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Uvalde schools police chief defends response to mass shooting in first public comments since massacre

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ALLISON DINNER/AFP via Getty Images

(UVALDE, Texas) — Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo has broken his silence since the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School and is defending the police response to the mass shooting that saw 19 children and two teachers killed.

Arredondo — who was sworn in as a city council member in late May — told The Texas Tribune he didn’t consider himself the commanding officer on the scene that day, and he also claimed no one told him about the 911 calls that came in during the 77 minutes before the gunman was taken down.

This comes after a new report in the New York Times describes a briefing to state officials that “more than a dozen of the 33 children and three teachers originally in the two classrooms remained alive during the 1 hour and 17 minutes” from when the shooting began to when officers initially entered.

According to an official interviewed by the Times, “investigators have been working to determine whether any of those who died could have been saved if they received medical attention sooner.” At least one teacher and three children reportedly died after being evacuated from the school.

Arredondo claimed he didn’t bring his radios with him because time was of the essence and he said the radios would get in his way, and he wanted to have his hands free, telling The Texas Tribune one had a whiplike antenna that hit him when he ran, and one had a clip he said would cause it to fall off his tactical belt during a long run.

The chief also told The Tribune the radios didn’t work in some school buildings, which he said he knew from experience.

Arredondo said he teamed up with a Uvalde police officer when he arrived on the scene and began checking classrooms, searching for the suspected shooter.

“Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children,” Arredondo told The Texas Tribune. “We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced. Our objective was to save as many lives as we could, and the extraction of the students from the classrooms by all that were involved saved over 500 of our Uvalde students and teachers before we gained access to the shooter and eliminated the threat.”

However, state investigators, according to a preliminary assessment, believe the decision to delay police entry into the Robb Elementary School classroom was made in order to allow time for protective gear to arrive on scene, an official briefed on a closed-door presentation by the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety told ABC News.

Waiting for protective gear contradicts active shooter protocols that have been adopted by law enforcement agencies across the country in the last 20 years.

The DPS information is based, in part, on transcripts from 911 calls, dispatch audio and body camera recordings. The review is ongoing and the DPS preliminary findings have not been made public.

The official confirmed to ABC News that Arredondo appeared to be aware police needed to move faster as shots were being fired in two classrooms.

“People are going to ask why we’re taking so long,” according to one of the transcripts, as relayed by the official to ABC News. The statement is believed by investigators to have been uttered by Arredondo during the 77 minute rampage.

At 11:35 a.m. on May 24, three Uvalde Police Department officers entered the school using the same door as the shooter, which had not locked upon being closed. Law enforcement is looking into why the door did not lock.Those officers were later followed by three other Uvalde police officers and a county deputy sheriff, authorities said.

A total of seven officers were in the school and two sustained “grazing wounds” from the gunman, who fired down the hallway from behind a closed door, according to Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

At 12:03, a 911 call was made from classroom 112, according to McCraw. That person called back at 12:10 p.m. and said there were multiple people dead in the classroom. The 911 caller made another call at 12:13 p.m., according to McCraw.

In a portion of a videotape obtained by ABC News from outside of Robb Elementary School, what appears to be a police radio dispatcher details a 911 call from a student inside room 112 who describes a room “full of victims” at about 12:13 p.m.

Arredondo claimed he wasn’t aware of the 911 calls because he didn’t have his radio, and that the other officers in the hallway did not have radio communications. He also said if they had radios they would have been off to avoid alerting the gunman about their location.

He found no way to enter the classroom, called for a SWAT team from his cellphone and then waited in the hallway, according to The Texas Tribune.

However, the chief also claims he didn’t give orders not to breach the doors.

“I didn’t issue any orders,” Arredondo said. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door.”

At 12:16 p.m., the 911 caller called again and said eight to nine students are still alive, according to McCraw.

The 911 caller inside room 112 called at 12:43 p.m. and asked for police to be sent in, according to McCraw. That caller again asked for police to be sent in at 12:47 p.m., McCraw said.

Officers from the Border Patrol tactical unit breached the classroom door using a set of keys acquired from a school janitor at 12:50 p.m. Officers shot and killed the gunman in classroom 111, sources told ABC News.

A janitor first brought six keys, then eventually brought a set of 20-30 keys to the chief, The Texas Tribune reported.

“Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” Arredondo told the outlet.

ABC News has reached out to Arredondo’s attorney.

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