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In the four weeks since a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, law enforcement agencies and state officials have given conflicting accounts of the police response, which has been criticized because officers waited more than an hour to take down the shooter.
At times, officials have had to correct, or completely retract, information they had given the public about the response to the shooting.
At the center of the controversy is Pete Arredondo, chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, who has been labeled as “incident commander” and criticized by state police for making critical errors. Earlier this month, Arredondo and his attorney gave an exclusive and exhaustive interview to The Texas Tribune detailing what unfolded in the hallway on the day of the shooting and defending his role.
This week, new details emerged about the timeline of events as media outlets including the Tribune reported on surveillance video from the hallways that day and a transcript of officers’ body cameras. In a public hearing to lawmakers Tuesday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw provided more details about the sequence of events and missed opportunities.
At least three investigations — from the U.S. Department of Justice, a Texas House investigative committee and the local district attorney, Christina Mitchell Busbee — are looking into the events that unfolded on May 24.
The narratives converge and diverge at different points. Here is a breakdown of the key differences.
No attempt to open the door
In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Arredondo intimated that he was unable to stop the gunman in the adjoined classrooms 111 and 112 because he could not breach the doors.
He told the Tribune he tried to open room 111 and another group of officers tried to open room 112. Believing the doors were locked, Arredondo called for keys and extrication tools to force the door open.
But security footage from the hallways does not capture any attempt by officers, including Arredondo, to open the doors.
The surveillance shows two groups of police officers approaching the doors to the classrooms early on in the shooting — one group from the north of the hallway and the other, which includes Arredondo, from the south.
As each group approaches, the shooter opens fire, grazing two of the officers coming from the north and causing both groups to retreat back to their ends of the hallways.
After that, these officers remain in position for the rest of the standoff, never firing a shot.
Although the footage shows no attempt by him to open the door, Arredondo told the Tribune he believed the doors to be locked. Some law enforcement officials are now skeptical that the doors were ever locked because the gunman was able to walk in and out of the classroom at the start of the shooting.
On Tuesday, McCraw told lawmakers that some time before the shooting, one of the teachers who taught in the conjoined classrooms where the shooting happened had told the school’s administration that doors to the classroom would not lock. McCraw also said that the classroom doors could not have been locked from the inside, indicating they would have been open if officers had tried to enter the room.
At 12:11 p.m. nearly 40 minutes after the shooting began, Arredondo called for a master key that would allow him to unlock classroom doors, according to the transcript. It took about six minutes for a set of keys to arrive, and Arredondo began testing them on a different classroom door, according to the transcript and Arredondo’s recollection.
Arredondo said the first key ring he was brought did not contain a master key. He said he was brought a second key ring with between 20 and 30 keys, and none of those worked either.
Both accounts say that another group, which included Border Patrol agents, finally found a master key that could unlock the room.
That group inserted the key into room 111 and entered the room at 12:50 p.m. A flurry of gunshots can be heard in the video, and then the team exits the room and indicates the gunman is dead.
Timeline of events
Arredondo said he believed he was one of the first officers on the scene and asked police dispatch for tactical gear, snipers, keys and an extrication tool to help officers respond to a gunman who had barricaded himself inside a classroom and had a high-powered rifle.
A law enforcement timeline provided to the Tribune this week has Arredondo’s call for those items at 11:40 a.m.
Arredondo said the extrication tools, which could have helped officers pry open the classroom doors, never reached him in the hallway. The law enforcement timeline shows that a Halligan bar, an ax-like forcible-entry tool used by firefighters, was at the scene within the first minutes of the law enforcement response.
It was not brought into the school until an hour after the first officers entered the building. Authorities did not use it and instead waited for keys. It is unclear why.
Arredondo also told the Tribune officers held off on entering the classrooms for so long because they were outgunned by the shooter and did not have the proper equipment to open the door and take the shooter down.
McCraw said Tuesday that officers with rifles arrived within minutes of the shooting’s start and could have aided an entry into the room.
The gunman entered the school at 11:33 a.m. By noon, according to the law enforcement timeline, officers had rifles, a Halligan and at least one ballistic shield.
Over the course of the standoff with the gunman, officers would gain access to four ballistic shields before finally entering the room where the gunman was and shooting him at 12:50 p.m.
The first ballistic shield arrived 58 minutes before then. The last one arrived 30 minutes before.
It is unclear why officers did not use the ballistic shields to engage the shooter earlier.
One of Arredondo’s most fateful decisions was made within seconds of arriving on the scene, when he opted to leave his radios behind before rushing into the school. He told the Tribune that he believed he was the first officer on the scene and wanted both hands free so that he could fire at the gunman quickly and accurately if he encountered him.
If he’d carried the radios, they would have been an encumbrance to his quick response to the shooting, Arredondo said, because one would fall off his belt during a long run and the other had a whiplike antenna that would have slowed him down.
That decision left him with no direct communication to other officers responding to the scene. Instead, Arredondo used his cellphone to make calls to police dispatch and communicate what he was seeing.
Arredondo told the Tribune he did not remember requesting a police radio once he was in the hallway.
But the transcripts of the timeline provided to the Tribune show Arredondo asking for a radio: “I need you to bring a radio for me,” Arredondo told dispatch.
Confusion about who was in charge
DPS officials have described Arredondo as the scene’s incident commander and said he made the call to stand down and treat the situation as a “barricaded suspect” rather than a hostage situation.
Arredondo told the Tribune he never considered himself the incident commander in charge of the response to the shooting and didn’t issue any orders to stand down.
But some officers on the scene appeared to think Arredondo was in charge. At 11:50 a.m., one officer said, “The chief is in charge,” according to a transcript of a body camera.
By 12:01 p.m., a DPS officer started suggesting that the situation required officers to go into the classroom.
“It sounds like a hostage rescue situation,” the DPS officer said. “Sounds like a UC [undercover] rescue. They should probably go in.”
A police officer — it’s not clear whether from the city or school district — then said, “Don’t you think we should have a supervisor approve that?”
“He’s not my supervisor,” the DPS agent countered before leaving the hallway to clear other rooms of children.
Arredondo also appeared to be issuing orders such as directing officers to evacuate students from other classrooms. Arredondo has said he was acting as another first responder in attempting to communicate with other officers in the hallway, and believed someone else was in charge of supervising the response.
The New York Times reported that when a group of officers from different agencies, including Border Patrol, breached the room to kill the gunman, they waved off someone in their earpiece telling them not to enter the room and believed they were acting on their own initiative. George E. Hyde, Arredondo’s lawyer, said that person was not his client and the incident shows that someone other than Arredondo was giving orders at the scene.
Waiting more than an hour to enter the classroom
Both accounts are consistent that law enforcement officers waited more than an hour before breaching the room and killing the gunman.
In Arredondo’s account, the wait was because officers were waiting for extrication tools or keys to open the door to the room where the gunman was. Arredondo believed the door to be locked, and while police waited for a key to come, they focused on evacuating children in surrounding rooms because the shooter was still sporadically shooting his weapon with bullets that could pierce through walls.
In the law enforcement timeline provided to the Tribune, it is unclear why police did not breach the room. At different points during the wait of more than an hour, they gain access to extrication tools, ballistic shields, rifles and keys. But it still takes until 12:50 p.m. for them to breach the room and kill the gunman.
A lack of a clear incident commander appears to slow down the response in the law enforcement timeline, with some officers believing they should breach the room and others believing they needed supervisory approval before doing so.
Disclosure: The New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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