Students recount mass shooting at Broward County school
The Broward Sheriff’s Office captain who took charge of the scene during the Parkland school shooting was “ineffective” and had a “dream-like” nature to her speech, a commission investigating the Feb. 14 massacre was told Thursday.
Jan Jordan, BSO’s Parkland district commander, “was not engaged” with finding the shooter, according to an interview BSO Lt. Stephen O’Neill gave to investigators for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.
“[O’Neill] did not think that she was responding to the actual problem at hand,” said commission investigator John Suess, a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, as he summarized O’Neill’s interview during a commission meeting. “Another phrase he used was ‘trance-like.’ ”
“There are other [first responders] who described Capt. Jordan as being over her head,” said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission chairman, presiding at the meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Jordan, who has 25 years experience in law enforcement, arrived within seven minutes of shots being fired at Stoneman Douglas. By then, shooter Nikolas Cruz had dropped his rifle and fled the freshman building, leaving 17 people dead or dying.
Seven BSO deputies had already arrived on or near campus in time to hear gunfire. But they were waiting on the edge of campus, instead of rushing toward the freshman building attacked by Cruz. That was despite the fact that school resource officer Scot Peterson, a BSO deputy, had said over his radio that shots were being fired at the building.
Jordan, who told investigators that her radio was malfunctioning, did not order deputies to head to the building, although she also said school staff told her that’s where the shooting was happening.
Her first transmission came roughly 10 minutes after the first shots were fired.
“I know there’s a lot going on, do we have a perimeter set up right now and everybody cleared out of the school?” Jordan asked.
A minute and a half later she said: “I want to make sure that we have a perimeter set up and ... all the kids are getting out, but we need to shut down around this school.”
Law enforcement officers are generally trained to immediately enter the site of an active shooting to confront the shooter and begin saving lives. Peterson, who never went into the building, resigned shortly after the shooting when Broward Sheriff Scott Israel criticized his conduct.
“If you hear gunshots going off, you go in and you go in now,” Gualtieri said. “Seconds matter.”
O’Neill, BSO’s shift commander for the North Lauderdale district, also responded to the shooting and worked to clear traffic and set up a staging area for officers and fire-rescue workers to respond.
A spokeswoman for BSO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The agency has previously defended Jordan’s action and said she followed her training in setting up a perimeter.
The MSD commission’s Thursday morning session focused on the diverging responses of BSO deputies and the Coral Springs Police Department officers who also responded to Florida’s worst school shooting. Although they arrived later, Coral Springs officers headed straight for the freshman building. They were acting on information provided to them by 911 calls and Peterson, as well as Coral Springs officer Tim Burton, who was first on the scene for the department. The Coral Springs officers entered the building 11 minutes after the shooting started.
“Shots fired,” Peterson told one Coral Springs officer. “The shooter is on the second or third floor.”
(In fact, Cruz was already gone.)
Meanwhile, some BSO deputies were shown on video putting on bulletproof vests and talking on their radios. Of BSO’s response, state Sen. Lauren Book said, “It doesn’t seem to be tremendously [urgent],” snapping her fingers.
Further hampering the response: Coral Springs and BSO could not patch their separate radio frequencies into one channel, meaning they could not communicate.
“That’s the first thing they should have done,” an unidentified law enforcement officer was recorded as saying during the response, according to the commission’s investigators.
The situation was difficult.
“I don’t think any of us are prepared for the magnitude of that kind of call,” Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi, who was on the scene, told investigators. (Pustizzi has since retired.)
“Listen, Jan Jordan was overwhelmed. She was overwhelmed,” said Coconut Creek Police Department Deputy Chief Gregory Lees. ”I could see it. I tried to help her.”
When a more senior BSO commander, Col. Bill Polan, arrived on the scene roughly 55 minutes after Cruz opened fire, he took command of the incident, as is standard protocol.
On one decision, commission chairman Gualtieri defended Jordan: Not allowing specialized teams of medics into the building.
A Coral Springs fire-rescue commander was desperate to send in the “rescue task-force” teams but said he was repeatedly denied by Jordan.
Gualtieri said victims were already receiving medical attention from SWAT medics at that point. The special teams wouldn’t have helped, he said.
“It’s become a red-herring issue,” he said.
Jordan’s order to set up a perimeter had been reported by media soon after the shooting. She was replaced as Parkland commander in June, at the request of the city. (Parkland contracts with BSO for police services.) BSO reassigned her to its administrative division.
Miami Herald staff writer Caitlin Ostroff contributed to this report.