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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks on the Justice Department’s Report on its Critical Incident Review of the Response to the Mass Shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas


Uvalde, TX
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Good morning.

Last night, I met with some of the survivors and the loved ones of the victims of the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. I came here to tell them that the United States Department of Justice has finished its Critical Incident Review.

In undertaking this review at the request of the then-mayor, the Justice Department committed to using our expertise and independence to assess the law enforcement response to the shooting, and to provide guidance moving forward.

As I told families and survivors last night, the Department’s review concluded that a series of major failures — failures in leadership, in tactics, in communication, and in training and preparedness — were made by law enforcement leaders and other officials responding to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary.

As a result, 33 students and three of their teachers — many of whom had been shot — were trapped in a room with an active shooter for over an hour as law enforcement officials remained outside.

I also told the families and survivors how deeply sorry I am for the losses they suffered that day. And for the losses they have endured every day since.

I told them that the priority for the Justice Department in preparing this report has been to honor the memories of those who were taken from them.

And I told the families gathered last night what I hope is clear among the hundreds of pages and thousands of details in this report: their loved ones deserved better.

The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022 — and in the hours and days after — was a failure that should not have happened.

We hope to honor the victims and the survivors by working together to try to prevent anything like it from happening again, here or anywhere.

I am now going to turn to the key observations and recommendations of the report.

On May 24, 2022, at 11:33 a.m., an active shooter, wearing body armor and equipped with a high-powered AR-15 rifle, entered Robb Elementary School and began shooting into classrooms 111 and 112, which shared a connecting door. 

Within minutes, 11 law enforcement officers, from the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and Uvalde Police Department, arrived inside the school. Hearing continued gunfire, five officers immediately advanced toward classrooms 111 and 112. Within seconds, shots were fired from inside the classrooms, shrapnel hit two officers, and all responders retreated to cover.

A single officer then made additional attempts to approach the classrooms, but after 11:40 a.m., no more attempts to enter the rooms were made until 12:48 p.m., more than an hour later.  

As a consequence of failed leadership, training, and policies — injured and scared students and teachers remained trapped with the subject in the classrooms, waiting to be rescued. Survivors later shared that they heard officers gathered outside the classroom while they waited.

The victims trapped in classrooms 111 and 112 were waiting to be rescued at 11:44 a.m. — approximately 10 minutes after officers first arrived — when the subject fired another shot inside the classrooms.

They were still waiting at 11:56 a.m., when an officer on the scene told law enforcement leaders that his wife, a teacher, was inside classrooms 111 and 112, and had been shot. 

They were still waiting as broadcasts went out on officer radios that a student trapped inside classroom [112] had called 911 at 12:10 p.m., to say the student was in a room full of victims. That student stayed on the phone with 911 for 16 minutes.

The victims were still waiting to be rescued when the subject fired four more shots inside the classrooms at 12:21 p.m., 49 minutes after officers first arrived on scene. 

And they were still waiting for another 27 minutes after that until officers finally entered the classrooms and killed the subject.

As the victims were trapped and waiting for help, many of their families were waiting outside the school, growing increasingly concerned about why law enforcement had not taken action to rescue their loved ones.

Law enforcement officers from different agencies, who had self-deployed to the scene in overwhelming numbers, were themselves waiting for leadership decisions about how to proceed.

Many officers reported that they did not know: who, if anyone, was in charge; what they should do; or the status of the incident.  

Some officers were confused about why there was no attempt to confront the active shooter and rescue the children.  

Some officers believed the subject had already been killed, or that law enforcement was in the room with the shooter.

Seventy-five minutes after the first officers arrived on scene, officers finally entered room 111. The subject engaged the entry team with gunfire, and the officers responded with fire.

Seventy-seven minutes after the first officers arrived on scene, and after 45 rounds had been fired by the active shooter, the shooter was killed.

The massacre at Robb Elementary school shattered families throughout this community and devastated our country. Nineteen children and two of their teachers. An untold number of students, teachers, and law enforcement officers were injured.

The law enforcement response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary was a failure.

As the threat posed to our country by mass shootings has grown and evolved over the past several decades, law enforcement’s response tactics have also changed.

The massacre at Columbine High School 25 years ago, and the 47 minutes it took for law enforcement to enter that high school, marked a major shift in how law enforcement leaders think about responding to mass shootings.

It is now widely understood by law enforcement agencies across the country that, in active shooter incidents, time is not on the side of law enforcement. Every second counts. And the priority of law enforcement must be to immediately enter the room and stop the shooter with whatever weapons and tools officers have with them.

That is the approach responding officers first employed when they arrived at Robb Elementary School.

But within minutes of arriving inside the school, officials on scene transitioned from treating the scene as an active shooter situation to treating the shooter as a barricaded subject.

This was the most significant failure.

That failure meant that law enforcement officials prioritized a protracted evacuation of students and teachers in other classrooms, instead of immediately rescuing the victims trapped with the active shooter.

It meant that officials spent time attempting to negotiate with the subject, instead of trying to enter the rooms and confront him. 

It meant that officials asked for and waited for additional responders and equipment, instead of following generally accepted active shooter practice and moving toward the shooter with the resources they had.

It meant waiting for a set of keys to open the classroom door, which the report concludes was likely unlocked anyway.

And, it meant that the victims remained trapped with the shooter for more than an hour after the first officers arrived on scene.

There were also failures in leadership, command, and coordination. 

None of the law enforcement leaders at the scene established an incident command structure to provide timely direction, control, and coordination of the enormous number of responders who arrived on scene. This lack of a command structure, exacerbated by communications difficulties, contributed to confusion among responders about who was in charge and how they could help.

These failures may also have been influenced by policy and training deficiencies at responding law enforcement agencies. Some lacked any active shooter training at all; some had inappropriate training; some lacked critical incident response training; and the vast majority had never trained together with different agencies.

As Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta will discuss in further detail, the chaos and confusion that defined the law enforcement response while the shooter remained a threat also defined the aftermath.

For example, surviving victims, some with bullet wounds and other injuries, were put on buses without being brought to the attention of medics. Some families were told that their family members had survived when they had not.  

And victims, families, and community members struggled to receive timely and accurate information about what had occurred at Robb Elementary.

The Justice Department’s objective in preparing this report was threefold: first, to honor the victims, the survivors, and their loved ones.

Second, to provide a clear and independent accounting of the law enforcement response to the horrific attack that devastated this community.

And third, to provide law enforcement agencies and communities across the country with analysis and recommendations about how what happened in Uvalde should inform efforts to prepare for and respond to mass shootings.  

Policing is a noble profession. It is also a hard one. It requires training and constant education about evolving threats.

The report includes widely accepted recommendations that have been adopted by law enforcement agencies across the country about how to prepare for, and respond to, active shooter situations.

Before an active shooter incident occurs, law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to ensure that their leaders and all their officers are trained to focus on rapid response — trained that the first officers on scene must focus on eliminating the threat and protecting the victims most in danger.

Law enforcement leaders responding to an active shooter must be prepared to take charge, to establish a unified command, and to facilitate communications, operational coordination, and allocation and delivery of resources. They must continually assess and adjust as the incident evolves.

And in the aftermath of a mass shooting, law enforcement and government agencies must provide the public with a sense of trust and confidence by communicating openly, clearly, and compassionately during a time in which many are learning the most devastating news that anyone can receive.

The victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, deserved better.

First and foremost, the 19 children and their two teachers who were stolen from their loved ones should be here today.

They should never have been targeted by a mass shooter.

We must never forget the shooter’s heinous acts that day.  

And the victims and survivors should never have been trapped with that shooter for more than an hour as they waited for their rescue.

The families of the victims and survivors deserved more than incomplete, inaccurate, and conflicting communications about the status of their loved ones.

This community deserved more than misinformation from officials during and after the attack.

Responding officers here in Uvalde — who also lost loved ones and who still bear the emotional scars of that day — deserved the kind of leadership and training that would have prepared them to do the work that was required.

Our children deserve better than to grow up in a country where an 18-year-old has easy access to a weapon that belongs on battlefield, not in a classroom.

And communities across the country, and the law enforcement officers who protect them, deserve better than to be forced to respond to one horrific mass shooting after another.  

But that is the terrible reality that we face.

And so, it is the reality that every law enforcement agency in every community across the country must be prepared for.

No community and no law enforcement agency should have to face that threat alone.

That is why we came to Uvalde. And that why we are releasing this report.

The Justice Department remains committed to working in partnership with communities across the country, and with the law enforcement agencies working to protect those communities every day. In particular, we stand ready to help communities and agencies prepare to respond to a terrible incident like the one that occurred here.

We have concluded the Department’s review. But we know that the work of healing here in Uvalde is only beginning.

We are humbled and grateful to stand with this community as you remember and honor your loved ones.

I will now turn the podium over to Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. Her leadership has been key in the Department’s efforts to conduct an independent, fair, and comprehensive review of the horrific mass shooting of May 24 and its aftermath.  

I am also grateful to the entire Critical Incident Review team, and to the Department’s COPS Office under the leadership of Hugh Clements, for their tireless work.


Updated January 18, 2024