Tactical Analysis: Nashville Active Shooter Response

April 10, 2023

Editor’s note: Dan Marcou, co-author of Calibre Press’s Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Force Encounters, drafted an analysis of the tactical response to the Nashville active shooter for PoliceOne.com. We wanted to share that with you with their generous permission.

Here are Dan’s observations:

On March 27, an active killer entered the Covenant School in Nashville heavily armed and hunting for children.

Officers from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department responded to a “shots fired” call, immediately entering the school and stopping the killer, who prior to their arrival murdered three young children and three adults.

Although this is a tragedy beyond bearing for the families involved, it is an example to use so that our profession might learn from the police department’s response to this school shooting.

As a trainer, I must state unequivocally that the Nashville police excelled in their response to this tragedy, as demonstrated by the bodycam footage from Nashville Officers Rex Engelbert and Michael Collazo.

And here is how they did this, by the numbers:

1. Preparation of police

It is clear that these officers were well-trained for this response in advance. They appeared mentally prepared by demonstrating a calm determination while applying observable learned skills dynamically in a real-world application.

2. “Long guns for long halls”

As Nashville Officer Rex Engelbert dismounted, he quickly accessed his trunk and acquired his patrol rifle, choosing the right tool for this deadly challenge.

3. Preparation of the school personnel

School employees showed prior training as well, because as Officer Engelbert arrived, a courageous female stood by to pass on critical information that most children were locked down, but two children were unaccounted for.

Another male employee was positioned at a door where he turned a key over to the officers while properly using cover.

4. Excellent communication throughout

Communication throughout the response was professional, effective and essential.  These officers used trained professional terms. It should be noted they not only used verbal communication but also hand signals, which appeared universally understood.

5. Officers gathered and shared information

Officers were constantly gathering and quickly sharing information.

6. Identification

The officers announced their presence and authority upon arrival.

7. Diversion

The officers used the noise present as a diversion to allow them to move to flank the shooter.

8. Proper weapons discipline

Throughout the incident officers showed excellent weapons discipline, using their muzzle as a “third eye,” controlling muzzle direction while maintaining their fingers off their triggers right up to when the use of deadly force was necessary,

9. Smooth was fast

The officers moved quickly as they searched for the killer but maintained a speed that appeared to be at once fast, but smooth enough to be able to hit what they were shooting at if needed.

Whenever an officer slowed during the search, other officers realizing the urgency instantly communicated that urgency, causing the team to speed up once again. These officers exemplified the old tactical adage “smooth is fast.”

10. Excellent building clearing skills

  • Leapfrog: On display was the tactic of leapfrogging as officers moved through the building, making certain the uncleared areas ahead were covered. This was especially noticeable as teams took the stairs.
  • Proper use of cover and slicing the pie (or quartering): The officers were constantly slicing the pie, using cover on the move.
  • Breacher: A breacher was assigned to breach each door, while another officer had the interior room on the other side of the doorway covered. Entries were smoothly made, usually having the first officer cross and the second buttonhook, announcing “clear” when each room was cleared.
  • Corners: They could be seen expertly clearing dangerous corners to avoid ambush.
  • Long guns lead: Long guns lead the way throughout up until the last shots were fired.

11. Secured perimeter

During the search, officers were placed to hold the cleared area to prevent the shooter from exiting or circling around them.

12. Officers “rode to the sound of the guns!”

The moment the killer was heard to fire at other officers arriving on scene, both teams adjusted to do as the cavalry used to do. They “rode to the sound of the guns.”

13. Convergence on the threat

There was communication prior to contact, so both teams conducting the search for the killer knew the location of each team. When the killer opened fire on the officers outside, both teams moved to the sound of fire and converged in a perfect right angle configuration, containing the killer, and avoiding the potential of a crossfire.

14. Proper threat assessment

When officers located the shooter, the killer appeared to take a firing position behind a decorative chair.  From the officers’ vantage point, it was clear the suspect:

  • Was in possession of a deadly weapon.
  • Had the intent to use that weapon and in fact had already used it, to deliver death or great bodily harm.
  • Activated their delivery system, posing an imminent deadly threat to the officers.
  • The killer made the officer’s use of deadly force a last resort.

15. Proper response

Officer Engelbert can be seen establishing target acquisition, identification and isolation, so while using proper trigger control on his weapon he fired until the killer went down. Engelbert paused to re-assess.

As these shots were fired, Officer Collazo’s team converged from the right of the suspect. The suspect went down, but still had access to the weapon and appeared to be moving toward it. Collazo fired as well, communicating “Movement!”

The movement toward the weapon stopped so all firing stopped and an arrest team cautiously approached.

16. Follow-through

With the threat neutralized. the crime scene was cleared and locked down.

Children were sought out and found, while officers took care not to inflict any further trauma. The children were evacuated hand in hand to the nearby church to facilitate reuniting with their families.

Investigators took over the scene.

Victims were located and identified and family notifications were made.

17. Release of Public information

The release of information was done by Nashville Police Chief John Drake. He released as much as he could as soon as he could in a style that humanized police in a laudable manner.

The chief’s release of information, security footage and body-worn camera footage occurred in near record time while seeming to not jeopardize the investigation.

18. By the numbers

The only way this response could have been improved upon would be if someone who knew the shooter would have come forward during this killer’s earlier fantasy, planning, preparation, or approach phases and reported the shooter, thereby preventing the killing. Sadly, such was not the case.

However, once the “shots fired call” came in, the response by everyone involved appeared to this trainer to be by the numbers, serving as a template for others to follow.

This was indeed a job well done!


In watching the body camera footage, when Officer Rex Engelbert opened his trunk to acquire his long gun I noticed the words “Nashville Guardian” on the back of the squad. This incident quite starkly demonstrates a point I have put forward often. That is “when you give someone the proverbial shield of a guardian, sooner or later they will be called upon to draw the sword of a warrior.”

With that said, to all you guardians out there, “On guard!”

Thoughts? Anything to add? E-mail us at: editor@calibrepress.com


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  1. Rob Conley

    MNPD began active school shooting training at a decommissioned elementary school right after Columbine. The entire department was trained in these entry, clearing, and engagement techniques and then did so force-on-force with simunition weapons. The leadership of MNPD had realized after Columbine that the department had to plan, train, and act in the event of one of these situations and did so almost immediately. What the nation saw in this response was the result of more than two decades of training and preparation for such an event. When that call came, MNPD’s warriors were ready. And they did it perfectly.

  2. Tom Harmsen

    Perfect combination of weapons for the contact team. One with the highly versatile general purpose carbine, which, with a variable optic, can also act as a “designated marksman’s rifle”, should that capability be needed. One officer with a 12 gauge shotgun, in case high power high penetration, low volume fire became needed. One officer armed with a handgun only, to be the ‘hands on’ guy with the ability to free up both hands, simply by holstering his sidearm. The PERFECT combination! In the words of ‘Hill St Blues’ Sgt Esterhaus, NICELY DONE!

  3. Tom

    This response reminds me of Romans 13:4

  4. Al Nieves

    Thank you for this detailed tactical breakdown (de-brief) of this incident!

  5. Mike Simmons

    Excellent breakdown, Dan. One of the most important points you made was that these officers had trained for just such a scenario. In today’s climate, if a department doesn’t mandate such training, they are neglecting their citizens. It is no longer a matter of “if” an incident will occur, but “when.” Good article.

  6. Colonel Jim Smith, Public Safety Director, Cottonwood AL Police Department

    I keep seeing the issue of officers not able to gain access into structures during active shooter events. This happened in Uvalde and again in the Nashville School shooting according to released body worn camera video. Officers went to the second floor and found a locked door. They had to retreat and enter on the ground level. Law enforcement needs to pay attention to these issues. Schools and businesses are sometimes reluctant to hand out school keys or key fobs, even to law enforcement. Regardless officers must be able to access structures either using keys/key fobs, the key lock boxes used by fire departments, or forcibly. Following these recent events we have issued forcible entry tools in a portable, “slingable” bag. After training the officers have in their police vehicle a Mossberg 590 Shockwave modified for breaching, breaching rounds, a short pry bar, small sledge hammer, bolt cutters, glass breaking tool, tourniquets, battle dressings, door stops and paracord, marking pens, tape, and other related items. This bag allows officers to sling it and carry a long gun but still access the contents of the bag quickly without removing it. Although the local school system has issued key fobs, one still needs to be able to forcibly enter a structure. When officers neutralize the threat, they can treat any nearby victims or escort tactical medical personnel. Seconds literally count in these events!

  7. Edward Wezain

    The Officers involved should not have to buy a beer at their local bar for at least the next 10 years.

  8. Robert H. German

    Your assessment of this incident is “spot on”. While there is always room for improvement, this is one of those times when you can say it was executed as close to textbook as you can get. It appeared that everyone responding to the incident was focused on what his/her role was and what needed to be done, an example of the “team” approach at its best. In these types of active shooter incidents, every responding officer must be focused on his/her individual role, as well as, a member of the team. I do not know how often these officers practiced together their response prior to this incident, but I suggest that every officer must practice his/her response daily. Mental preparation is key to a successful outcome. Because each case is fluid, individual officers must understand the big picture and where they fit in that picture at any given time. The officer’s individual role in the team may likely be dictated by when he/she arrives on scene. The goal is to urgently and accurately engage the shooter. Time saves lives. Years ago, officers were trained to secure the seen and wait for backup. That was a good policy when dealing with a suspected burglary but not good policy for an active shooter. In an active shooter situation, the goal is to form a team as quickly as possible and working together as a team, attack the attacker. Each team member will serve in the role determined during the formation of the team, Every officer must be flexible and able to perform whatever role is required. Whether an officer is the leader, the entry person, the rear security or is assigned to secure an area of the building after it is cleared, each officer must be ready to fulfill whatever position he/she is in. In the Nashville incident, the responding officers assumed their roles and acted in concert with each other. That process, together with execution and a keen sense of duty led to the resolution of the event without further loss of life. Until society discovers the key to ending these types of incidents, the only thing police can do is react and respond as quickly and effectively as possible. I suggest the answer is going to be multi-lateral and we need to evaluate all remedies available. Until then, preventing loss of life must be the focus of our response. Outstanding job Nashville Metro – you did your job and you did it very well.

  9. Anonymous

    Excellent assessment and summary of each effective detail.

  10. fred

    i’m 99% on board with your evaluation…..the 1% disagreement lies with the alarm activation…….as you pointed out, communications, whether verbal, non-verbal, body language e.c.t., is essential for this type of a successful operation……acoustics in this situation is vital, therefore, i would had rather dealt with a controlled sound element as opposed to possible or missed communications of team engagement due to extensive, imprecise or confusing alarm activation,,,,,,,,i understand the implementation of “distractions” for advantage purposes, but here i think a disconnect would have provided an “advantage”.


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