Law enforcement and officials at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were “unprepared and overwhelmed” in their handling of February’s mass shooting in Parkland, according to a lengthy report released by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The report finds that many times no one took charge and authorities failed to act, leaving children stranded with nowhere to hide as Nikolas Cruz, 19, allegedly opened fire on his former schoolmates on Feb. 14.
“A gunman with an AR-15 fired the bullets, but a series of blunder, bad policies, sketchy training and poor leadership helped him succeed,” the Sun Sentinel wrote, 10 months of reporting that culminated in a minute-by-minute account of the massacre that lasted nearly an hour.
Cruz arrived at the school at 2:19 p.m. and was allegedly spotted walking with a rifle bag by an unarmed school official acting as a security monitor who was unlocking gates ahead of dismissal. But he did not stop Cruz as he entered Building 12.
“He recognizes Cruz as ‘Crazy Boy,’ the former student that he and his colleagues had predicted most likely to shoot up the school,” the Sun Sentinel wrote. “He radios another campus monitor/coach, but he does not pursue Cruz and does not call a Code Red to lock down the school.”
He was the first of three school employees the Sun Sentinel said failed to call for a school lockdown after learning a gunman was on campus.
The shootings set off a fire alarm at 2:22 p.m. and drew children and teachers out of their classrooms. Had a Code Red been called, the student body would have known to remain in their classrooms and ignore the alarm, the paper wrote. A Code Red wouldn’t be called until 2:24 p.m., halfway through Cruz’s alleged assault.
Meanwhile, students on the third floor found themselves stranded as bathrooms and classrooms on the floor were locked. Geography teacher Scott Biegel was shot and killed trying to usher students into his classroom, while senior Meadow Pollack and freshman Cara Loughran were killed huddled together in the third floor hallway. Senior Joaquin Oliver was shot outside a locked bathroom.
The report showed law enforcement’s response time was slowed by Broward County’s disjointed 911 system, but noted that even after arriving on the scene, deputies did not enter the building to confront the shooter.
“Since Columbine, officers are taught to rush toward gunshots and neutralize the killer. But the first Broward deputies don’t rush in,” the Sun Sentinel reported. “Broward Sheriff Scott Israel later reveals that he personally changed department policy to say that deputies ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’ rush in.”
At 2:27 p.m., Cruz escaped the school. He removed his rifle vest, dropped his AR-15 in a stairwell and ran from the building. Believing Cruz to still be inside the building, police remained outside. According to the report, an armed school resource officer already on campus when the shooting began warned deputies to stay away from the scene. And deputies unaware of a 20-minute delay in the school’s surveillance footage continued searching for Cruz in the video, delaying aid to injured students in the process.
At 2:32 p.m., Coral Springs police arrived at the scene and rushed into the building.
“Basically, what we’re trained to do is just get right to the threat as quick as possible and take out the threat, because every time you hear a shot go off it could potentially be a kid getting killed or anybody getting killed for that matter,” Coral Springs Officer Raymond Kerner, the school resource officer at nearby J.P. Taravella High School, later told investigators.
In total, 17 were left dead and 17 others injured. Cruz was arrested at 3:41 p.m., 82 minutes after entering the school. A judge entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of Cruz, who was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the first degree and 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree.
“To be sure, a number of teachers and police officers performed heroically,” the Sun Sentinel wrote. “But an examination of the day’s events reveals that the sheriff’s office and school district were unprepared for the crisis.”