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CNN Exclusive: ‘I will second-guess myself for the rest of my life.’ Uvalde principal defends actions on day of shooting

<i>Aaron M. Sprecher/AP</i><br/>Robb Elementary School principal Mandy Gutierrez was placed on administrative leave.
Aaron M. Sprecher/AP
Robb Elementary School principal Mandy Gutierrez was placed on administrative leave.

By Rosa Flores and Ray Sanchez, CNN

Robb Elementary Principal Mandy Gutierrez defended herself Wednesday against criticism about her handling of school security before the massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Gutierrez was asked whether she agreed with a legislative report that cited a “culture of non-compliance with safety policies” at the school.

“Absolutely not,” Gutierrez said in response.

“Anytime that an alert went out, every single teacher on that campus took it to mean it could be a potential escalating situation,” she said.

Gutierrez said she immediately initiated a lockdown with an app called Raptor after hearing that an armed man had jumped a school fence.

“I feel that I followed the training that I was provided with to the best of my abilities,” she said when asked whether she felt she should lose her job. “And I will second-guess myself for the rest of my life.”

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Col. Steven McCraw last month called the police response an “abject failure.” He placed sole blame for the failure to engage the gunman on school district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, who officials have identified as the on-scene commander.

Arredondo, who is on unpaid administrative leave, has previously said that he did not consider himself to be incident commander that day.

Asked about the law enforcement delay in confronting the shooter, Gutierrez said she is frustrated but not in a position to find fault.

“I’m not law enforcement and I cannot pass judgment and tell them how to do their jobs, just like I would not ask them to tell me how to do mine,” she said. “I don’t feel that I’m in a position to blame anyone.”

Gutierrez added, “I would blame things that are out of my circle of control, which is I don’t get to make the laws. So I don’t get to, I don’t get to decide how old you have to be to purchase a firearm. I don’t get to decide how many rounds of ammunition somebody can purchase. I don’t get to determine the amount of security that we have available on campus.”

Principal was ‘under the impression that my staff and my students were all safe’

The principal said she prayed during the shootings and siege that followed.

“I wanted everyone to exit safely,” she said. “I did not want to leave until I was reassured that all of my staff and all of my students were out and safe. Up until that very last moment, I was still under the impression that my staff and my students were all safe.”

Gutierrez has been placed on administrative leave with pay, according to her attorney, Ricardo Cedillo.

The school board did not comment on her leave at a Monday meeting. Gutierrez, who started as a fourth grade teacher in 2008, has worked for Uvalde CISD for more than two decades.

In a letter to members of the House Committee that investigated the shooting, Gutierrez disputed several of their findings. She said the door to room 111 — one of two classroom where the victims were killed — was checked by custodial staff every evening, including the night before the shooting. She also wrote she has no recollection of the teacher in that room complaining about the door not locking, according to the letter, which was released by her attorney Wednesday.

“What I know for a fact is that the door to room 111 did in fact lock,” she said in the interview. “And the reason I know that is we conduct regular walk throughs of the campus and I have myself used my master key to unlock that door.”

Arnulfo Reyes, who taught in room 111, told CNN that Gutierrez’s claims in her letter about the door locking mechanism are not entirely accurate. He said he did not complain about the door being locked, but rather about the door getting jammed or stuck throughout the day.

Reyes said he complained about the door getting jammed several times over three years. Reyes said the door was locked during the day and was normally locked when he arrived at the school. Asked if he remembers the door being locked the day of the shooting, Reyes said he does not recall.

Gutierrez in her letter acknowledged problems with spotty Wi-Fi at Robb. She wrote that she did not use the PA system the day of the shooting because her training was that its use could “create a panic.” She denied the existence of a “culture of complacency” at the school and said it’s “unfair & inaccurate” to conclude she was complacent about security.

Gutierrez said in the letter she “will live with the horror of these events for the rest of my life” and that she wants to keep her job “to be on the front lines helping children who survived, the families of all affected, and the entire Uvalde community.”

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, the committee chairman, said in a statement that he had not received Gutierrez’s letter.

“The committee relied upon the testimony of interviews of multiple employees of the Uvalde CISD (including staff and administration) and the Uvalde CISD Police Department in coming to its conclusions related to the practices that took place at Robb Elementary School,” Burrows said.

A spokesperson for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, citing a high volume of media requests, asked for at least two days to respond.

Report says principal and administrators knew about faulty lock

Gutierrez’s leave came as Uvalde officials sought to reassure frustrated parents about the safety of their children when classes resume.

The Uvalde massacre was America’s deadliest school shooting since 2012.

The legislative committee report on the May 24 school shooting cited Robb Elementary’s “culture of non-compliance with safety policies,” including its failure to adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder and the common practice of leaving doors unlocked.

The report said Gutierrez and school administrators knew a lock to one of the classrooms where the killings occurred did not work properly and failed to repair it.

The day of the shooting, Gutierrez was in her office after an awards ceremony and attempted to initiate a lockdown on the Raptor app but “had difficulty making the alert because of a bad wi-fi signal,” according to the legislative report. She also did not attempt to “communicate the lockdown alert over the school’s intercom,” the report said.

School personnel “frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks,” according to the legislative report. This behavior was “tacitly condoned” by school administrators and district police — and not treated as “serious infractions.”

Locking doors as required could have slowed the gunman’s “progress for a few precious minutes—long enough to receive alerts, hide children, and lock doors; and long enough to give police more opportunity to engage and stop the attacker before he could massacre 19 students and two teachers,” the Texas House report stated.

Legislators also faulted the police response and the failure of school officials and others to heed numerous warning signs about the shooter. Their report said state and federal officers on scene were equally culpable for the delay in confronting the shooter.

Uvalde school officials on Monday disclosed efforts to improve security when classes resume early next month. Plans include the installation of bulletproof windows and metal detectors, the hiring of 10 additional police officers, and the identification of one point of entry for each school. Five officers were employed by the district at the time of the shooting, according to the legislative report.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Rosalina Nieves Raja Razek, Amanda Musa and Brad Parks contributed to this report.

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