Parkland Commission Begins Investigation Surrounding Deadly Florida Shooting

Apr 24, 2018
Originally published on April 24, 2018 6:56 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A commission examining the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School held its first meeting today. The commission, which was appointed by Florida lawmakers and Governor Rick Scott, is looking at whether law enforcement and school officials may have missed signals that could have prevented the attack. It's also examining the law enforcement response on the day Nikolas Cruz entered the school and killed 17 people. We should inform you that some of the details you are about to hear are disturbing.

NPR's Greg Allen has been following the story, and he joins us now from Miami. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what exactly was the focus of today's meeting?

ALLEN: Well, this is the first in a series of meetings they'll have over the next eight months looking at the issue of the signals missed before the shooting, law enforcement, school officials, mental health professionals but also the response the day of the attack and how authorities reacted that day. Nikolas Cruz of course has confessed to the shootings and is awaiting trial.

Today we heard from April Schentrup. She was the mother of one of the students who died, Carmen Schentrup. She was disappointed, she said, by information that the commission provided that a month before the shooting, teachers and administrators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas had taken part in an active shooter drill but apparently didn't remember the lessons learned that day.

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APRIL SCHENTRUP: Simple security measures like keeping our gates locked is something that's been around in policy for many years and could have maybe prevented this tragedy.

ALLEN: Broward sheriff's officials say that Cruz was able to enter the school building through an unlocked door that day with a rifle case.

CHANG: And the Broward Sheriff's Office - it's faced a lot of criticism mostly because the deputy who had been assigned to the school that day, Scot Peterson, waited outside while other officers went in. What more did we learn about their response?

ALLEN: Well, we got new information in recent days confirming what we'd heard earlier - that Coral Springs police officers went into the school while Peterson and other sheriff's deputies waited outside. At one point in a radio transmission, Peterson tells deputies to stay at least 500 yards away from this building at one point. Today the commission heard about a host of communication problems that hampered the sheriff's office response that day. Coral Springs Police and Broward Sheriff's Office, for example, use different radio systems and couldn't talk to each other or share basic information such as where the shooter is.

CHANG: Wow.

ALLEN: The chairman of the commission, Bob Gualtieri - he's the sheriff in Pinellas County. He said after a time, the Broward sheriff's radio system became overloaded and basically stopped working altogether. And he said that might help account for some of the problems with their response at the school that day.

CHANG: What else did we learn about how the shooting unfolded?

ALLEN: Broward sheriff's officials today had some new details, and they showed an animated timeline they played for the commission. The timeline showed that Cruz never actually entered a classroom. He fired almost randomly through the windows and the doors of the classrooms, many of which were locked, by the way.

After shooting several people on the first floor, Cruz then went up to the second floor of the school. On that floor, though, no one was in the hallway because they had heard gunshots. Everyone was locked in classrooms and hiding. And then Cruz then went to the third floor. Smoke from the gunshots had triggered the school's fire alarm. Officials say students were unaware there was an active shooter and were out in the hallway because the fire alarm had gone off.

CHANG: Oh.

ALLEN: And that's where Cruz shot and killed several more people. Fred Guttenberg was at today's meeting. His 14-year-old daughter Jaime was one of those who was killed. Here's what he had to say about the police response that day.

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FRED GUTTENBERG: It was a cluster you-know-what of errors and mistakes. And my kid is dead. Every second we lost, that - listen; the first one never should have happened. But had there been a proper response, this guy never makes it to the third floor.

ALLEN: The commission says it will have a report ready for the governor and the Legislature in January.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thank you very much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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