Uvalde Police Chief Explains Lack of Radios When He Entered School

The police chief for the Uvalde, Texas, school district said he intentionally left his radios behind when he entered Robb Elementary School to stop the gunman on May 24.

Peter Arredondo, one of the first responders on the scene that day, said he entered the school without his police or school radio.

In his first full interview about the incident, Arredondo told the Texas Tribune in a phone interview and statement from his lawyer that he wanted both hands free to hold his gun and fire accurately and quickly if he encountered the gunman.

Three weeks ago, an 18-year-old gunman entered the school and fatally shot 19 students and two teachers. The gunman was in the school for over an hour before he was shot and killed by U.S. Border Patrol. Arredondo and the responding officers have received criticism for their handling of the shooting. State and federal law enforcement are investigating the police response.

Uvalde Police Radio
The Uvalde school district police chief said he intentionally left his radios outside when he entered Robb Elementary School to confront the gunman on May 24, 2022. Above, a memorial dedicated to the 19 children and two adults killed in the mass shooting is seen on June 1, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Brandon Bell//Getty Images

Arredondo said that one of his radios had a large antenna and the other clipped to his tactical belt. Both would have slowed him down while running into the school, he said. He added that he knew from experience that the radios did not work in some school buildings.

Sergeant Betsy Smith of the National Police Association called Arredondo's decision to leave his radio behind "unthinkable."

"For the chief to run in their without a radio...to respond to a potential active shooter without a radio is unthinkable," she said.

She dismissed Arredondo's explanation that he believed his radios would fall off his belt and slow him down. Smith said she doesn't understand that, as tactical belts are able to hold multiple radios.

Arredondo entered the school with a group of officers and heard gunfire. They eventually found the gunman barricading himself in a classroom but could not break down the door.

Without a radio, Arredondo was cut off from communication with dispatchers and other responding officers outside the school.

Arredondo said he was not aware of the numerous 911 calls coming from students trapped inside classrooms with the gunman. He added that none of the officers who entered the school with him relayed that information.

In fact, there were no radio communications among the officers in the building. Arredondo said they made an effort to remain quiet. If they had radios, they would have turned them off to avoid giving away their location to the gunman, Arredondo's lawyer, George E. Hyde, told the Tribune.

Arredondo had his cellphone, however, and used it to call for a SWAT team, snipers and extrication tools to open the door behind which the gunman was hiding.

Smith, who has been a law enforcement trainer for 30 years, ran school programs and conducted several active shooter trainings, said a cellphone is not an adequate communication tool for an active shooter situation.

Cellphones are good for speaking to one person, she said, like a dispatcher or maybe one other officer. In an active shooter situation with multiple agencies responding, Smith said everyone needs to be able to talk to each other.

"He had 19 people in that hallway and [Arredondo's] the incident commander and can't communicate with them? That is a horrible error," she said. "Communication in a situation like this is critical."

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said Arredondo was the incident commander. During a press briefing last month, McCraw said someone inside changed the classification of the incident from an active shooter to a "barricaded subject situation."

He called the order to wait for tactical equipment and not immediately breach the door "the wrong decision."

But Arredondo told the Tribune that he assumed that another official had taken over the general response while he led as a front-line responder. He also denied giving that order.

Since the officers could not get into the classroom to confront the gunman, they decided to start evacuating other classrooms as they waited for more support. Tools to break down the door never came. Additionally, none of the keys on site could open the door. Arredondo said he stayed back from the door for 40 minutes to avoid provoking gunfire.

More than 70 minutes after the shooting began, Border Patrol agents arrived and were able to unlock the door and fatally shoot the gunman.

Despite the criticism and lack of public information about the police response, Arredondo told the Tribune that he took every step to protect the lives of students and teachers inside the school.

"Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children," he told the 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."

The police response to the shooting, specifically the communication between responders, has been heavily criticized.

Arredondo told the Tribune that he didn't speak out sooner because he didn't want to compound the community's grief or cast blame at others.

Smith said Arredondo, as the officer in charge of the situation and who is responsible for the security of the school, should take accountability for the response that day.

"He's the chief. And a police department is a paramilitary organization," she said. "This is his school, this is his department. I know multiple agencies responded, but [Arredondo's] the guy.

"So if he made mistakes, he needs to say, 'I made mistakes.' He needs to show leadership and say, 'I'm the guy, I was the guy in charge.' That's what a good chief does."

She added that Arredondo and the police department need to get the facts of the incident out immediately in order to adapt to a social media, 24/7 news cycle to let everyone know what happened.

Newsweek reached out to the Texas Department of Public Safety and Arredondo's office for comment.