The chief of police for the Uvalde, Texas, school district is defending the delay in confronting the gunman who murdered 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
Chief Pete Arredondo, in an interview with The Texas Tribune, said a classroom door separating the police from the killer was sturdily built with a steel jamb and impossible to kick in. As a result, authorities were forced to wait for a key to get in.
He said the reinforced door was designed to keep an attacker on the outside from forcing their way in. However, with the gunman inside, it was impossible to break down.
Police had held back from the door while they awaited the key in order not to provoke sprays of gunfire, he said.
"The only thing that was important to me at this time was to save as many teachers and children as possible," Arredondo said.
According to the Tribune, he called for tactical gear, a sniper, and key to get inside.
When keys finally arrived, he tried dozens of them, but each time they failed to unlock the door.
"Each time I tried a key I was just praying," Arredondo said.
Seventy-seven minutes after the killings began, police were finally able to unlock the door and kill the gunman.
Arredondo maintained he did everything he could to protect lives at the school he had attended as a young boy.
"My mind was to get there as fast as possible, eliminate any threats, and protect the students and staff," Arredondo said.
He pointed out about 500 students were rescued from the school during the massacre.
"Not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children," Arredondo said. "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."
He also defended his decision to leave his police and campus radios outside the school when he arrived, saying he wanted both hands free to hold his gun in the event he encountered the shooter.
Meanwhile, a review of police documents by The New York Times reportedly showed Arredondo did not want officers moving on the shooter until protective shields arrived.
There had been a pair of officers grazed by the shooter's bullets when they tried to look through the window of the classroom door, according to the Times.
"People are going to ask why we're taking so long," a man believed to be Arredondo said, according to body camera footage reviewed by the Times. "We're trying to preserve the rest of the life."
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