New Mexico

Acting Uvalde police chief during school shooting steps down

DALLAS — The Uvalde officer who ran the city’s police department during slow law enforcement response to an elementary school shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers has resigned, a city spokeswoman said.

According to spokesperson Gina Eisenberg, Lt. Mariano Pargas retired Thursday afternoon after 18 years of service for the city. She said his resignation was immediate, but the city was still processing the paperwork.

Pargas is the second police leader to leave law enforcement in the fallout since the May massacre, when hundreds of officers waited more than an hour to confront the gunman in a Robb Elementary School classroom. His retirement comes ahead of a meeting on Saturday when the city council should consider sacking him.

Pargas could not be immediately reached for comment. He previously told CNN that his attorney instructed him not to speak publicly, but “there are a lot of things I can explain that I would like to defend.”

The city placed Pargas, who headed the department during the shooting because Chief Daniel Rodriguez was out of town, on administrative leave in July after a damning report from lawmakers about the police response. His departure comes days after new audio highlighted Pargas being told children were alive in a classroom with the gunman half an hour before officers broke through the room.

In the months following the shooting, state officials have pinned the blame on school district police chief Pete Arredondo, who said he made “terrible decisions” as commander on the scene not to confront the shooter sooner. Arredondo was fired in August but said he did not consider himself responsible and assumed someone else took control of the police response, which eventually swelled to nearly 400 officers.

Audio recordings released by CNN show that as officers gathered around the school, a dispatcher told Pargas that “eight to nine” children were still living in the classroom where the gunman was hiding. Pargas can be heard confirming the information, but more than 30 minutes would elapse before a tactical team entered and killed the gunman.

Authorities said the gunman completed most of his shots within minutes of entering the classroom, but it’s unclear if there’s an official tally of how many children in the room survived. Corina Camacho, whose son was shot and was one of the survivors, told The Associated Press that 11 children were not killed and their families are trying to keep in touch. Children have publicly told how they played dead to avoid being noticed by the gunman.

In addition to Pargas’ resignation and Arredondo’s ouster, victims’ families and some lawmakers have been calling for the resignation or firing of Col. Steve McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, in recent months. Body camera footage, a legal investigation and media reports have shown that state police played a larger role at the scene than the department seemed to realize immediately after the shooting.

91 DPS soldiers were among the 376 police officers who eventually responded. Seven were subject to an internal investigation this summer, but McCraw has defended his agency’s overall response, saying it “didn’t let Uvalde down”.

At a Wednesday session in the Uvalde District Commissioners’ Court, parishioners called on Pargas to resign from the panel. Pargas, who was re-elected to the district government on November 8, was not present at the meeting, Uvalde Leader-News (ed.) reported.

Berlinda Arreola, whose 10-year-old granddaughter Amerie Jo Garza was killed, said Pargas needed to do “the right thing” and resign, according to CNN.

“He was a coward that day and he is now that he couldn’t show his face,” Arreola said.

At a school board meeting that same day, Josh Gutierrez was named interim police chief for the Uvalde School District. Gutierrez will lead the handful of officers hired since the shooting. Five officers who were part of the law enforcement response have been reassigned to other duties pending the outcome of an investigation into their actions that day.

Interim Superintendent Gary Patterson opened the meeting by speaking of the courage shown by the victims’ families. Patterson takes the place from Hal Harrell, who announced his plans to retire last month.

“We have all the respect in the world for how you handled things in the worst possible circumstances,” Patterson said.

School district trustees also approved the site of the new school that will replace Robb Elementary on Wednesday, deciding it should be built alongside another school a few miles away. The board decided months ago to demolish Robb Elementary and on Wednesday recommended a committee be formed to decide what to do with the site. ___

Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle contributed to this report. ___

Read AP’s full coverage of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

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