Uvalde police indicted over role in slow response to 2022 school massacre

The former Uvalde schools police chief and another former officer have been indicted over their role in the slow police response to the 2022 massacre at a Texas elementary school that left 19 children and two teachers dead, according to multiple reports on Thursday.

The Uvalde Leader-News and the San Antonio Express-News reported that Pete Arredondo, the former schools police chief, and Adrian Gonzales, a former officer, were indicted by a grand jury on multiple counts of felony child endangerment and abandonment. The Leader-News reported that Christina Mitchell, the local district attorney, confirmed the indictment.

The Austin American-Statesman also reported that two former officers had been indicted but did not identify them.

Mitchell did not immediately return messages from the Associated Press seeking comment. Several family members of victims of the shooting did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The indictments would make Arredondo, who was the on-site commander during the attack, and Gonzales the first officers to face criminal charges in one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. A scathing report by Texas lawmakers that examined the police response described Gonzales as one of the first officers to enter the building after the shooting began.

The indictments will officially be kept under seal until the men are in custody, and both are expected to turn themselves in by Friday, the news outlets reported.

The indictments come more than two years after an 18-year-old gunman opened fire in a fourth grade classroom, where he remained for more than 70 minutes before officers confronted and killed him. In total, 376 law enforcement officers massed at Robb Elementary School on 24 May 2022, some waiting in the hallway outside the classroom even as the gunman could be heard firing an AR-15-style rifle inside.

The office of a former attorney for Arredondo said they did not know whether the former chief had new representation. The AP could not immediately find a phone number to reach Gonzales.

Arredondo lost his job three months after the shooting. Several officers involved were eventually fired, and separate investigations by the US Department of Justice and state lawmakers faulted law enforcement with botching their response to the massacre.

Whether any officers would face criminal charges over their actions in Uvalde has been a question hanging over the city of 15,000 since the Texas Rangers completed their investigation and turned their findings over to prosecutors.

Mitchell’s office has also come under scrutiny. Uvalde city officials filed a lawsuit last year that accused prosecutors of not being transparent and withholding records related to the shooting. Media outlets, including the AP, have sued Uvalde officials for withholding records requested under public information laws.

But body-camera footage, investigations by journalists and damning government reports have laid bare how over the course of more than an hour, a mass of officers went in and out of the school with weapons drawn but did not go inside the classroom where the shooting was taking place. The hundreds of officers at the scene included state police, Uvalde police, school officers and US Border Patrol agents.

In their July 2022 report, Texas lawmakers faulted law enforcement at every level with failing “to prioritize saving innocent lives over their own safety”. The justice department released its own report in January that detailed “cascading failures” by police in waiting far too long to confront the gunman, acting with “no urgency” in establishing a command post and communicating inaccurate information to grieving families.

Uvalde remains divided between residents who say they want to move past the tragedy and others who still want answers and accountability. During the first mayoral race since the shooting, locals voted in a man who had served as mayor more than a decade ago over a mother who led calls for tougher gun laws after her daughter was killed in the attack.

Robb Elementary School is now permanently closed. The city broke ground on a new school in October 2023.

The Guardian