Uvalde residents confront school board over response to shooting

"Has anybody lost their job? Has anyone been terminated?" one man said.

The frustrations of a community still reeling from a mass shooting were on full display Monday night as a procession of Uvalde residents confronted school district leaders over their response to the massacre that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers.

Trustees of the Uvalde CISD School Board convened the special session to present plans for the upcoming school year, including upgrading security measures and an announcement that all students K-12 would be offered the opportunity to attend classes virtually.

But during the open forum portion of the evening, attention returned to the fallout from the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School.

"We want results," one man said. "Has anybody lost their job? Has anyone been terminated?"

"We still need answers," a woman added.

"This is not going to be swept under the rug," said another.

More than two-and-a-half months since the shooting, several of the roughly 100 attendees sought basic answers about the law enforcement response, including chain-of-command communication.

When board trustee JJ Suarez, a former police officer who responded to Robb Elementary, told one questioner that he did not remember who told him the shooting was "a barricade situation" and claimed not to have heard gunshots from inside the school, members of the audience heckled him.

"I heard the shots," one woman shouted before imitating the sound of gun shots. "I still hear that sound."

Suarez replied that his failure to ask if children were still inside the classrooms will "haunt [him] every day."

Trustees also faced questions about school district police chief Pete Arredondo and why a decision whether to fire him has not yet been made. The board responded that it is following "due process," adding that it is considering multiple new dates for a hearing on Arredondo's future.

Arredondo remains on leave while an investigation into the conduct of law enforcement during the shooting on May 24 marches forward. Last month, the Uvalde school district postponed a closed hearing to consider whether to terminate Arredondo as its police chief and has not yet set a new date.

A special committee in the Texas legislature issued a report last month that found Arredondo had "failed to perform or to transfer to another person the role of incident commander." Arredondo previously told the Texas Tribune he did not consider himself the on-scene commander during the shooting.

After multiple media outlets, including ABC News, reported on a demotion Arredondo received in 2014 at a prior job, Superintendent Dr. Hal Harrell acknowledged that he made the decision to hire Arredondo and said he contacted previous employers but was not told about the demotion.

Harrell also laid out several new initiatives taken by the board to shore up security across the school district in the coming year. Those updates include:

  • 33 Texas DPS officers being assigned to UCISD
  • 500 cameras being installed across the district
  • Campus monitor role to be created -- this person will walk school grounds throughout the day, noting lock, gate and door statuses on an iPad that the district will then be able to review
  • Each school will have a single point of entry all students, faculty and guests must utilize
  • An audit on the district's Wi-Fi set to be completed Wednesday

Other notable speakers at Monday's session included a woman who said her daughter with special needs cannot reasonably attend class virtually, and a rising fourth grader in the school district who requested upgrades to school lighting, automatic door locks and the installation of ballistic glass. (Harrell had said earlier in the meeting they were still looking for funds for ballistic glass.)

After fielding concern about the conduct of school administrators and law enforcement moving forward, Harrell said "it's going to take a while to regain that trust."

"The trust has been damaged. The trust has been broken," Harrell said. "It's going to take all of us to fix it."