How Authorities, ‘Unprepared and Overwhelmed,’ Helped a Shooter Succeed in Parkland, Florida
Sickening failures in planning and execution are revealed in a new report that is tough but necessary reading
A highly detailed analysis in the South Florida Sun Sentinel this weekend laid out the failures of personnel, policy, and character that contributed to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this past February.
The shooting, by accused gunman Nikolaus Cruz, took the lives of 17 people.
The report about the massacre — complete with audio, video, and interactive timeline-stamped maps and graphics — is memorable and noteworthy in that it left no stone unturned.
It cast a particularly critical eye on armed school resource officer Deputy Scot Peterson; on Broward County Sheriff’s Office training and personnel; and on school policies.
As children were being slaughtered, Peterson — among others — failed to call a code red in a timely manner.
Campus monitor Elliott Bonner was the first to call for the lockdown. But that occurred roughly halfway through Nikolas Cruz’s assault.
Peterson finally called one 12 seconds after Bonner.
By that time, Cruz had shot all the victims he was going to shoot that day.
Calling a code red earlier — and there were multiple points at which that should or could have happened — would have prevented students and staff from streaming into the hallway, creating a virtually inescapable shooting gallery when the gun violence set off a fire alarm.
“School district policies were insufficient and employees were uncertain who could order that the campus be locked down,” according to the Sun Sentinel’s account.
Despite finally calling the code red, Peterson failed to order the multiple Broward County deputies who had arrived at that point to enter the building. He radioed to responders, in fact, at more than one point to protect themselves and to stay at least 500 feet away from the building.
The deputies hung back, all the while hearing gunshots.
Those deputies may have been heeding Broward Sheriff Scott Israel’s departmental policy change that said deputies “may” — instead of “shall” —rush in to neutralize the killer in such a situation.
Standard procedure post-Columbine directs law enforcement to rush toward the gunshots.
The Columbine High School massacre occurred in April 1999.
The first code red-related failure in the Parkland case, as the Sun Sentinel documented, was committed by unarmed security monitor and baseball coach Andrew Medina, who saw Cruz enter the grounds with a rifle bag.
Though Medina alerted fellow monitor David Taylor, neither man called for a school lockdown.
Both had radios.
Taylor hid in a janitor’s closet.
There was no evidence that Aaron Feis, the school’s football coach — whom Cruz later killed — called for a lockdown, either, after freshman Chris McKenna informed Feis he had seen Cruz loading his gun in a first-floor stairwell.
Feis, unlike many law enforcement officers, did rush toward the danger and came face-to-face with his killer.
Peterson, as the report details, remained sheltered from the unfolding chaos until long after Cruz had safely exited the war-like scene he created in Building 12 of the school.
Instead of entering the building to engage the shooter, Peterson sheltered himself for 48 minutes, radioed to have a nearby intersection blocked off, gave bad information that added to the chaos (he thought video he was watching of Cruz was live, but it was on a 20-minute delay), and told fellow law enforcement officers to stay well back of the building.
The failure to understand that the school’s surveillance cameras were not broadcasting in real time led to delays in rendering aid to injured students.
Additional failures of law enforcement arose at the leadership level. There was confusion about who was in charge; and an “overwhelmed” Broward sheriff’s captain, Jan Jordan, ordered the establishment of a perimeter around the school rather than establishing a command post and calling for officers to apprehend the shooter.
In addition to Peterson’s and other armed deputies’ failure to rush toward the danger to neutralize it — leaving that courage-requiring task to unarmed coaches like Feis — the Sun Sentinel outlined gaps in policies and procedures at the school level that contributed to the carnage.
One primary, school-related policy failure involved apparent confusion over who could call a code red school lockdown.
A second was a failure — in opposition to two security experts’ express advice — to designate “hard corners” for classrooms, which are places students can hide outside a shooter’s sight lines through the classroom doorway.
On the first floor of the school, Cruz simply shot through windows at students he could see in three classrooms, killing six young people in that manner.
On the first floor of the school, Cruz simply shot through windows at students he could see in three classrooms, killing six young people that way.
A third was a decision to lock restrooms because students were using them to vape, the article explained.
On the third floor, a locked classroom and bathroom left three students with no refuge from their killer.
One of those students was Meadow Pollack.
Andrew Pollack, the teenager’s father, called the Sun Sentinel’s playback of missed opportunities for intervention “heartbreaking,” adding his incredulity at how the Broward County sheriff and district superintendent, Robert Runcie, could read the breakdown of events and not immediately resign.
This minute by minute playback with so many missed opportunities for intervention is heartbreaking. I don’t know how @browardsheriff or @RobertwRuncie could watch this and not immediately resign. #fixit
— Andrew Pollack (@AndrewPollackFL) December 28, 2018
I cannot imagine the pain and fury that parents of Parkland victims will feel reading this https://t.co/dot72pcLn6
— Melissa Jeltsen (@quasimado) December 30, 2018
Because every district thinks it won't happen in their city or county. Train as if every call is the one and pray that it isn't. Be prepared !
— John Pappas (@cityhallmayor) December 30, 2018
This is what journalism looks like. Bravo, @SunSentinel.
— Lance Salyers (@lancesalyers) December 30, 2018
And check out this video:
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.