Department of Justice Critical Incident Review Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School

The following report was released by the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Critical Incident Review Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School

Page Count: 610 pages
Date: January 18, 2024
Restriction: None
Originating Organization: Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
File Type: pdf
File Size: 23,166,226 bytes
File Hash (SHA-256): 1978F5E5BD3FB3BA985281036B2F184AEFAEB30983E8D1DD89D6E481A72BBE9D

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On May 24, 2022, a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, shook the nation. With just two days left in the school year, a former student armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle took the lives of 19 students and two teachers, physically injured at least 17 others, and left countless families, friends, and a community grief-stricken for their unimaginable loss. In the aftermath of the tragedy, there was significant public criticism of the law enforcement response to the shooting. At the request of then Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on May 29, 2022, that it would conduct a Critical Incident Review (CIR) of the law enforcement response to the mass shooting. Recognizing that “[n]othing can undo the pain that has been inflicted on the loved ones of the victims, the survivors, and the entire community of Uvalde,” the Attorney General stated that the goal of the CIR was to “assess what happened and to provide guidance moving forward.”

A full understanding of the response of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and personnel is critical for addressing many unanswered questions, identifying crucial lessons learned, enhancing prevention initiatives, and improving future preparation for and responses to mass shootings in other communities. In providing a detailed accounting and critical assessment of the first responder actions in Uvalde, and the efforts since to ameliorate gaps and deficiencies in that response, the CIR is intended to build on the knowledge base for responding to incidents of mass violence. It also will identify generally accepted practices for an effective law enforcement response to such incidents. Finally, the CIR is intended to help honor the victims and survivors of the Robb Elementary School tragedy.

The CIR was led by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) with the support of a team of subject matter experts with a wide variety of relevant experience, including emergency management and active shooter response, incident command, tactical operations, officer safety and wellness, public communications, and victim and family support (see “About the Team“). The CIR team collected and reviewed more than 14,100 pieces of data and documentation, including policies, training logs, body camera and CCTV video footage, audio recordings, photographs, personnel records, manuals and standard operating procedures, interview transcripts and investigative files and data, and other documents. The CIR team visited Uvalde nine times, spending a total of 54 days on site. The team conducted over 260 interviews of individuals from more than 30 organizations and agencies who played a role in or had important knowledge or information about areas related to the review. Those interviews included personnel from the law enforcement agencies involved in the response to the mass shooting, other first responders and medical personnel, victims’ family members, victim services providers, communications professionals and public information officers, school personnel, elected and appointed government officials, survivors and other witnesses, and hospital staff.

High-Level Incident Summary

Phase I: 11:21 a.m.–11:39 a.m.

Phase I of the incident begins when the subject shoots his grandmother at her residence at approximately 11:21 a.m., and ends after the first arriving officers’ initial approaches to classrooms 111 and 112, at approximately 11:39 a.m.

After shooting his grandmother, the subject messages an acquaintance about the crime he just committed and his plan to “shoot up an elementary school” next. He steals a vehicle from the residence and crashes it just a few blocks away, into a ditch near Robb Elementary. Multiple 911 calls are placed in response to the crash. Meanwhile, the subject exits the vehicle and begins shooting a high-powered, AR-15-style rifle at workers from a nearby funeral home before entering the school grounds and heading toward the West Building of Robb Elementary.

UCISD Staff 1, who is still on the phone with 911 about the crash, witnesses the gunfire and notifies the 911 operator. The UCISD Staff 1 then reenters the West Building and begins lockdown procedures. They completely close the exterior door through which they entered. The door is not propped open but, unbeknownst to them, it is not locked as it should be. 911 dispatch alerts all units to respond. Multiple Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) employees use the school’s emergency alert system, Raptor™, to send an alert as the subject reaches the West Building.

As the subject reaches the West Building, he initiates multiple barrages of gunfire along the exterior west wall. Children and teachers are outside on the playground at the time, as the subject then approaches the building. At 11:33 a.m., the subject enters through the northwest door of the West Building via the closed, unpropped, and unlocked exterior door. The subject enters the building approximately five minutes after he crashes into the ravine and 11 minutes after shooting his grandmother. The subject walks directly to adjoining rooms 111 and 112 and begins shooting toward their recessed doors. The subject walks into the vestibule while shooting and appears to try to access and may enter room 112. Approximately 10 seconds later, the subject steps back into the hallway, continuing to shoot, and then appears to enter room 111. The subject then accesses both rooms 111 and 112 through the connecting doors between them.

Within three minutes of the subject entering the building, first responding officers enter from both the south and northwest side entrances while the subject is actively shooting inside rooms 111 and 112. In addition to hearing gunfire, the officers experience smoke from recent gun fire and dust from sheetrock and see shell casings on the floor. Officers quickly identify where the shooting is occurring and run toward rooms 111 and 112.

Responding officers are hit with shrapnel from the shooter’s gunfire from inside the classrooms. After initial approaches toward the doors, the officers retreat, not approaching the doors again until entry is made more than an hour later.

Upon arrival, responding officers also learn of intermittent radio difficulties when inside the hallway. Some officers go outside of the hallway and request a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team and additional resources over the radio, including shields, flashbangs, and for all units to respond starting at 11:37 a.m. An active school shooting is called out over the radio early on during the incident, but then the terms “contained” and “barricade” are used multiple times to describe the conditions of the incident during Phase I of the event, including over the radio to dispatchers and officers en route (starting at 11:37 a.m.). Also, at 11:37 a.m., Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department (UCISD PD) Ofc. 1 identifies the room the shooter is in as his wife’s classroom.

Phase II: 11:40 a.m.–12:21 p.m.

Phase II of the incident begins at 11:40 a.m., after the initial response has ended, defined as the last time the first officers on scene retreat from the doorway of classrooms 111/112. Phase II ends when multiple shots are fired again from inside the classrooms at 12:21 p.m. and officers move down the hallway and toward the classrooms.

During this 41-minute period of time, many more officers from a multitude of agencies arrive on scene. There is a great deal of confusion, miscommunication, a lack of urgency, and a lack of incident command. Analysis of how the lack of an incident command structure impedes the overall response is in “Chapter 3. Leadership, Incident Command, and Coordination.”

At 11:40 a.m., UCISD PD Chief Pete Arredondo, who tossed his radios because he stated that he wanted his hands to be free and indicated there were reception and transmission issues inside the building, calls the emergency communications center from inside the West Building and says that he is inside the building with the subject, who is armed with an AR-15. Chief Arredondo says he “needs a lot of firepower” and that he wants “the building surrounded.” As he is on the phone with dispatch, he learns about a call occurring at the same time from a teacher in the building, who states they believe another teacher has been shot. Chief Arredondo asks whether the teacher is with the shooter, but dispatch does not know. He shares the room number of the shooter’s location with dispatch, then asks for SWAT to set up by the funeral home (which is across the street). He states that he needs more firepower because “all we have” in the hallway at that time are handguns.

The scene continues to be largely a bifurcated response on the north and south ends of the hallway. There is some effort to communicate across each side of the hallway, primarily by phone calls between Chief Arredondo and Uvalde County Precinct 1 Constable Johnny Field. Chief Arredondo and Constable Field coordinate the evacuation of rooms in the West Building; however, at no point is there a common operating plan among officers on scene. Inside the building, intermittent radio issues continue, with radios sometimes working and sometimes not. Chief Arredondo is on the south side of the hallway, and many—but not all—officers on both sides of the hallway view him as the incident commander.

As more officers respond to the scene, families and local community members also begin to gather near the school and funeral home, many of whom express concern and fear for their children. As time passes, bystanders grow increasingly upset and even angry about the tragedy unfolding at the school and the lack of information available to them.

There is ongoing discussion among officers on scene about negotiating with the subject in classrooms 111/112. The discussion is often marked by confusion, including the incorrect information that Chief Arredondo is in the room with the subject. This is broadcast over the radio and conveyed in person among officers on scene. Although the misinformation is corrected by some officers, it persists and continues to spread inside and outside the hallway. This misinformation is first stated at 11:50 a.m. and repeated over the radio. At 12:10 p.m., 20 minutes later, the misinformation is still being shared when a TXDPS trooper on scene misinforms TXDPS dispatch. Attempts to begin a dialogue with the shooter by phone and from outside of the room in the hallway are unsuccessful in both English and Spanish.

At approximately 11:56 a.m., UCISD PD Ofc. 1 informs Constable Field, in the presence of several other officers at the T-intersection of the West Building hallway (see figure 1-1 on page 8), that his wife, a teacher in classroom 112, says she has been shot. Uvalde Police Department (UPD) Acting Chief Mariano Pargas guides UCISD PD Ofc. 1 out of the hallway via the northwest door.

Classroom 110 has already been cleared by Chief Arredondo at the onset of the response. Rooms 127 and 126 in the northeast hallway of the building are cleared and evacuated beginning at approximately 11:54 a.m. The classrooms on the west side of the building are cleared and evacuated between 11:58 a.m. and 12:07p.m., and each evacuation is completed in approximately two minutes or less. Officers on scene break the exterior windows to rooms 102, 103, 104, 105, and 106 to evacuate children and teachers.

Students and a teacher in room 108 are evacuated directly out into the hallway and south doorway. One teacher is evacuated from room 116 directly through the hallway and out the west entry door. Room 129 is also found to have one teacher inside, who is evacuated out the east entry door. One child is found inside the boy’s restroom and evacuated out the east entry door. One adult is evacuated from room 132. One adult is evacuated from the library sometime around 12:00 p.m.; however, the exact time is unknown. Evacuated children and staff run to the funeral home, where families also begin to converge. Other rooms in the West Building are cleared and found to be vacant. Some doors are locked, and some are not.

As children and teachers are evacuated from classrooms, there is growing realization that, in addition to the teacher inside classrooms 111/112 with the subject, there are likely children present in these rooms. Chief Arredondo, in attempts to negotiate with the subject, states “these are innocent children.”
10 Uvalde Police Department Body-Worn Camera Footage. A TXDPS sergeant comments to another TXDPS agent on scene that the subject “shot kids.” While assisting with evacuations, UPD Sgt. 1 comments that “there has to be kids everywhere.”

By approximately 12:09 p.m., all classrooms in the hallways have been evacuated and/or cleared except rooms 111/112, where the subject is, and room 109. Room 109 is found to be locked and believed to have children inside.

At the south end of the hallway, the focus on evacuating room 109 sets off a search for master keys and calls for any entry team from the north end of the hallway to wait until that room is evacuated. Uvalde County Precinct 6 Constable Zamora goes to the north side of the hallway and obtains a set of keys from a UCISD PD lieutenant. Concerned about crossfire into room 109, Chief Arredondo says that the team presumed to be entering classrooms 111/112 from the other side of the hallway needs to wait until they are able to evacuate room 109. He says, “Time is on our side right now. I know we got kids in there, but we gotta save the lives of the other ones.” At approximately 12:10 p.m. a child calls 911 from inside classroom 112, stating they are in a room full of victims. The call lasts approximately 16 minutes, through the shots that are fired at 12:21. Dispatch broadcasts over the radio information about the call at approximately 12:12 p.m., and this information is received and disseminated through both sides of the hallway.

Around this time, the CBP Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) commander arrives on scene. The BORTAC commander speaks on the phone with a TXDPS sergeant, who relays Chief Arredondo’s direction to wait for entry. Soon after the call started from the child inside classroom 112, word continues to spread to the law enforcement group at the T-intersection that there are victims in room 112. A law enforcement officer states that “an officer heard from his wife who is in the room dying.”

At 12:21, while Constable Zamora is re-trying keys on room 109, the subject fires four shots inside classrooms 111/112. Officers on both sides of the hallway quickly take cover. Some in the T-intersection immediately move into formation without a word. A Zavala County deputy and a CBP agent advance down the hallway toward the shots fired, followed by the CBP BORTAC commander, another CBP agent, a TXDPS special agent, and others trailing behind. The other law enforcement personnel remain at the T-intersection without advancing. At this point, there is an understanding on both sides of the hallway that an entry team has been formed and they are about to make entry into rooms 111/112.

Phase III: 12:22 p.m.–12:49:58 p.m.

Phase III of the timeline begins at 12:22 p.m., immediately following four shots fired inside classrooms 111 and 112, and continues through the entry and ensuing gunfight at 12:49 p.m. During this time frame, officers on the north side of the hallway approach the classroom doors and stop short, presuming the doors are locked and that master keys are necessary. Also during this time, UCISD PD Chief Pete Arredondo calls off the directive to evacuate room 109 through the door using master keys and instead orders that the evacuation be conducted through the windows. When classroom 109 is evacuated, it is discovered that the room has in fact been occupied by numerous students, including a teacher who has been shot in the abdomen and a child who has been hit in the face by shrapnel. They have been inside room 109 bleeding and muffling their cries to avoid detection by the subject.

Chief Arredondo, who is on the phone with another responding officer on the north side of the hallway, gives the go-ahead to make entry into classrooms 111/112. Chief Arredondo states, “What team? Got a team ready to go? Have at it.” He then begins explaining aspects of the building and classroom, stating that the door is probably locked and that he is going to try to find some keys to test.

Law enforcement medics arrive and begin establishing a triage area outside of the restrooms on the north side of the hallway.

The CBP BORTAC commander tries one set of presumed master keys that do not work. After waiting for approximately nine minutes, the BORTAC commander goes to retrieve breaching tools. Shortly after he returns, working master keys arrive at approximately 12:36 p.m. With working keys in hand, officers in the hallway wait to find out whether a sniper can obtain a visual and eliminate the subject through the window. This is unsuccessful.

At around 12:48 p.m., the entry team enters the room. Though the entry team puts the key in the door, turns the key, and opens it, pulling the door toward them, the CIR Team concludes that the door is likely already unlocked, as the shooter gained entry through the door and it is unlikely that he locked it thereafter. The entry team is composed of three BORTAC members, a CBP Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue Unit (BORSTAR) member, and deputies from two local sheriffs’ departments— Uvalde and Zavala counties. There is one shield in the stack, which had been provided by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and is rifle-rated. As the entry team prepares to move in, the door begins to swing closed. One team member attempts to move a chair against the door to prop it open, but the door is too heavy, and eventually another member of the entry team simply holds it open as the team makes entry.

After a brief pause in action, gunfire erupts from inside the classrooms. The subject is killed by the entry team at approximately 12:49:58. A BORTAC member receives a graze to their head and leg.

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