Parents of teenagers who were murdered on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School asked a commission tasked with investigating the massacre to report any findings that could help make schools safer as quickly as possible.
The 16-member commission, which was created by the Florida Legislature, has launched a probe into the “system failures” that led to the shooting in Parkland as well as the law enforcement response. The group is required to issue a report of its findings to state lawmakers by Jan. 1 of next year.
The parents want answers sooner.
“Why wait? … Many of our families still have other children that attend not only at [Stoneman Douglas] but other Broward schools,” said April Schentrup, whose 16-year-old daughter, Carmen, was one of the 17 people killed during the nation’s deadliest high school shooting. She addressed the commission during its first meeting, held Tuesday at Broward College’s north campus in Coconut Creek.
“Look into everything,” she said. “But also, the things that you do find, report them immediately, so that we’re not faced with this … tragedy ever again.”
Fred Guttenberg, father of 14-year-old victim Jaime, pinpointed communication among law enforcement agencies and the Broward County school district as a major contributor to the incident, and he thought the problem should be fixed before next year.
During the meeting, the commission heard a presentation about breakdowns that kept Coral Springs police and the Broward Sheriff’s Office from talking to each other during the shooting. Guttenberg said it makes him feel “rage.”
“It was a cluster-you-know-what of errors and mistakes,” he said. “And my kid is dead.”
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri chairs the commission. He said there’s nothing stopping schools or other entities from immediately implementing ideas for changes that come up during their meetings.
“Nobody should wait,” Gualtieri said. “If somebody sees a gap, they need to fill it.”
The commission also watched an animation that showed the 1200 building, where the shooting took place, from above. In it, a black dot — representing the confessed shooter — moved through the building. A narrator announced each time the shooter injured or killed a student or staff member, shown as green and blue dots.
After the daylong meeting, members of the group traveled to the Stoneman Douglas campus in Parkland for a tour of the shooting site. But they did not enter the 1200 building, which is slated to be demolished eventually.
The commission’s members were appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders and include three fathers of students killed in the shooting. Max Schachter is one of them. His son Alex was 14.
Schachter said the animation was difficult for him to watch, and he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to watch any raw footage from that day. He initially thought the commission’s tour was meant to travel through the building — which others who’ve visited have described as being splattered with blood, bullet holes and the abandoned belongings of the high school students. He let the leaders of the group know he didn’t want to see it.
Schachter said he’s frustrated more hasn’t already been done to prevent another shooting. For example, he said, it should be easier to make sure school and classroom doors are locked. The commission explained that classrooms at Stoneman Douglas High could only be locked from the outside.
“This could happen tomorrow and nothing has changed,” he said, stressing that the group should find ways to make schools safer and implement them immediately. Then they should try to get schools in other states to put into place the same measures.
Schachter said his motivation, in part, is to protect his three other children. His oldest son is a senior at Stoneman Douglas. One of his daughters is in middle school and expects to enroll there in a couple of years.
As for his son, “he hasn’t been able to back to school,” Schachter said. “It’s been so difficult.”
Gualtieri said some government agencies have not cooperated with the commission’s inquiries but wouldn’t name which ones yet. He said their hesitation might be because they’re dealing with civil lawsuits related to the shooting. The group has subpoena power.
The commission agreed that any future meetings will be held in South Florida — even though many of the members are from other parts of the state — to ensure parents of the victims and other members of the community are able to attend. Members said they’d prefer to hold multi-day meetings periodically rather than shorter meetings more often, to limit their need to travel.
Gualtieri said the commission would finish its investigation in late fall, so staff members could complete the report by Dec. 1. Then the commission would have a month to review and finalize it before submitting it to the Legislature.