Crime

Videos show chaos as gunman attacked Parkland school — but don’t answer key questions

Newly released surveillance footage shows students streaming from campus as ex-student Nikolas Cruz entered a building at a Parkland high school, shooting and killing 17 people. The footage also shows law enforcement officers entering Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School minutes after Cruz’s shooting spree ended at 2:27 p.m. on Feb 14.

But it doesn’t appear to capture something crucial: at least three Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies who arrived in time to hear Cruz firing but couldn’t locate where the massacre was taking place.

The actions of those deputies — as well as of school resource officer Scot Peterson, who was already on campus — have led to national scrutiny of BSO and Sheriff Scott Israel.

The shooting lasted for six minutes — and seconds mattered. Surveillance footage released earlier this year showed Peterson taking cover outside the building at a time when students inside were begging 911 operators for help on their cellphones.

The lack of new information revealed on the surveillance footage means it may be up to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to decide what — if anything — went wrong with the response of law enforcement. FDLE was tasked by Gov. Rick Scott with investigating the tragedy. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which is made up of law enforcement officials, politicians, educators and parents of slain children, is also investigating.

“The MSD Commission is going to have to be the group that gets to the bottom of this,” said Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine, a former mayor of Parkland, on Wednesday. “They have subpoena power and they can see all the information.”

Relatives of those killed in the shooting, as well as wounded victims, have also filed lawsuits against BSO and the school district, alleging the agencies acted negligently and could have prevented the level of bloodshed.

What police and paramedics did — and didn’t do — as students and educators bled to death at Stoneman Douglas has been a vexing question.

Coral Springs police officers also responded to the massacre — and said they were upset by the performance of certain BSO deputies.

In official reports, the Coral Springs officers wrote that they saw BSO deputies taking cover behind cars or trees. One deputy even said he knew where the shooter was, Coral Springs police officers reported. But those deputies did not try to enter the freshman building where Cruz had gunned down 17 students and staff and wounded another 17 people, according to Coral Springs police.

BSO has defended the actions of its deputies, except for Peterson, who was lambasted by Israel.

Peterson and the other deputies have said they did not know where the shooting was taking place.

“The independent and impartial investigations being conducted by FDLE and the MSD Public Safety Commission will provide a factual account of the response from law enforcement that day,” BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said Wednesday.

FDLE is still interviewing Coral Springs police officers and its report is not expected until January, according to Brad McKeone, the city’s deputy chief.

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Nikolas Cruz appears in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer. He is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Mike Stocker Sun Sentinel

BSO released the surveillance videos Wednesday hours after the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by prosecutors and the Broward County School Board to keep the videos secret from the public. The footage was redacted in consultation with a Broward Circuit Court judge, and students were pixelated out.

There are gaps in the videos, including one five-minute stretch during the shooting that would have shown a parking lot near where the massacre took place. BSO’s media office said the cameras are motion activated and don’t record if nothing is happening. The cameras apparently did not cover all of the campus.

“You really can’t see much of anything from them,” said Pete Blair, executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University. “It would be useful to get more footage of exactly what happened.”

Media outlets, including the Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel and CNN, sued the Broward school district and sheriff’s office to obtain the videos, which they thought could help evaluate the much scrutinized police response in the critical minutes after gunfire erupted.

BSO spent more than $40,000 litigating the case — although it said it did not oppose the release of the videos — and the school board spent nearly $36,000, according to payment records obtained by the Herald through public records requests.

The media organizations did not ask for footage from inside the freshman building.

By the time Coral Springs cops entered the freshman building at 2:32 p.m. — 11 minutes after the shooting began — Cruz had vanished, ditching his gun and blending in with other students. Some of the cops said they saw bullet holes in the windows of the freshman building and a victim lying nearby and considered it a road map to where the shooting had taken place. They were assisted by BSO deputies in extracting victims.

One video shows large groups of students streaming out of the campus’ main gate at 2:23 p.m., two minutes after the shooting began. At 2:25 p.m., someone who appears to be a teacher calls many of the students back in from the parking lot. It’s not clear why.

At 2:29 p.m., the video shows law enforcement officers running past the main gate outside the school.

At 2:36 p.m., law officers (it’s not apparent to which department they belong) try to enter the main gate, only to discover it is locked. Another officer already on campus approaches to let them in. The officers walk onto campus and confer briefly before disappearing from view.

BSO’s SWAT team is shown arriving at 2:55 p.m.

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In an earlier video release from March, deputy Scot Peterson was seen waiting outside the school while Nikolas Cruz was roaming the freshman building, shooting students and staffers randomly. Peterson, who left the Broward Sheriff’s Office, was critized for failing to confront the shooter. Associated Press

One of the latest in a series of mass shootings that have horrified the country, the Parkland killings renewed calls for gun legislation and galvanized student activism.

Cruz, 19, is facing the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of first-degree murder. Stoneman Douglas is the worst mass school shooting in Florida history.

Jeff Kasky, an FDLE-certified police officer and the father of student Cameron Kasky, who survived the attack, said he did not wish to “second guess” law enforcement’s response.

“My efforts are focused on preventing this from happening in the future by restricting the availability” of assault weapons, he said Wednesday.

The surveillance footage came out after months of legal wrangling.

A trial judge, and an appeals court, agreed the footage should be released. The Broward County State Attorney’s Office argued the video could jeopardize the criminal investigation, even though Cruz was arrested that same afternoon. Attorneys for the Broward County School Board said the release of the footage might reveal sensitive information about security at Stoneman Douglas and other schools.

The news media, however, argued that the video was in the public interest and would shed light on the nationally scrutinized response by police.

Three BSO deputies — Michael Kratz, Brian Goolsby and Brian Miller — wrote in incident reports that they arrived on the sprawling campus in time to hear gunfire but could not identify where it was coming from. (BSO has not yet released all incident reports from the shooting.)

In a report, Coral Springs cop Bryan Wilkins said he saw four BSO cars parked outside the school “with their personnel taking up exterior positions behind their vehicles.”

When he got closer to the freshman building, Wilkins said a BSO deputy “taking cover behind a tree” told him the shooter was on the third floor.

None of this can be seen on the footage released Wednesday.

Capt. Jan Jordan, the Parkland district commander for BSO, was criticized for giving an order to set up a perimeter before her deputies had discovered where exactly the shooting took place.

BSO has defended Jordan and its deputies — other than Peterson — saying radio communication problems and incomplete information from Coral Springs’ 911 center hampered their response. Jordan was later replaced at the city of Parkland’s request.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas
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