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Acting Uvalde police chief during school shooting massacre steps down

Uvalde, Texas, police Lt. Mariano Pargas holds a walkie talkie and a gun
Uvalde, Texas, police Lt. Mariano Pargas responds to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24.
(City of Uvalde)
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The Uvalde, Texas, officer who was leading the city’s police department during its hesitant response to the school shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers has stepped down, a city spokeswoman said.

Lt. Mariano Pargas retired Thursday afternoon after 18 years working for the city, according to spokeswoman Gina Eisenberg. She said that his retirement was immediate but that the city was still processing the paperwork.

Pargas is the second police leader to leave law enforcement in the fallout since the massacre in May, during which hundreds of officers waited more than an hour to confront the gunman inside a classroom at Robb Elementary School. Pargas’ retirement comes ahead of a Saturday meeting at which the City Council was set to consider firing him.

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Pargas could not be immediately reached for comment. He previously told CNN that his lawyer had instructed him not to speak publicly, but “there’s a lot of stuff that I can explain, that I would love to defend myself.”

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

In the months after the shooting, state officials have focused blame on the school district police chief, Pete Arredondo, saying he made “terrible decisions” as the on-scene commander not to confront the gunman sooner. Arredondo was fired in August but has said he didn’t consider himself the person in charge and assumed someone else had taken control of the police response that eventually swelled to nearly 400 officers.

Uvalde school leaders have pulled the embattled campus police force off the job four months amid criticism of law enforcement’s response to the Robb Elementary School massacre.

Oct. 7, 2022

Audio recordings published by CNN show that as officers were massing around the school, a dispatcher told Pargas there were “eight to nine” kids still alive inside the classroom where the shooter was holed up. Pargas can be heard acknowledging the information, but more than 30 minutes would pass before a tactical team entered and killed the gunman.

Authorities have said the gunman did most of his shooting within minutes of entering the classroom, but it’s unclear whether there’s an official tally of how many children in the room survived. Corina Camacho, whose son was shot but survived, told the Associated Press that 11 children were not killed and that their families try to stay in touch. Kids have recounted playing dead to avoid being noticed by the gunman.

In addition to Pargas’ retirement and Arredondo’s ouster, victims’ families and some lawmakers have called in recent months for the resignation or firing of Col. Steve McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Body-camera footage, a legislative investigation and media reports have shown that the state police had a larger role at the scene than the department appeared to suggest in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

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Ninety-one DPS troopers were among the 376 law enforcement officers who ultimately responded. Seven were put under internal investigation this summer, but McCraw has defended his agency’s overall response, saying that it “did not fail” Uvalde.

The firing of Uvalde’s embattled school police chief hasn’t satisfied or reassured many Uvalde residents as a new school year approaches.

Aug. 27, 2022

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

School district trustees Wednesday approved the location of the new school that will replace Robb Elementary, deciding that it would be built next to another school a few miles away. The board decided months ago to demolish Robb Elementary and on Wednesday recommended forming a committee to decide what should happen to the site.

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