – which is leading an investigation into the police response – of putting too much blame on then-Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo. McLaughlin noted DPS officers were also at the scene of the shooting; he claims DPS has tried to minimize its role during the police response.

McLaughlin released to CNN police bodycam footage that provided greater insight as to what happened in school hallways outside the classrooms during the police response.

Why he’s under scrutiny: Critics have scrutinized McLaughlin’s swearing-in of Arredondo.

About a week after the massacre, the mayor said new city council members – including Arredondo — would not be sworn in during a ceremony scheduled for May 31. But on that day, McLaughlin swore in Arredondo and others individually behind closed doors. The mayor defended the decision, saying he didn’t want a formal ceremony days after the tragedy.

McLaughlin also made headlines the day after the massacre when he shouted profanities at Beto O’Rourke during a news conference featuring Texas Gov. Greg Abbott about the shooting. O’Rourke, the governor’s Democratic challenger in this year’s gubernatorial race, approached the stage and accused Abbott of not doing enough to help prevent gun violence.

McLaughlin later told CNN he has no regrets about publicly cursing at O’Rourke.

The latest: McLaughlin is still mayor of Uvalde. He told CNN he’s worried about a cover-up by state investigators – namely, DPS Director Col. Steven McCraw – in their probe of the police response to the shooting.

“I’m not confident 100% in DPS because I think it’s a cover-up,” McLaughlin said July 5. “I lost confidence because the narrative changed from DPS so many times. And when we asked questions, we weren’t getting answers.”

The mayor also asked the US Department of Justice for an independent investigation into the law enforcement response to the massacre. A DOJ “critical incident review” is now underway.

The city of Uvalde announced on July 17 it will be “conducting an internal investigation” and has hired an outside expert to do so. McLaughlin met with families in early August to talk about the review.

“When we see that report, whatever it tells us we need to do and changes we need to make – if it tells us we need to let people go or whatever it tells us – then that’s what we will do,” McLaughlin told CNN August 9.

While it’s unlikely the report’s source materials will be released, the mayor said, he vowed to make the report public after first sharing it with victims’ families – “if I have any say in it.”

Photo: Eric Gay/AP

Lt. Mariano Pargas

Title: Uvalde Police Department lieutenant and former acting police chief

His connection to the massacre: Pargas was the city’s acting police chief on the day of the massacre.

Why he’s under scrutiny: Police bodycam footage released to CNN shows Pargas in a hallway at Robb Elementary.

At 12:11 p.m. – more than 30 minutes after gunfire started – a 911 dispatcher can be heard saying there is a child on the line describing a “room full of victims.”

That information is relayed to Pargas, who makes no audible comment.

No officers entered the classroom until about 12:50 p.m., when members of the US Border Patrol Tactical Unit went in and killed the gunman.

The latest: Pargas has been placed on administrative leave, McLaughlin said.

“This administrative leave is to investigate whether Lt. Pargas was responsible for taking command on May 24th, what specific actions Lt. Pargas took to establish that command, and whether it was even feasible given all the agencies involved and other possible policy violations,” McLaughlin said in a statement.

CNN has reached out to Pargas for comment.

Photo: Uvalde Police Department

Mandy Gutierrez

Title: Former Robb Elementary School principal

Her connection to the massacre: I heard three shots – the initial three shots,” Gutierrez told CNN.

After learning an armed man had jumped a school fence, Gutierrez said she tried to initiate a school lockdown on an app called Raptor. She also said she chose not to make an announcement on the school’s public address system, known as the PA.

Why she’s under scrutiny: A report by a Texas House investigative committee cited a “culture of non-compliance with safety policies” at Robb Elementary.

The report also said Gutierrez had difficulty initiating a lockdown on the Raptor app “because of a bad wi-fi signal.” The principal did not try to "communicate the lockdown alert over the school's intercom," the report said.

The committee said school personnel “frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks.”

Locking doors as required could have slowed the gunman’s “progress for a few precious minutes – long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker before he could massacre 19 students and two teachers,” the Texas House report said.

In a letter to the Texas House investigative committee, Gutierrez confirmed she didn’t use the PA system to inform the campus about a man jumping the school fence. The principal said she was "trained not to use the PA system" in such cases as to not "compound the problem in creating a panic situation."

"I was trained to consider the PA system as communication with perpetrators that could be used to hurt more students and teachers," Gutierrez wrote.

She acknowledged problems with spotty Wi-Fi at the school but disputed the notion that Wi-Fi problems prevented the Raptor app from working. “The problem presents itself through prolonged buffering,” Gutierrez wrote. “I encountered buffering” and did what she always did – held her phone up to a window, Gutierrez said.

At the same time, Gutierrez wrote, she called then-Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo. “He picked up the phone and was already aware of the Raptor alert. …I therefore dispute that the Wi-Fi issue prevented Raptor from providing proper notification.”

Gutierrez believes she "followed the training that I was provided with to the best of my abilities," she told CNN in an exclusive interview. “And I will second-guess myself for the rest of my life.”

The latest: On July 25, Gutierrez was suspended without pay, her attorney Ricardo Cedillo said. Three days later, she was allowed to return to work in the school district..

Javier Cazares, whose 9-year-old daughter Jacklyn “Jackie” Cazares initially survived being shot but later died at a hospital, according to her death certificate, called Gutierrez’s return to work a “slap to our faces.”

“Being the person in charge, she should’ve made sure that school was safe,” Cazares said. “And she failed at her job.”

On August 5, Superintendent Hal Harrell announced Gutierrez had accepted a new role as the school district’s assistant director of special education.

Photo: Aaron M. Sprecher/AP

Uvalde Police Department

Its connection to the massacre: While the slaughter happened at a school, 25 officers from the city’s police department also responded to the scene, a Texas House investigative report said.

Why it's under scrutiny: Some residents and law enforcement analysts say Uvalde city police and other law enforcement at the scene should have entered the adjoining classrooms immediately.

Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training "teaches that any law enforcement officer can assume command, that somebody must assume command, and that an incident commander can transfer responsibility as an incident develops.” But no law enforcement officer entered the classrooms that were full of shooting victims until more than an hour after the bloodshed started.

Among the Uvalde city police officers who waited for direction and resources were two sergeants with a combined 320 hours of SWAT training during their shared 33 years in law enforcement, state records show. Those sergeants, including the department’s SWAT commander, had also received active shooter training.

Uvalde resident Michele Prouty called for the responding city officers to be put on leave or resign.

“If any of these individuals who were on scene that day have any shred of decency, they would – at a minimum – look these families in the eyes and say that they made a horrible mistake,” Prouty said during an August 9 city council meeting.

“But at best, they should turn in their badges and move on.”

The latest: Uvalde city police Chief Daniel Rodriguez – who was on vacation the day of the massacre but rushed back shortly afterward – has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment about the calls for the 25 responding officers to be placed on leave or other criticism of his department.

In late July, the Uvalde City Council announced an investigation of every city police officer who responded to the scene.

Each officer would be interviewed by former Austin, Texas, police detective Jesse Prado, who was appointed to lead the investigation, Uvalde City Council member Ernest “Chip” King III said.

“This investigation is looking at every single officer … and basically, we’re gonna get a report on everybody,” King said at the time. “We will act on it, and we promise that to you.”

At the August 9 city council meeting, Mayor Don McLaughlin said the police department will receive additional training – but did not say what that training would include or when it would take place.

Jesse Rizo, the uncle of slain 9-year-old Jacklyn “Jackie” Cazares, said he’s skeptical about whether more police training will actually help.

“You can do all the training in the world, but if you don't have the heart, you don't have the courage, then you're not gonna go in,” he said. “That's obvious.”

Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images