UVALDE, Texas — A year after Texas' deadliest school shooting killed 19 teachers and two children, victims and their families continue to be frustrated over accountability.
Cowardice, lack of sufficient training, and incompetence have all been blamed for why police waited more than an hour to breach the classroom and subdue an 18-year-old gunman on May 24, 2022.
On July 12, a special Texas House committee released a thorough and damning report on the law enforcement response, showing that systematic failures went far beyond the school district's police department.
In board rooms, at protest rallies, and outside offices and police stations, Uvalde families spent a large part of the last year demanding accountability at all levels. And while they believe more needs to be done, several leaders, officers, troopers and administrators who were involved in the shooting response resigned, were fired or were re-assigned. Others stayed in their positions despite calls for them to step down.
Pete Arredondo | Uvalde school district police chief
The most well-known of those held accountable is former Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo. He was fired in August after state officials cast him as the incident commander and blamed him for the delay in confronting the gunman. He told investigators the day after the shooting that he chose to focus on evacuating the school over breaching the classroom because of the type of firearm the gunman used.
“We’re gonna get scrutinized (for) why we didn’t go in there,” Arredondo said in interviews obtained by CNN. “I know the firepower he had, based on what shells I saw, the holes in the wall in the room next to his. … The preservation of life, everything around (the gunman), was a priority."
Through his lawyer, he has previously denied that he was ever in charge, and said he never issued any orders. But body camera footage showed the other officers in the hallway clearly thought he was in charge.
"No entry until the chief of police gives you permission there," one of them can be heard saying.
Through most of the interview with law enforcement, Arredondo maintains he believed he saved lives by evacuating other parts of the building before breaching the classroom, which goes against active shooter training.
"My first thought is that we need to, we need to vacate," Arredondo can be heard telling investigators. "We have him contained, and I know this is horrible, I know what our training tells us to do, but we have him contained. There's probably gonna be some deceased in there, but we don't need anymore from out here."
The full 57-minute interview is available on CNN's website.
Back in February, KENS 5 learned that Arredondo sought to update his discharge status (visible in a state database) and the district did not fight the request. His discharge was originally marked as less-than-honorable.
Uvalde CISD Police Department
Uvalde CISD suspended its entire police department following a report the district hired a DPS trooper who responded to the Robb Elementary shooting.
To fill the void, the district requested that the Texas Department of Public Safety provide additional troopers for campus and extra-curricular activities. Troopers have been posted at all Uvalde campuses throughout the entire year.
Joshua Gutierrez was appointed as interim police chief in the wake of Arredondo's firing.
The latest reporting on the status of the Uvalde CISD Police Department from back in December shows that they are still trying to fill vacancies, and was conducting interviews and background checks.
Hal Harrell | Uvalde CISD Superintendent
In meeting after meeting, Superintendent Hal Harrell faced questions and demands from parents of victims in the aftermath of the Robb shooting. Many members of the community called for his resignation, saying he failed to show strong leadership.
Though he did not specify the reason, Harrell announced in October that he would be resigning at the end of the year. The announcement was met with mixed reaction, including from supporters he got to know over his 31 years with the Uvalde school district.
The district quickly appointed Gary Patterson as interim superintendent. Patterson is a well-known name in upper educational administration, having fostered a reputation as a sort of fixer for Texas districts navigating turmoil.
Mariano Pargas | Uvalde Police Department
Lieutenant Mariano Pargas was a senior member of the Uvalde Police Department and the acting chief on May 24, 2022 in the absence of the department's everyday head.
A damning report obtained by CNN showed Pargas knew at least eight victims were still alive that day, but failed to act. He called Uvalde PD dispatchers to get more information after they relayed a call over police radio from 10-year-old student who said on the phone there were multiple victims around her.
On Nov. 17, Pargas chose to retire ahead of a meeting where city officials were expected to fire him.
Shortly before the shooting, Pargas was elected as Precinct 2 Uvalde County Commissioner. Despite numerous calls from victims' parents for him to step down, online directories indicate he still holds the position.
Recently, Pargas requested to have his general discharge from the Uvalde Police Department upgraded to honorable in the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement database. His case will be heard in a closed hearing set for July 20.
The City of Uvalde also hired an independent investigator to conduct an internal investigation into Uvalde PD, but Mayor Don McLaughlin said their efforts have been held up by the Uvalde District Attorney's office. The city sued to gain access to the DA's investigation material, and announced Monday they did receive that access by agreement of both parties, allowing the internal investigation to move forward.
Sheriff Ruben Nolasco | Uvalde County
A report released showed the sheriff of Uvalde County, Ruben Nolasco, had vital information about the shooter but did not share it with other law enforcement.
Further, an independent review of the Uvalde County Sheriff's Office found the department did not have an active shooter policy at the time of the Robb Elementary shooting.
The sheriff's office has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the media, and Sheriff Nolasco himself dodged questions on the law enforcement response when he spoke to cameras briefly in November.
Nolasco remains the sheriff of Uvalde County.
The Texas Department of Public Safety conducted an internal investigation of how seven of its troopers responded to the Uvalde school shooting, revealing the results of the investigation in February.
The agency fired one officer, Sgt. Juan Maldonado, and was attempting to terminate another, Ranger Christopher Kindell. A third, Trooper Crimson Elizondo, resigned before the investigation into her conduct was resolved. She later was hired by the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s police department, which fired her after community members criticized that move.
The four remaining troopers were cleared.
Why Kindell and Maldonado were disciplined remains unclear. Ninety-one DPS personnel responded to the shooting, second only to the U.S. Border Patrol among law enforcement agencies.
The agency faced criticism because no DPS officer took charge of the chaotic law enforcement response on May 24.
DPS Director Steve McCraw
McCraw has resisted calls to resign over his agency’s handling of the shooting from some victims’ families and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who has fiercely criticized DPS since the tragedy.
McCraw reiterated that stance in February, telling reporters Texans would be “stuck with me for the time being. … I will be here for a while.”
McCraw has maintained throughout that the chaos during the shooting was the responsibility of the school district police chief, who he had labelled as the "incident commander" in the early days of the investigation.
Mandy Gutierrez | Uvalde CISD
Mandy Gutierrez was principal of Robb Elementary at the time of the shooting, in her first and only year in that role.
Gutierrez was suddenly placed on paid administrative leave by Superintendent Hal Harrell on July 25, during which time she wrote to committee members seeking to clarify her role in the emergency response on May 24. Gutierrez was eventually reinstated after three days of leave.
In August, Uvalde CISD announced Gutierrez would shift to the position of assistant director of special education for the district. She was also a party to a lawsuit brought by victims' families but was later dropped from the suit.
Texas Tribune Investigation - March 20
A Texas Tribune investigation, based on police body cameras, emergency communications and interviews with investigators that had not been made public, found officers had concluded that immediately confronting a gunman with an AR-15 would be too dangerous. Even though some officers were armed with the same rifle, they opted to wait for the arrival of a Border Patrol SWAT team, with more protective body armor, stronger shields and more tactical training — even though the unit was based more than 60 miles away.
"You knew that it was definitely an AR,” Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Donald Page said in an interview with investigators after the school shooting. “There was no way of going in. … We had no choice but to wait and try to get something that had better coverage where we could actually stand up to him.”
“We weren’t equipped to make entry into that room without several casualties,” Uvalde Police Department Detective Louis Landry said in a separate investigative interview. He added, “Once we found out it was a rifle he was using, it was a different game plan we would have had to come up with. It wasn’t just going in guns blazing, the Old West style, and take him out.”