“Personal and system failures” culminated in the mass shooting that left 14 students and three faculty members dead and 17 people wounded at a Broward County high school, according to a report by a state panel that spent months investigating the Valentine’s Day massacre.
The report, unanimously approved Wednesday by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, blamed the Broward County school system and sheriff’s office for being unprepared and for delays in responding to the volley of bullets from the AR-15 rifle used by confessed killer Nikolas Cruz.
According to the 446-page report, sheriff’s deputies spent several minutes donning bullet-proof vests, while others hid behind cars, as Cruz methodically went from room to room gunning down teachers and teenagers at his former school.
Cruz, who has pleaded not guilty to 17 counts of murder, had a lengthy history of mental-health problems and run-ins with authority figures, including law enforcement and school officials, leading up to the Feb. 14 assault on the Parkland school in an affluent neighborhood in western Broward County.
While “personal and system failures” resulted in the horrific school shooting, “it is important to be mindful that the one true ‘cause’ that resulted in 34 people being shot and/or killed, is Nikolas Cruz,” the preface to the report said.
State lawmakers responded to the mass shooting, which occurred during the 2018 legislative session, by quickly passing a sweeping law that raised from 18 to 21 the age to buy long guns, such as the rifle Cruz legally purchased; banned so-called “bump stocks;” and imposed school-safety requirements and mental-health screenings for students.
The new law also required all schools to have at least one school safety officer and allowed districts to hire armed “guardians” — school personnel whose primary job duties are outside the classroom — to supplement the officers, who are usually deputies.
That was only the beginning. “While there are funding challenges and some laws,” the report states, “rules or regulations may be impediments to better ‘hardened’ schools, our schools’ greatest vulnerabilities exist because of voids in basic security policies and strategies—such as effective Code Red policies, communications/notification systems, locked doors, limited access to campuses and designated hard corners or safe areas within student occupied spaces—that will mitigate harm. Before considering more advanced
prevention-based target-hardening school safety strategies through additional funding and/or law changes, which we support, schools must ensure basic harm mitigation procedures and safeguards are in place immediately.”
In its report Wednesday, the state panel recommended that classroom teachers also be allowed to act as armed “guardians,” even though that controversial idea created an impasse before the school-safety measure passed last year.
Allowing specially trained teachers with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns to classrooms was among the many recommendations offered by the commission, which was created as part of the law. The only commission member to vote against the armed-teacher proposal was Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was among the slain students.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the commission, defended the proposal.
“This isn’t about ideology. This is about reality, and this is about making sure that we can save kids’ lives,” Gualtieri said.
Cruz reloaded five times during the minutes-long assault at the high school, Gualtieri said.
“Anybody who thinks we’re going to get rid of guns is crazy. We’ve got to do something,” said the sheriff, who at one time opposed allowing teachers to carry weapons but has since reversed his stance.
Teachers should undergo “an absolutely rigorous selection process” and training prior to getting permission to bring guns to schools, Gualtieri said, adding that Floridians “have to be realistic” about the threats schools are facing.
The “best possibility” to reduce the harm to students and faculty is to have someone trained with a gun on campus, he said. “And that’s school staff,” he said.
Other recommendations include a call for schools to more accurately report criminal or safety incidents on campus, to have every student’s mental health and counseling records follow him or her from school to school, to grant real-time, automatic access to campus-based video surveillance feeds to law enforcement authorities, and to give all school resource officers access to rifles and bullet proof vests. (The latter recommendation has been implemented in Flagler schools, with high-powered rifles available to deputies.) The report also calls for school resource officers to be more closely monitored and supervised. In Flagler schools, there are two levels of supervision.
The commission is also recommending more funding for school-based cops: “The Florida Legislature should: increase safe schools allocation for school resource officers and/or guardians, provide adequate recurring funding for the Guardian Program and consider increased funding for individuals who are hired solely to fill the role of guardian,” it states, “allow for the use of school safety funding between different categories based on need and amend current version of Senate Bill 7026 to allow for safe schools allocation to be used for new or existing school resource officers; and restore local authority to public school boards to levy up to a half mill without a referendum for law enforcement officers or guardians, or other direct school security expenses.”
The report also encouraged schools and law enforcement agencies to implement “effective response systems and policies, including active assailant training.”
The commission reviewed hours of video and audio from the school and emergency responses to the shooting and heard tearful testimony from parents, students and others during its months-long probe.
“Safety and security accountability is lacking in schools,” the preface to the report said. “There must be a sense of urgency — and there is not, across the board — in enhancing school safety.”
The report found that “school safety in Florida needs to be improved,” a position Gualtieri elaborated on during Wednesday’s news conference.
“The reality of this is that it is going to happen again. The question is where. The question is when,” the sheriff said, urging leaders to consider “what changes have we made to mitigate the harm as quickly as possible.”
The recommendations ranged from broad-based advice about issues such as “harm mitigation” to specific suggestions about items such as locked classroom doors and bulletproof windows.
The report also urged school officials and others to identify potentially dangerous students as young as possible, indicating that early intervention could have prevented the Parkland tragedy. The panel also advised officials to ensure that “mental and behavioral issues are properly addressed.”
“At its core, basic, effective school safety begins with prevention. Prevention strategies not only focus on target hardening, but include early intervention when youth demonstrate indicators that should be immediately and appropriately assessed and addressed,” the report read.
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive