Trending Topics

20 lessons identified from the Uvalde post-shooting investigation

A recent documentary features the words of the officers who responded to the shooting, as well as a multitude of recordings of 911 callers and radio transmissions made during the event. Here’s what we can learn


Photo/YouTube via CNN

The Texas Department of Public Safety conducted an extensive investigation into the law enforcement response to the active killer who attacked the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. While the report is still pending, PBS’s FRONTLINE, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune subpoenaed and received vast amounts of footage from police body cams and post-incident interviews from which they produced a documentary.

I watched this documentary and listened intently to the words of the officers who responded to the shooting, as well as a multitude of recordings of 911 callers and radio transmissions made during the event.

View the documentary here and then let’s discuss the lessons we can identify from the law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting.

If you ignore the commentary of the reporter, it is a bit like being on a ride-along with the officers as they responded to this active mass murder in progress. After the incident played out, watching the post-event interviews of the officers by the Texas Rangers gave me the feeling of sitting in on a debrief. The officers are very honest about what was going through their minds at the moment and appear to be sincere about others learning from this tragedy.

During the interviews, one officer pleaded that the law enforcement response to the Robb Elementary School shooting be reviewed and guidance given so that others can do better. I am going to try to honor that request, not to be critical, but to help prepare others. With that in mind, here are 20 learning points:

1. Believe it can happen! One officer shared, “None of us ever thought the situation would happen here.”

Thinking “It can’t happen here” is dangerous. It prevents you and your agency from participating in sincere and proper preparation. It may also lead to your officers responding to an in-progress active school killing assuming, as the Uvalde officers said they did, that the person shooting inside the school was suffering from road rage, or possibly a drug smuggler who crashed his truck, after which he ran into the school and began firing shots into the air, slowing their response.

2. Train realistically, regularly and together!

It was clear from the statements of several officers that training was inadequate due to time and money restrictions. One officer observed that the many officers from multiple agencies at the scene, “couldn’t find a way to work together.”

The gap between the training that was needed and the training that was given was evident. Not only did the first officers on scene fail to engage the killer, but it was also demonstrable when officers concluded that the silence in all the classrooms meant no one was inside the school. All present seemed unaware of the fact that students and teachers were told to remain silent until they were certain the persons there were police officers and not the killer pretending to be the police.

When you talk to any officer who survived a critical incident because of their own decisiveness, they will at some point in the story, when circumstances seem to them to be the direst, declare, “That’s when my training kicked in!” This statement was not uttered by anyone in this documentary.

Frustration and failure are the children of the marriage between unprepared and untrained.

3. Communication is a critical component of tactical success.

This incident began when the shooter crashed his truck on the road behind the Robb Elementary School, got out and opened fire on two witnesses. From the accident scene he ran to and into the school and began shooting the children and teachers inside two connected rooms, 111 and 112.

Uvalde School District Police Chief explained that he had no “holsters” for the two radios that his agency was required to carry. When the call came out, he said he decided about the radios, “they would get in my way and I threw them.” While at the scene he had to communicate either face-to-face with other officers or by phone through the overloaded 911 dispatch center. He failed to get critical information given to him by dispatch to his officers.

4. Immediately move toward the threat, identify the threat and stop the threat!

When the first officers arrived at the school they heard gunshots inside the school, indicating multiple murders in progress. Those first responding officers initially moved quickly into the school. There they saw a cloud of gun smoke in the hallway, and bullet holes in the walls adjacent to rooms 111 and 112.

Officers moved toward room 111 and 112 and as the first arrived at the door, the shooter fired through the door. They all retreated to the far end of the hall and held their position.

It would be 77 minutes before another entry was even attempted.

5. Manage your fear.

One officer spoke of their fear. Fear is the natural consequence of being thrust into a dangerous situation. Bravery is not the absence of fear but taking decisive action despite it. When lives are on the line there will be fear. Manage it. Channel it. Conquer it!

Once again, being thoroughly prepared through training is a proven way to overcome fear.

6. An active shooter in a room with victims and potential victims is an immediate emergency.

If an active killer is trapped by responding officers in a room with potential victims, he is not a barricaded suspect. History has taught us that a “barricaded gunman response” to a barricaded active killer holding live humans just creates an opportunity for this gunman to pile up his victims.

To save lives the initial responding officer(s) must act decisively!

7. An inner perimeter should contain only the problem and the solution to the problem.

After the officers turned the active shooter in rooms 111-112 into a “barricaded gunman” situation there was no immediate effort made to clear the other rooms of the school because officers assumed the rooms must be empty because they were so quiet.

One sergeant finally discovered that teachers had locked the classrooms down and teachers and students were being quiet and hiding as they had been trained to do in the case of an active shooter. The sergeant began the clearing of that room and others followed thereafter. The officers inside and out orchestrated an evacuation as a team utilizing the windows of some of the classrooms. This was a shining moment during this response.

8. The first rule in breaching is to check to see if the door is unlocked!

There is no need for keys or breaching tools when a door is unlocked. A great deal of the delay could have been eliminated if someone had checked the door to rooms 111-112 because it was determined when entry was finally made that the door was “probably unlocked” all along.

9. You can’t wait for ballistic shields to be brought to the scene during an active killing in progress.

Officers held off attempting an entry to wait for shields. When you are faced with such a situation as this, remember the children have no shields. The only shield available to them is an armed and honorable gunfighter. If that is you, don’t wait for a shield, be the shield.

10. If you have no distractive device, improvise.

Another thing officers said they were waiting for were “flash bangs,” which are distractive devices. When you have no flash bangs to distract a shooter, consider an improvised distraction such as:

  • Pounding on a door opposite the door you are entering.
  • Breaking a window opposite the entry point.
  • Pounding on a wall in a room opposite from the entry.
  • Making a phone call to the suspect.
  • Using the siren feature on a bull horn opposite the entry point.
  • If you are using a negotiator, they can take a suspect’s attention away from an entry.
  • Throw a flashlight on a strobe into the room.

The real point here is do not delay moving to stop an active killer because you have no distractive device.
11. Know the layout in advance.

It appeared that no one knew that rooms 111-112, where the killer was, were connected. Take every opportunity you can as an officer to get to know the building and areas on your beat and where problems may occur, before they occur.

12. Someone needs to take command immediately.

From the beginning of this incident to the end, no one on the scene could identify who was the officer in charge. If no one takes charge, you lead. Under stress, people will follow a leader. When lives are on the line you will discover not all supervisors are leaders and not all leaders need to be supervisors to lead.

13. For large events establish a command post and learn to use the incident command model.

None of the officers on scene or arriving were aware of any command post established. For any large, drawn-out event, establish a command post and learn in advance how to utilize the “Incident Command System” model. It is the national standard for managing planned and emergency events.

14. If you can’t solve the problem don’t impede someone who can.

An officer, whose wife was a teacher and had texted him telling him she was shot and was inside the classroom, arrived prepared to make an immediate entry. He made an accurate assessment of the situation stating, “We need to get in there now!”

By this time a child had also called 911 from inside the room. The child had said there were victims all around and they needed help. She pleaded in a desperate whisper, “Please hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!”

Instead of quickly forming an entry team, making a plan and carrying it out, officers at the end of the hall physically stopped their fellow officer and led him out of the building. The delay continued.

15. If you are not the cavalry, step aside when the cavalry arrives.

The officers at the scene slowed down the Border Patrol Tactical Unit by declaring that the door was locked and they were waiting for the keys. (By the way, a system should be pre-arranged to make certain that in an emergency, officers can gain entry into schools and school rooms.)

16. Pre-practice room entries/clearing even if you are not SWAT.

Getting through doors and clearing rooms is a skill all officers should know. It became essential here and was eventually done with great courage and skill by members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit.

17. Shoot accurately under stress.

When the Border Patrol Tactical Unit arrived, they made a quick plan, formed an entry team and moved with purpose toward the problem.

As they entered the room, the heavily armed shooter stepped out of a closet and fired on the entry team. One of his rounds creased the head of one of the officers. Multiple officers returned fire, hit the suspect, and finally and permanently stopped this man’s threat.

18. There should be a staging area.

Because there was no commander, there was no command post. It followed that as many officers and agencies kept coming there was no staging area. As a result, squads clogged the areas with vehicles without keys, which could not be readily moved, making it difficult for ambulances to get to the victims.

19. Realize that once the threat is over, there is an incredible amount of work to be done such as:

  • Rescue wounded victims and transport them to the hospital.
  • Lock down the crime scene.
  • Reunite families. There should be a re-unification center for families to wait for their children, otherwise they become another challenge for officers at the scene.
  • Process the scene and collect evidence.
  • Countless interviews.

20. Realize everyone processes incidents like this differently.

Stress, properly managed, can be a good thing, but poorly managed stress can kill you. Watching the gut-wrenching interviews of these officers revealed they were deeply impacted by this event. It is imperative that these incidents not only be tactically debriefed but also emotionally debriefed.


Nineteen children and two adults died as a result of the actions of the mass murderer inside the Robb Elementary School at Uvalde. One officer said he hoped that other officers would study their response to this murder in progress so they could learn and “do better.”

I encourage you all to watch this documentary so that when it happens to you, you have prepared to be prepared!

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.