“Lately, the days have been fine for me. But sleeping is tough.”
That was Tim Burton, a steely-eyed Coral Springs police officer. Burton was among the first responders to reach Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week after Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and faculty at his former school.
Burton had been making a routine drive from Eagle Ridge Elementary School to North Community Park when he got the call. Active shooter at Stoneman.
He was making a left-hand turn. He was close to the high school. But there was traffic.
“Immediately, I grab my rifle and I start running,” Burton said.
On Friday morning, three Coral Springs police officers and two lieutenants from the Coral Springs Fire Department gathered to share their stories of rescuing victims from the Parkland school shooting.
Sgt. Jeff Heinrich had opened the conference with a tearful revelation. His wife and son were both present at the school when the gunfire began. Heinrich only made it a sentence into his statement before he was overwhelmed by emotion and had to leave the room. Burton took the microphone in his stead.
After Burton’s statement, Heinrich returned, red-faced, but ready to talk.
“My son is a football player and a baseball player,” Heinrich said. “Routinely I do maintenance on the field in my spare time.” He often went to water the diamond and trim the grass. When the fire alarm went off, Heinrich was watering the infield.
“I see kids start to walk out into the senior parking lot. I hear what I now know to be five or six gunshots,” Heinrich said. “At first, I honestly thought they were fireworks. I thought the kids were screwing around.”
Even the students weren’t reacting, the officer said. They were just chatting and joking — what teens normally do during a fire drill.
“All of a sudden the situation changed,” Heinrich said. “Kids started to run. Kids start to scream.”
Heinrich dropped his hose. He broke into a run. The sergeant beelined for the parking lot. As soon as he got there, he found a young man named Kyle. Kyle was lying on the ground, bleeding from his ankle.
Heinrich helped the boy back to the baseball diamond and into the clubhouse. There was a first aid kit there, and the officer managed to fashion an impromptu compression bandage. Within minutes, the fire department was at the door. Heinrich passed off Kyle to the medics, who drove him straight to the hospital.
“I actually just found out who Kyle was yesterday or the day before,” Heinrich said. “I’m going to try and go see him this evening. He’s been in intensive care. He just had another surgery yesterday.”
The sergeant and his colleagues were visibly shaken by their experience. But the city of Coral Springs has responded well to the emergency, officers said. They offered counseling and trauma services the day of the shooting.
Even still, the first responders, like the rest of their community, won’t heal quickly.
“Being a policeman we have a different filter than most people. But as you can see, this one’s pretty tough,” Burton said. “This will be with me forever.”