Since May, residents of Uvalde, Texas—now the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history—have demanded accountability over law enforcement’s fumbled response to the massacre, calling for the dispatched officers to be punished and the district’s police chief to be fired. Those calls have gone largely unanswered, as news outlets have continuously worked to ascertain precisely who was at fault and why. But this week, which marked the quarterly anniversary of the shooting—during which a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at the Robb Elementary School—some of the community’s pleas were finally answered.
On Wednesday, the Uvalde school district officially fired police chief Pete Arredondo, making him the first officer to lose his job over the department’s botched response, in which officers waited more than an hour to confront and kill the gunman. The unanimous vote, as the Associated Press reported, was held during a school board meeting and was met with cheers from the audience, which included family members of the victims and survivors. According to The Guardian, when members of the crowd found out Arredondo would not be appearing at the meeting, some yelled, “Coward!” and “What about our children?” Outside the meeting, Uvalde residents called for other officers to be held accountable, with Robb Elementary school parent Shirley Zamora telling the Associated Press, “This is just going to be the beginning. It’s a long process.” Nikki Cross, whose 10-year-old nephew was killed in the shooting, told The New York Times that Arredondo’s ouster is “the first victory” for victims’ families. “They need to fire the rest of them next.”
Uvalde police failures came into sharp focus in June, with the publication of leaked surveillance footage from inside the school that offered a devastating glimpse into why officers did not act sooner, despite being equipped to do so. Most notably, the video revealed that during the incident, police were examining floor plans, discussing which jurisdiction was charge of the scene, and looking for the key to a likely-unlocked door that they didn’t try to open. Texas Department of Public Safety Col. Steve McCraw has said Arredondo was in charge of the scene, but Arredondo, who had been on leave from the district since late June, has said he did not think he was the incident commander.
While Arredondo did not appear at the school board meeting Wednesday, the disgraced chief’s attorney made his position known in a 17-page letter. The statement, released minutes before the meeting began, cast Arredondo as a “fall guy” and a “sacrificial lamb,” describing him as “a courageous officer” who, along with the other responding officials, should “be celebrated for the lives saved, instead of vilified for those they couldn’t reach in time.” According to the Associated Press, the city’s acting police chief, Lt. Mariano Pargas, is the only other officer known to have been placed on leave over the shooting.
In the aftermath of the slaughter, a lack of transparency about the police response soon became a news item in itself. A number of news outlets, in response to shifting accounts from officials, have filed dozens of records requests related to the shooting and have seen very few fulfilled. “The big picture is of a government that generally ignores or does not comply promptly with public information requests and then selectively provides information according to what narrative it wants to shape in any particular moment,” as Texas Tribune editor in chief Sewell Chan told me in July, when I wrote about the coalition of national and local outlets lawyering up in a unified front to obtain more information. At the time, New York Times deputy National editor Kim Murphy told me the absence of transparency in Uvalde was worth going to court over, even if, by the time the coalition finally got the records they were seeking, they weren’t all that newsworthy. Public records laws and public information laws “are only worth the paper they’re printed on if people pursue them,” she told me. “So we kind of need to make a point.” In August, the Times and the Tribune joined over a dozen outlets in filing a suit against the Texas DPS for “selectively” disclosing some records but failing to produce a more thorough account.