UVALDE, Texas — CNN obtained a new video that shows an interview that former Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo gave to FBI and Texas Rangers investigators the morning after a gunman killed 21 students and teachers inside Robb Elementary School.
"I know it was probably victims in there. And with the shots I heard, I know it was probably somebody that's gonna be deceased," Arredondo said during the interview.
It's the first time the interview has been seen and heard. It took place on May 25, the day after the massacre. Arredondo is heard attempting to explain his actions.
He told investigators he assumed students in the room with the shooter were already dead, so he chose to focus on clearing students from surrounding classrooms. We now know he was wrong. At least three victims were pulled from the room alive and later died from their injuries.
"My first thought is that we need to, we need to vacate. We have him contained, and I know this is horrible, I know is 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 any more from out here. So I called out and I said, 'Get these kids out,' whatever I told 'em, 'bust those windows, get 'em out,'" Arredondo told investigators.
Arredondo said he kept trying to talk to the shooter. He also told investigators that he heard the gunman reloading his weapon while he was holed up in the classroom.
"Throughout this deal I was trying to get, make communication with him, called him out, asking him not to hurt anybody else," Arredondo said during the interview.
Even after hearing the shooter reload, Arredondo took no action to stop him.
"I'm certain I heard him reload. I heard something over the pin. You obviously, we all know what that sounds like ... or not with a pin, I'm sorry, with a, with a clip. I'm assuming he reloaded, but I know he did something with it. I did hear that at one time. I don't know if it, there was a second. He never responded at all," Arredondo said.
Now considered to be one of the worst law enforcement failures in recent memory, less than 24 hours after the incident, Arredondo admitted that he knew the criticism would come.
"We're gonna get scrutinized. I'm expecting that. We're gonna get scrutinized. Why we didn't even go in there," Arredondo said to the investigators.
Days after the incident, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced that Arredondo was the "incident commander" and was in charge of the scene. They blamed him for the delay that proved to be deadly.
"The Chief of Police of the consolidated independent school district is the incident commander. It’s his school. He's the chief of police," Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw said at the time.
Arredondo presided over a six-person police force before he was terminated in August. He declined to comment on this story, according to CNN. Through his lawyer, Arredondo has previously denied that he was ever in charge and said he never issued any orders.
A CNN analysis of never-before-made public body camera footage and newly obtained phone calls revealed that Arredondo repeatedly directed the officers around him not to enter the room with the gunman.
“Hey this is Arredondo ... This is an emergency right now. I'm inside the building with this man. He has an AR-15. He shot a whole bunch of times. He's in one room. I need a lot of firepower, so I need this building surrounded, I need it surrounded with as many AR-15s as possible,” Arredondo said at 11:40 a.m., seven minutes after the shooting began.
As more officers with body cameras responded to the scene, Arredondo was heard starting to talk to the shooter.
Arredondo was seen trying to open the door to an adjacent classroom while giving commands to other officers.
“We're going to clear out before we do any breaching. We're going to clear out these kid's class,” he said. “As soon as they clear this room, I'm going to verify what's been vacated, guys, before we do any kind of breaching. Time is on our side right now. I know we probably have kids in there but we've got to save the lives of the other ones.”
As it turns out, time was not on his side and reflects a mindset that goes directly against active shooter training. The policy emphasizes speed and directs any officer to go immediately toward the sound of gunfire and stop the shooter. Arredondo last completed the training in December 2021 -- five months before the Uvalde massacre.
At about 12:12 p.m., a crucial transmission from the Uvalde dispatcher came in over the radios in the hallway. It informed the officers that a child in the room with the gunman called 911 and said she was surrounded by victims.
“Child is advising she is in a room full of victims," the dispatcher said.
The dispatch blared within earshot of Arredondo but he didn't seem to hear it because he was repeating instructions for officers not to enter the room.
“Hey, guys hold on. We're going to clear the building first and then we'll tactical, but we're going to empty these out, these classrooms first," Arredondo told the officers in the hallway.
Officers told Arredondo that the classrooms were empty and actually turned their radios down to listen to Arredondo's orders. It seemed clear to the men on that side of the hallway that Arredondo was in charge.
“No entry until the chief of police gives you permission there,” one officer was heard saying.
When a nearby officer suggested that Border Patrol was about to go in, Arredondo issued another order.
“Tell them to f***ing wait," he said.
Arredondo later said he assumed Border Patrol agents at the other end of the hallway would be the ones to make the breach since they had rifles and he and his men only had pistols.
"So I know those are BP and I know those are probably BORTAC, smart thing for us to do, obviously with a handgun, is we need to let these guys make entry when it's that time," Arredondo said.
The thing is, they were armed with more than handguns. Body camera footage clearly showed plenty of heavily armed officers at the scene, some in the very first moments after the shooting began.
Was the door locked?
During the interview the morning after the massacre, Arredondo explained why he thought the door was locked and also admitted that he never tried to open it.
"I have it in my, a picture in my mind that I saw ... that I saw that hammer in there. And usually, when that's there, that's locked, man, 90% of the time," he told investigators.
We now know that investigators think the door was unlocked the whole time and there was no need to wait for a key.
At the end of the interview, Arredondo said that rather than breaching the door, he even considered trying to shoot through the walls to kill the gunman.
"The thought crossed my mind to start shooting through that wall, which would have been stupid. But you, you start thinking there's already somebody deceased in there ... But you know, obviously we, we don't ever train to shoot through walls. It's not something that ... it's not probably the smartest idea, but, you know, you always question yourself," he said.