U.S. Justice Department

Uvalde Review: Critical failures plagued police handling of shooting attack

Feb. 2, 2024

A U.S. Justice Department report points to “cascading failures” in law enforcement’s handling of the May 2022 shooting attack that left 21 dead at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The Critical Incident Review (CIR) is more than 600 pages and identifies several critical failures before, during and after law enforcement’s response to the shooting. Investigators “analyzed the cascading failures of leadership, decision-making, tactics, policy, and training that contributed to those failures,” the report says.

The report says 77 minutes elapsed between arrival of the first police officers at Robb Elementary and when officer finally confronted and killed the gunman.

“The most significant failure was that responding officers should have immediately recognized the incident as an active shooter situation, using the resources and equipment that were sufficient to push forward immediately and continuously toward the threat until entry was made into classrooms 111/112 and the threat was eliminated,” the report’s executive summary says. “Since the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, a fundamental precept in active shooter response and the generally accepted practice is that the first priority must be to immediately neutralize the subject; everything else, including officer safety, is subordinate to that objective.”

Nineteen students and two teachers were shot to death on May 24, 2022, when an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary and opened fire with a high-powered rifle. Another 17 people sustained injuries.

The report says the CIR team collected and reviewed more than 14,100 pieces of data and documentation. It visited Uvalde nine times and spent a total of 54 days on site. The team conducted over 260 interviews of individuals from more than 30 organizations and agencies that played a role in or had information related to the review.

Among the findings:

  • Leadership was on site from several law enforcement agencies, but they “demonstrated no urgency for establishing a command and control structure, and no uniformly recognized incident commander was on the scene throughout the incident.
  • Inaccurate information combined with inconsistent messaging created confusion and added to the victims’ suffering, both on the day of the incident and in the days after the mass shooting.
  • Family members encountered many obstacles to locating their loved ones, getting access to the hospital, and getting information from leadership, law enforcement, and hospital staff in a timely manner.
  • The extent of misinformation, misguided and misleading narratives, leaks, and lack of communication about what happened on May 24 is unprecedented and has had an extensive, negative impact on the mental health and recovery of the family members and other victims, as well as the entire community of Uvalde.
  • Children and adults rescued from their classrooms during the evacuation received limited instruction and direction on where to proceed. “Due to the chaotic nature of the evacuation, children and school personnel were not adequately evaluated medically prior to being transported to the Reunification Center,” the CIR says. “As such, injured victims had delayed medical care and were at risk of further injury.
  • Responders were not provided timely, immediate access to trauma and support services, and many reported feeling abandoned and unsupported in the weeks and months following the critical incident.
  • The Uvalde community continues to need support and guidance as it struggles with the negative impacts of the failed response, a lack of accountability for those implicated in this failure, and remaining gaps in the information about what happened to their loved ones.
  • The Uvalde school district’s campus safety teams met infrequently, and annual safety plans were based largely on templated information that was, at times, inaccurate. (•
  • The school district had a culture of complacency regarding locked-door policies. Both exterior and interior doors were routinely left unlocked, and there was no enforced system of accountability for these policies.

The CIR also includes numerous recommendations:

  • An active shooter with access to victims should never be considered and treated as a barricaded subject.
  • In the event there are resources available and an opportunity to evacuate bystanders and victims from the hot zone, officers must balance the risk posed by evacuation versus the risk posed by remaining in lockdown and potentially in the crossfire. Evacuations in such circumstances must be conducted in the most expeditious manner, limited to those immediately in harm’s way, and not at the expense of the priority to eliminate the threat.
  • Agency leaders must immediately determine incident status and the appropriate command structure.
    An agreement needs to be developed among agencies within a county or region that provides clarity on who is in command during an incident.
  • Relevant information that is not law enforcement-sensitive should typically be released as soon as it is confirmed. However, speed must be balanced with the need for accuracy. It is critical that information is verified before it is released even when there is tremendous pressure to release information.
  • Communities should adopt a multidisciplinary approach to school safety that includes school police, law enforcement, school officials, mental health professionals, and other community stakeholders.
About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy has been writing about education for American School & University since 1999. He also has reported on schools and other topics for The Chicago Tribune, The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Times and City News Bureau of Chicago. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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