(CNN) — Robb Elementary School principal Mandy Gutierrez defended herself Wednesday against criticism of her handling of school safety before the massacre that killed 19 children and two teachers.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Gutierrez was asked if he agreed with a legislative report that cited a “culture of non-compliance with safety policies” at the school.
“Absolutely not,” Gutierrez said in response.
“Any time there was an alert, all the teachers on that campus interpreted it as this could be a potential escalating situation,” he said.
Gutierrez said he immediately started a lockdown with an app called Raptor after hearing that a gunman had jumped the school fence.
“I feel like I followed the training they gave me to the best of my ability,” he said when asked if he felt he should lose his job. “And I will doubt myself for the rest of my life.”
The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Col. Steven McCraw, last month called the police response a “vile failure.” He placed sole responsibility for failing to confront the shooter on school district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, whom authorities identified as the scene commander.
Arredondo, who is on unpaid administrative leave, previously said he did not consider himself an incident commander that day.
When asked about law enforcement’s delay in confronting the shooter, Gutierrez said she’s frustrated but in no position to find fault.
“I’m not a law enforcement officer and I can’t judge and tell you how to do your job, just like I wouldn’t ask you to tell me how to do mine,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m in a position to blame anyone.”
Gutierrez added: “I would blame things that are outside of my circle of control, which is that I can’t make the laws. So I can’t, I can’t decide how old you have to be to buy a firearm. I can’t decide how many rounds of ammunition can anyone buy. I can’t determine how much security we have available on campus.”
The director was “under the impression that my staff and students were safe”
The director said she prayed during the shooting and the siege that followed.
“I wanted everyone to get out safely,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave until I made sure all of my staff and all of my students were out and safe. Until that last moment, I was still under the impression that my staff and students were safe.”
Gutierrez has been put on paid administrative leaveaccording to his lawyer, Ricardo Cedillo.
The school board did not comment on his license at a meeting Monday. Gutierrez started as a fourth grade teacher in 2008 and worked for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (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 cleaning staff checked the door of Room 111, one of the two classrooms where the victims died, every night, including the night before the shooting. She also wrote that she does not remember the teacher in that room complaining that the door would not lock, according to the letter, which was released by her attorney on Wednesday.
“What I know for sure is that the door to room 111 did close,” he said in the interview. “And the reason I know that is we do regular campus tours and I used my master key to open that door myself.”
Arnulfo Reyes, who taught in room 111, told CNN that Gutierrez’s claims in his letter about the door’s locking mechanism are not entirely accurate. He said that he did not complain that the door was locked, but that the door stuck or stuck all day.
Reyes said he complained about the door getting stuck multiple times over three years. Reyes said the gate was locked during the day and was normally locked when he arrived at school. When asked if he remembered the door being locked on the day of the shooting, Reyes said he doesn’t.
Gutierrez in his letter acknowledged problems with spotty Wi-Fi at Robb. She wrote that she did not use the public address system on the day of the shooting because using it could “create panic,” according to her training. She denied the existence of a “culture of complacency” at the school and said it is “unfair and inaccurate” to conclude that she was complacent about safety.
Gutierrez said in the letter that he “will live with the horror of these events for the rest of my life” and that he wants to keep his job “to be on the front lines helping the children who survived, the families of all those affected, and all the Uvalde community.
State Representative Dustin Burrows, chairman of the committee, said in a statement that he had not received Gutierrez’s letter.
“The committee relied on interview testimony from various Uvalde CISD employees (including staff and administration) and the Uvalde CISD Police Department in reaching its conclusions regarding 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 furlough came as Uvalde officials tried to reassure frustrated parents about their children’s safety when classes resume.
The Uvalde massacre was the deadliest school shooting in America since 2012.
The legislative committee’s report on the May 24 school shooting cited Robb Elementary’s “culture of non-compliance with security policies,” including a lack of adequate preparation for the risk of an armed intruder and the common practice to leave the doors open.
The report says Gutierrez and school administrators knew the lock in one of the classrooms where the murders took place was malfunctioning and did not fix it.
On the day of the shooting, Gutierrez was in his office after an awards ceremony and attempted to initiate a lockdown on the Raptor app, but “had difficulty alerting due to poor Wi-Fi signal,” according to the legislative report. He also did not attempt to “communicate the lockdown alert over the school intercom,” according to the report.
School staff “frequently left 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.”
Closing the doors as required could have slowed down the attacker’s “progress” for a few valuable minutes, long enough to get alerts, hide the children, and close the doors; and enough to give police more opportunities to target and apprehend the shooter before he could kill 19 students and two teachers,” the Texas House report said.
Lawmakers also criticized the police response and the failure of school officials and others to heed numerous warning signs about the shooter. His report said state and federal agents on the scene were equally at fault for the delay in confronting the shooter.
Uvalde school officials unveiled efforts Monday to improve safety when classes resume early next month. Plans include installing bulletproof windows and metal detectors, hiring 10 additional police officers, and identifying an entry point for each school. Five officers were employed by the district at the time of the shooting, according to the legislative report.
CNN’s Rosalina Nieves and Brad Parks contributed to this report.