Broward County

No lockdown drills, open gates: Parkland school wasn’t prepared for shooting, panel told

Cellphone video shows Nikolas Cruz planning Douglas school shooting

Cellphone video released by the Broward State Attorney's Office shows Nikolas Cruz talking of his impending attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
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Cellphone video released by the Broward State Attorney's Office shows Nikolas Cruz talking of his impending attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were not prepared to deal with a campus shooting, the state commission investigating school safety after a deadly attack in February was told Wednesday.

Among the failings: Staffers were confused about who should call a “code red” — which would have placed the school on lockdown while Nikolas Cruz roamed the hallways with a semi-automatic rifle — and had not practiced a code red drill during the academic year. “Safe” corners in some classrooms where students would have been out of Cruz’s line of sight as he fired into rooms from the hallway were obstructed by furniture. And gates leading onto campus were not staffed when open.

“These same problems exist in other places,” said Bob Gualtieri, sheriff of Pinellas County and chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. “This is not unique just to MSD or to Broward County.”

Cruz, a former student, killed 17 people at the Parkland high school on Feb 14 with a Smith & Wesson rifle he bought legally.

Gualtieri said some students died because they couldn’t get into the safe corners. “One in particular died on the line because she was nudged out of the hard corner and couldn’t get in.”

Nikolas Cruz accused of attacking deputy

A code red was not called until roughly three minutes after Cruz began shooting at 2:21 p.m., even though several campus security monitors and the school resource officer, Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scot Peterson, realized an attack was taking place. By that time, a campus-wide fire alarm had already gone off, sending students into the hallways of the freshman building where Cruz was shooting. (Peterson later resigned.)

“A lot of the teachers stated that they could not remember the last time they had a code red drill,” said Detective Walter Bonasoro of the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office, who gave the presentation on school safety.

Bonasoro said even after the shooting, teachers were still confused about how to call a code red and who should do so during an emergency. “When we asked how to call a code red, they shrugged their shoulders and said we have no idea,” he told the commission.

Additionally, some areas where students could have hidden in classrooms from Cruz’s bullets were cluttered with furniture, desks and large cabinets. Of the 30 classrooms in the freshman building, only two had tape on the floor marking off where students would be out the sight line of someone shooting through the door, Bonasoro said. Cruz shot through the glass in the classroom doors and then sprayed bullets inside. He could have — but did not — reached through the broken glass, turned the handle and entered the classrooms.

Finally, perimeter gates were not staffed after being opened for dismissal.

Cruz entered one of those gates around 2:19 p.m., four minutes after it was opened. Campus monitor Andrew Medina saw Cruz from a distance, recognized him as a troubled former student — and even realized he was carrying a rifle bag, Bonasoro said. But he did not stop Cruz or call for a code red, even after the gunshots started. (Medina and another monitor later lost their jobs.)

Commission member Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed at Stoneman Douglas, said he’s worried Broward County’s school district is moving too slowly to fix the problems, and he’s upset that the same administrators and policies that “failed to prepare for [the] tragedy” remain in place.

“Students are still at risk today,” Petty said.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas
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