The Forgotten Lesson of Uvalde: Locked Doors Save Lives

As anyone who has worked with Tomahawk knows, we are ardent believers in mastering the basics of any skill. When it comes to conducting school security inspections and surveys, the basics start with locked doors.

In advance of the upcoming school year, many of our law enforcement partners will be tasked with conducting school security site surveys. They will be asked to review the school’s security plans and policies, inspect and evaluate its physical security measures, and make improvement recommendations. As officers consult with educational professionals, they must not overlook the most obvious security measure – locked doors.

What Happened at Robb Elementary?

On May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas, an armed man entered Robb Elementary’s West Building through an unlocked door.  Seconds later, he entered classroom 111. Inside, he murdered 19 children and two teachers and injured at least 17 others. Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice released its review of the Uvalde school shooting, titled  Critical Incident Review: Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School.  The report appropriately centered on the law enforcement failures of that day. However, some 350 pages into its report, the DOJ turned its focus to the issue of unlocked doors at Robb Elementary. Its findings were shocking. All of the West Building’s exterior doors were unlocked1.  Additionally, 8 of the building’s 17 interior doors remained unlocked throughout the shooting2.

In the same moment that the first shots were fired, Robb Elementary called 911 and the West Building began its lockdown procedures. Approximately three-and-a-half minutes later – more than enough time to lock a classroom door – the shooter walked unimpeded into the West Building through an unlocked exterior door. Minutes after the lockdown procedures were first initiated, the shooter entered classroom 111 through what was “probably3” an unlocked door.  The exact state of the classroom door remains unknown. However, the teacher assigned to classroom 111 reported that, due to its poor condition, the door took “special effort” to lock. Further, he told investigators that he does not recall locking the classroom door during the shooting4.  Moreover, surveillance footage shows the gunman entering classroom 111 without taking any action that can be perceived as defeating a locked door.  Tragically, and far too late, the DOJ determined that Robb Elementary’s “exterior and interior doors were routinely left unlocked.”

Security Measures Must be Supported by Enforced Policy

Like most school districts, Uvalde had policies and procedures in place to maintain security and prevent a school shooting. These policies were largely the result of thoughtful consideration and lessons learned from other school shootings. Uvalde’s policy required that all doors, exterior and interior, throughout campus be locked when class was in session5. In addition to school administrators, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department was responsible for enforcing the locked-door policy. Unfortunately, both entities failed to fully appreciate the critical importance of both having locked doors and strictly enforcing the locked-door policy. The DOJ would later determine that Robb Elementary “had a culture of complacency regarding locked-door policies … and there was no enforced system of accountability for these policies6.”

Moving Forward: Master the Basics of Locked Doors

As our law enforcement partners work with their local educational professionals, they must stress the importance of locked doors. The good news is that this extremely effective security measure fits into the “no-cost/low-cost” category. Most school doors already have locks; and adding, upgrading, or repairing locks is not typically a large expense. Moreover, locked door policies likely already exist or are simple to create. Enforcement of the policy is relatively easy and highly effective.

Protecting schools through the use of locked doors and the strict enforcement of policy that supports their use merely requires dedication to an already identified and simple solution. Locking doors does not require an advancement in existing technology, a significant financial investment, or a dramatic change in human behavior or school culture. It merely requires that school doors be locked.


1 Critical Incident Review: Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School at 344.  It is unclear if the exterior door leading directly into the library was unlocked.
2 Critical Incident Review: Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School at 345.
3 The Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting Report (July 2022) at 71.
4 Ibid.
5 Critical Incident Review: Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School at 341.
6 Critical Incident Review: Active Shooter at Robb Elementary School at xxviii.