UVALDE, Texas (AP) - Angry calls to fire Uvalde’s embattled school police chief swept through an auditorium Wednesday where school board members faced demands to make Pete Arredondo the first officer to lose his job over the fumbled response to the massacre at Robb Elementary School.
The school board was meeting to decide Arredondo’s future, three months to the day after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in one of the deadliest classroom shootings in U.S. history.
Arredondo was not in attendance but through his attorney released a blistering and defiant 17-page letter that lashed out at state officials, defended the police response to the May 24 massacre and accused the school board of putting his safety at risk by not allowing him to carry a weapon to the meeting.
As the board convened into a closed session, some in the auditorium yelled "Coward!" and "What about our children?"
Arredondo, who has been on administrative leave since June, has come under the most scrutiny for his actions during the May 24 tragedy. State police and a damning investigative report in July have criticized the police chief of the roughly 4,000-student school district for failing to take charge of the scene, not breaching the classroom sooner and wasting time by looking for a key to a likely unlocked door.
But a letter released by his attorney, George Hyde, accused the school district of not being prepared for an attacker and described the actions taken by Arrendondo and hundreds of other officers on the scene as "reasonable."
Heavily armed law enforcement personnel arrived at the school within minutes of the attack, but police did not breach the classroom and confront the gunman for more than an hour.
"Chief Arredondo is a leader and a courageous officer who with all of the other law enforcement officers who responded to the scene, should be celebrated for the lives saved, instead of vilified for those they couldn’t reach in time," Hyde wrote.
Uvalde school officials have been under mounting pressure from victims’ families and members of the community, many of whom have called for Arredondo’s termination. Superintendent Hal Harrell had first moved to fire Arredondo in July but postponed the decision at the request of the police chief’s attorney.
Only one other police official at the scene, Uvalde police Lt. Mariano Pargas, is known to have been placed on leave since the shooting. Pargas was the city’s acting police chief during the massacre.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which had more than 90 state troopers at the scene, has also launched an internal investigation into the response by state police.
School officials have said the campus at Robb Elementary will no longer be used. Instead, campuses elsewhere in Uvalde will serve as temporary classrooms for elementary school students, not all of whom are willing to return to school in-person following the shooting.
School officials say a virtual academy will be offered for students. The district has not said how many students will attend virtually, but a new state law passed last year in Texas following the pandemic limits the number of eligible students receiving remote instruction to "10% of all enrolled students within a given school system."
Schools can seek a waiver to exceed the limit but Uvalde has not done so, according to Melissa Holmes, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.
New measures to improve school safety in Uvalde include "8-foot, non-scalable perimeter fencing" at elementary, middle and high school campuses, according to the school district. Officials say they have also installed additional security cameras, upgraded locks, enhanced training for district staff and improving communication.
However, according to the district’s own progress reports, as of Tuesday no fencing had been erected at six of the eight campuses where it was planned, and cameras had only been installed at the high school. Some progress had been made on locks at three of eight campuses, and communication improvement was marked as half complete for each campus.
Uvalde CISD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.