Uvalde school police chief says he is speaking with authorities despite claims he has stopped cooperating

The school district police chief who served as on-scene commander in last week’s deadly shooting in Uvalde, Texas, said Wednesday he speaks with investigators daily, contradicting claims by law enforcement. state order that he had ceased to cooperate.

In a brief interview, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo told CNN he speaks regularly with investigators from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“I’ve been on the phone with them every day,” Arredondo said. The chief has been at the center of community anger and beyond allegations that he delayed dispatching officers to the school on May 24, believing the gunman to be barricaded. inside adjoining classrooms and the shooting had turned into a hostage situation.

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Nineteen children and two teachers died in the attack at Robb Elementary School, the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade. The funeral began this week and US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona attended services on Wednesday for teacher Irma Garcia, who was killed in the attack, and her husband, Joe Garcia, who died of a heart attack two days later.

The district announced Wednesday that students and staff will not be returning to that campus, though plans are still being finalized on where the fewer than 600 students will attend classes in the fall.

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Texas State Sen. Roland Gutierrez said Wednesday his office is working with state and federal agencies to seek more than $45 million in federal funding for the school.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, its School Emergency Response to Violence, known as Project SERV, “funds short-term education-related services” to help educational institutions “recover from a violent or traumatic event in which the learning environment has been disrupted”. .”

Gutierrez said he was not aware of any plans to demolish Robb Elementary, but funds raised through the program by other schools have traditionally been used to rebuild.

State officials said police waited more than an hour outside the classroom where 18-year-old Salvador Ramos opened fire, despite repeated pleas from children calling 911 for help. assistance. At one point, there were as many as 19 officers in the hallway, said Texas Department of Public Safety chief Steven McCraw.

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Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin told media in an interview on Wednesday that he arrived at the funeral home across from the school about 15 minutes after “the first call” that Ramos had crashed his truck at proximity. McLaughlin said that while at the funeral home, he stood near an official whom he only identified as “the negotiator.” He said that person had tried unsuccessfully to reach the shooter by cell phone.

“His main focus was trying to get this person on the phone,” McLaughlin said in the interview with Telemundo San Antonio and The Washington Post. “They tried every number they could find,” but the shooter didn’t pick up the phone.

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Texas Department of Public Safety communications officer Travis Considine said Tuesday that Arredondo had not responded to DPS inquiries for two days, while other officers from the city’s police departments and schools d’Uvalde continue to sit for interviews and provide statements.

Arredondo did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press. Considine told the AP on Wednesday that Arredondo did not respond to requests for follow-up interviews from the Texas Rangers on Tuesday. The Texas Rangers — the investigative arm of the Department of Public Safety that focuses on major crimes — did not comment on Arredondo’s insistence that he was in regular contact with the DPS.

The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, which represents police officers, urged its members to cooperate with “all government investigations” into the shooting and the police response, and endorsed a federal investigation by the Justice Department.

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Confusing and sometimes conflicting reports released in the week since the fatal shooting continued on Tuesday with the revelation that the exterior door used by the shooter was not left open by a teacher, as police had previously said.

They have now determined that the teacher, who has not been identified, held the door open with a stone, but then removed the stone and closed the door when she realized there was a shooter on campus, Considine said. But, Considine said, the door that was designed to lock when closed did not lock.

Since the shooting, law enforcement and state officials have struggled to present a precise timeline and details of the event and the police response, sometimes providing conflicting information or retracting statements a few. hours later. State police said some accounts were preliminary and could change as more witnesses are interviewed.

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Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday ordered the state to conduct in-person security audits of school districts, including random and unannounced “intruder detection” visits to campuses “to find weak spots and speed with which they can enter buildings without being arrested”.

“This will improve accountability and ensure school districts follow the plans they create,” Abbott said in a letter to the director of the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University. Texas has more than 1,200 school districts, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Abbott also asked key lawmakers to convene a legislative committee to review and make recommendations on “school safety, mental health, social media, police training, gun safety and more.” Texas’ next legislative session is scheduled for January 2023, though some lawmakers have urged Abbott to call a special session in response to the shooting.

After previous mass shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe High School and a Walmart in El Paso, Abbott convened “roundtable” discussions, sometimes involving survivors and families of victims.

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After the 2018 Santa Fe high school shooting, lawmakers in 2019 approved $100 million for schools to improve campus security with metal detectors, vehicle barriers, shooter alarm systems, and security guards. other security measures. They also allowed more teachers to carry weapons on campus and to be trained in campus shooter response.

But Abbott and state lawmakers have resisted calls for tougher measures on gun ownership. In 2021, Abbott enacted a measure that allows people 21 and older to carry handguns without a license or training. In Uvalde on Wednesday, Ramos’ mother was denied drive-thru. Adriana Reyes then entered an adjacent convenience store where the cashier said she would not be served.

She declined to speak with an Associated Press reporter at the scene, saying, “I don’t mean to be rude but I don’t mean anything.”

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Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

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Vertuno reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Uvalde; Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; and Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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