Parkland Shooting Commission Finds Security Failures, Improper Law Enforcement Responses To Rampage
Numerous security lapses preceded the shooting rampage that killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school this year, while multiple law enforcement officials called to the carnage failed to respond appropriately, according to a draft report from a state commission investigating the shooting.
The report, which is not final, identified myriad issues that occurred before, during and after the attack itself, including unlocked entrances at the school allowing the attacker to get inside, sheriff’s deputies who did not rush to confront the shooter and confusion during the law enforcement response.
Taken together, the findings are a grim collection of missteps and questionable decisions related to the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which ended with 17 staff and students dead and set off a wave of nationwide calls for stricter gun laws.
The draft report was released this week by a public safety commission charged with finding and addressing issues raised by the massacre. This commission is set to discuss the findings during meetings in Tallahassee on Wednesday and Thursday, with a final report due to the governor and other state leaders on Jan. 1.
This commission was charged with exploring “system failures” in the Parkland shooting, including looking at “any failures in incident response,” edicts that came as law enforcement and school officials have been widely criticized for failing to heed repeated red flags in the months leading up to the Parkland attack as well as for how they responded to the shooting itself.
Mass shootings are routinely followed by investigations into what happened and attempts to identify lapses or other areas authorities can improve upon as they seek to prevent similar attacks. But the Parkland shooting was notable for the sheer number of warning signs that were missed, including at least four specific warnings suggesting that Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with the shooting, posed a threat to a school.
Law enforcement officials have also drawn considerable scrutiny for their actions. The Broward sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school, Scot Peterson, has been assailed for failing to go inside the building where the gunfire was occurring. Not long after the shooting, the sheriff’s office said it would investigate allegations that multiple deputies failed to enter the school “when they should have,” something the draft report suggests did occur. The sheriff’s office said it would review how it responded to some of the calls regarding Cruz, while the FBI acknowledged that it failed to act on a specific warning about him.
The report said that the law enforcement response on the day of the shooting was “hindered in part” by Peterson’s actions, including his comments telling them to stay away from the building where the shooting was occurring, which runs counter to the widely-accepted police practice of rushing to confront active shooters.
But the commission’s findings go beyond Peterson, and the draft report recommends that the sheriff’s office conduct an internal review into how seven deputies acted.
The report says “several” Broward sheriff’s deputies were videotaped or described as taking time to put on ballistic vests or remove other gear they were wearing, “all while shots were being fired,” which is described as “unacceptable and contrary to accepted protocol under which the deputies should have immediately moved towards the gunshots to confront the shooter.” Others arrived at a road near the school, heard the gunshots and remained on the road rather than going after the attacker.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, nor did the Broward school district.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has been criticized but defended his leadership in the face of state lawmakers who accused him of “incompetence and neglect of duty.” He has also sharply criticized Peterson for not rushing inside to confront the shooter, and his office released video showing the former deputy standing near the school building during the massacre. Peterson has defended his actions by saying he thought the gunfire was coming from outside the building, not inside, and wanted to take “a tactical position” to assess what was going on.
The report noted that Peterson’s decades of experience as a school-resource officer likely “contributed to his inadequate response to this shooting,” because while he had been trained on active-shooting responses, such officers rarely face “high-risk, high-stress situations” like a shooting. An attorney for Peterson declined to comment on the draft report.
The draft report released this week paints a picture of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a quintessential “soft target” — defined as a place, like a school or a shopping mall, which is open to many people but can have less security than what are known as “hard targets,” such as a federal agency’s headquarters. The report also notes numerous issues with the security at the school, problems that are particularly alarming since Stoneman Douglas had an armed law enforcement officer on the scene and held emergency training just weeks before the shooting.
Experts have warned of the threats to soft targets posed by terrorists and mass attackers alike, something made clear recently following attacks at schools, churches, movie theaters and nightclubs. In a security overview released this year, the Department of Homeland Security highlighted the danger posed at such places and stressed the importance of training staff on how to respond.
The commission in Florida came to a similar conclusion, recommending in the draft report that all Florida schools “immediately” lay out security protocols, have regular meetings and training and lay out an active attack policy “that is well known to all school personnel.”
The report also suggested ways to “harden” schools in the state, including limiting entry and exit points, locking all classroom doors at all times, further restricting visitors and training staffers to confront or report unauthorized people or vehicles. In addition, it suggests considering using metal detectors at entrances, adding stronger glass to classroom door windows and having systems installed to report when a door is closed or propped open.
In the report, the commission described security failures that it said allowed the attacker to arrive and then enabled his rampage. Cruz arrived in an Uber and entered the campus through an open, unstaffed gate, the commission said, before heading inside an unlocked door that let him into Building 12.
Some of the students killed that day were shot because their classrooms did not have safe areas or “hard corners” where they could hide, the report said, essentially leaving them open to an attacker who never had to go inside one of the rooms.
“Cruz only shot people within his line of sight and he never entered any classroom,” the report states.
The report also warned that the toll could have been higher, noting that when the shooting stopped, the attacker still had 180 rounds of ammunition. In one case, this was because of the building’s physical features: Storm-resistant glass on a third floor teacher’s lounge kept the shooter from positioning himself as a sniper, the report said.
But some of this was described as luck that occurred in spite of, not because of, the building’s features. The shooter’s bullets did go through drywall and metal doors, something the report identified as safety issues because had he “intentionally shot through the walls or doors, the amount of casualties could have been greater.”
Cruz, 20, could face a death sentence if convicted. Police say he quickly confessed after the shooting, and his attorneys say he was the gunman. He was arrested again last month and accused of attacking a sheriff’s deputy in jail.
The commission noted the considerable warning signs that preceded the shooting, stating that at least 30 people knew about his “troubling behavior” beforehand — details they either did not report or, when they did, that prompted no action from those they contacted with their concerns. It suggests the school district conduct an internal probe into whether an assistant principal was warned about Cruz and acted appropriately.
However, despite the repeated suggestions of danger, the commission determined that there was “no evidence” Cruz met the criteria to be involuntarily examined under the Baker Act, which would have prevented him from buying or possessing firearms.
The commission noted issues with the 911 system — which routed some calls to multiple dispatchers — and said this created “an information void” for law enforcement, while it noted that radio problems hindered the communication available to officers on the ground in Parkland.
In the report, some law enforcement officers and other authorities are described as acting appropriately. Officers from nearby Coral Springs, Fla., who responded to the shooting “consistently praised their training as preparing them for a proper response,” noting they attended the training annually and remembered it clearly, the report said.
But some Broward sheriff’s deputies “could not remember the last time they attended active shooter training,” while others could not remember what training they had received.
“A significant number of officers and deputies said that additional training would be beneficial; however, they also said that no amount of training can prepare you to face such an event,” the report states.