The headline says it all: “Unprepared and Overwhelmed.” It was the title to an article detailing an investigation carried out by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel regarding the mistakes made during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida in February.
The report, published Friday, goes through the detailed series of events that unfolded at the school as shooter Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students. The conclusion? The shooting could have been stopped in the early stages had school administrators and Broward County Sheriff’s deputies acted decisively and in line with established procedures.
The report says that two chances were missed to possibly stop the shooter when Cruz was spotted on campus. The first came from security monitor Andrew Medina, who saw Cruz walking onto campus with a rifle bag.
Medina said that he recognized the shooter “as ‘Crazy Boy’ the former student that he and his colleagues had predicted most likely to shoot up the school. He radios another campus monitor/coach, but he does not pursue Cruz and does not call a Code Red to lock down the school.”
Medina, the Sun-Sentinel reported, shouldn’t have even been in the position given that investigators at Stoneman had recommended his firing for allegedly sexually harassing students, although this seems disconnected from his actions that afternoon.
Another monitor was alerted and spotted Cruz but walked away, saying he planned to intercept Cruz by following a different route.
“The second chance to lock down the school is missed when freshman Chris McKenna enters the first-floor stairwell and sees Cruz loading his gun,” the Sun-Sentinel reports. “Cruz tells him ‘You’d better get out of here. Things are gonna start getting messy.’”
McKenna alerted a football coach who was also a campus monitor that there was a gunman on campus. Again, the campus isn’t locked down or put on a Code Red, even though the coach has a radio.
Even after Cruz began murdering students, there was a chance to stop him: “Cruz fires his first shots, killing freshmen Martin Duque, Luke Hoyer and Gina Montalto in the hallway of the first floor. Taylor, the campus monitor, hears gunshots and races up to the second floor. He ducks into a janitor’s closet. Taylor has a radio but does not call a Code Red.”
There is a list of other school policies that weren’t followed or could have been clearer — policies that could have possibly saved lives. The worst involves the failure to call a Code Red, which would have seen the students locked down in their classrooms. Instead, a fire alarm goes off and some students go out in the halls, as would be normal in a fire situation. It merely makes things easier for Cruz.
“At the same time (as the fire alarm), Deputy Scot Peterson — the school resource officer and the only armed lawman on campus — runs to meet with Medina, the campus monitor who first saw Cruz,” the Sun-Sentinel reports.
The county’s 911 system first directs the call to the city of Coral Springs since it was placed from a cell phone. Minutes go by as the call is transferred to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction in Parkland. As that was happening, Medina and Petersondrive toward Building 12, where Cruz was. However, Peterson doesn’t go in even though he says over police radio he hears what are either firecrackers or shots fired inside the building. He later testifies he didn’t know which building it was coming from.
Peterson later takes cover from the shooter instead of confronting him and orders intersections to be blocked off — a critical mistake, since it blocks aid from coming to the scene. He later orders a campus lockdown instead of rushing the school to confront the shooter. When four more armed Broward deputies arrive, they also hold back instead of rushing the building.
“Since Columbine, officers are taught to rush toward gunshots and neutralize the killer. But the first Broward deputies don’t rush in,” the Sun-Sentinel reports. “Broward Sheriff Scott Israel later reveals that he personally changed department policy to say that deputies ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’ rush in.”
This decision alone should have cost Israel his job. The fact that his deputies all refused to take action — detailing the rest of the report is a grisly and dispiriting compendium of police incompetence that should anger every parent who lost a child in the shooting — should also be grounds for immediate resignation.
Israel doesn’t think so. In fact, in the immediate wake of the shooting, he was beyond unapologetic. When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper whether, “if the Broward Sheriff’s Office had done things differently, this shooting might not have happened,” Israel’s response was (I assure you I’m not making this up), “Listen, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books.”
He’s not cracking jokes now, but he’s still thoroughly impenitent. “That responsibility is with the killer,” he said in an interview last week.
That may be true of the crime, but crime prevention is a different matter. A separate Sun-Sentinel editorial regarding Israel criticized his “disastrous response” and noted he remains unhurried when it comes to “recogniz(ing) the problem or impos(ing) discipline” on the deputies outside of the school. He also declined to make changes to department policy after a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport which likely would have mitigated the damage caused in the Parkland shooting.
Israel has almost uniformly refused to accept responsibility for what happened or consider leaving office. Florida’s governor-elect, Ron DeSantis, may have something to say about that last count. He’s bandied about the idea of removing Israel from office for his conduct in the wake of the Parkland shooting, among other problems during his tenure.
“I have done nothing that would warrant my resignation and have absolutely no intentions of resigning,” Israel said. “I am committed to BSO and the safety of Broward County. I will remain sheriff for so long as the voters of Broward County want to have me.”
Given what DeSantis said during the campaign, I wouldn’t count on that. The people of Broward County deserve better.