Zavala County Sheriff Eusevio Salinas told CNN on Friday when he responded to the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, he didn’t hear anyone at the scene say they were in charge.
Salinas said when he and Chief Deputy Ricardo Rios arrived at Robb Elementary School on May 24, he had a portable radio, which was broadcasting traffic by the Texas Department of Safety. He couldn’t hear radio traffic from the Uvalde Police Department nor the Uvalde schools police department.
He said he helped evacuate children from some classrooms and then helped clear other rooms.
When asked by CNN whether there was someone in charge of the scene, Salinas said, “I never heard anybody say they were in charge.”
Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the Uvalde school police chief identified by other officials as the incident commander on scene, recently gave his first extensive public comments in an interview with the Texas Tribune.
Speaking to the outlet by phone, written answers, and in statements provided by his attorney, George E. Hyde, Arredondo said he did not consider himself the incident commander and did not instruct officers to refrain from breaching the scene.
“I didn’t issue any orders,” Arredondo told the Tribune, which reported the chief instructed officers to start breaking the outside windows of other classrooms and begin evacuating students. “I called for assistance and asked for an extraction tool to open the door” of one of the classrooms where the shooting happened, he said.
The police response to the shooting, which left 19 students and two teachers dead, has been sharply criticized in the aftermath of the tragedy, which is the second-deadliest shooting ever at a K-12 school in the United States.
Salinas and Rios arrived around noon, about 30 minutes after the first 911 call reported a man shooting outside the school. They found a chaotic scene on the southeast side of the building though authorities had established a perimeter around the school.
The sheriff said a person he thinks was an off-duty border patrol agent asked him to help rescue children from four or five classrooms so he, Rios and another law enforcement officer pitched in.
After they got the students out, Salinas said he moved closer to the building where the shooter had locked himself in a room. The windows of the building were broken, and the shades were hanging out, he added. The sheriff would later learn Joe Vasquez, one of his deputies who was off-duty, was in the building and was part of the improvised team that killed the gunman.
The sheriff said he never heard any gunshots.
“All I heard was ‘He’s down. He’s down,’ ” he said.
Salinas went inside the school, where the hallway was “hazy and foggy.” A lot of people were on the floor getting first aid, he said.
A US Drug Enforcement Administration agent told him they needed help, so he followed the agent and helped to check rooms to make sure there were no other threats and the injured got aid.
Salinas said he particularly remembers a small child who was being given CPR while on a stretcher. He doesn’t know whether the child survived.
Salinas told CNN he gave statements to the Texas Rangers, the lead agency investigating the shooting, and the FBI. He has not been asked to testify before a Texas House committee looking into the events around the shooting or the US Department of Justice, he said.
The next hearing session is scheduled for Monday in Uvalde and members of the Uvalde Police Department are expected to testify.
When committee chairman Dustin Burrows was asked by the media whether Arredondo will also take part in testimony Monday, he told the press, “Not yet.”