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Florida Capitol Republicans promise ‘complete investigation’ of what went wrong

“The Governor believes that the students and the families who lost loved ones deserve to know exactly what happened,” John Tupps, communications director for Gov. Rick Scott.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, foreground, speaks along with Sheriff Scott Israel, center, of Broward County, and Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General, during a news conference near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. [AP]
Published Feb. 23, 2018

A bombshell that South Florida police ignored tips that a teenager was planning an assault on a school and then failed to stop him when he attacked seems destined to complicate the election-year discussion around mass shootings.

Even in the face of a student-led gun-control protest that has captured the attention of the nation, Thursday's admission that the Broward Sheriff's Office repeatedly blew chances to prevent a teenager's rampage in Parkland adds to the overwhelming evidence that the worst high school shooting in U.S. history happened in no small part due to law enforcement failures at every level.

State social services and local schools officials were aware of the signs that Nikolas Cruz was dangerous. The FBI blew a tip that he was planning to shoot up a school. And an armed Broward sheriff's deputy stood outside the freshman building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 and did nothing for four minutes as Cruz killed 17 teens and adults and shot 15 more with a semi-automatic rifle.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Corcoran: Special commission will look at 'abject breakdowns' in shooting

If the conversation in the Florida Capitol over the last week focused around curbing access to weapons of war and beefing up school security, expect the coming weeks and months heading into the November elections to also focus plenty on what went wrong.

"The Governor believes that the students and the families who lost loved ones deserve to know exactly what happened," John Tupps, communications director for Gov. Rick Scott, said about Deputy Scot Peterson's failure to try and stop Cruz during the shooting. "He wants answers. A complete investigation must be made public as soon as possible."

On Friday, Scott and senior Republicans in both chambers of the Florida Legislature will roll out gun legislation crafted in reaction to last week's shooting. Scott, who may run for U.S. Senate, is holding a 10:30 a.m. press conference in the Capitol to detail a proposal for "school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness."

In the Florida House, where Speaker Richard Corcoran is likely running for governor, legislation will include plans to investigate what Corcoran called the "abject breakdowns at all levels" in the years before the shooting.

Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said the House gun legislation package will include the creation of a panel that would have subpoena power. He said the committee would likely be chaired by a parent of one of the Stoneman Douglas victims, and that it likely would target the Broward County school district and the Department of Children and Families.

Thursday's news comes at the end of a dramatic and emotional week in Tallahassee during which students from the Parkland high school flooded the state Capitol to lobby Scott and Republican leaders, many of whom have resisted proposals to restrict gun access in a state that has embraced the second amendment.

To some, revelations that an armed sheriff's deputy failed to stop the shooting blew a hole in the theory that a "good guy with a gun" will stop a bad guy with a gun. To others, it only reinforced the idea that teachers and faculty should have bolstered defenses, training and weaponry, an idea endorsed by President Donald Trump.

"I don't think it changes the idea of arming school resource officers and that we need more of them," said incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. "I think maybe it does mean there's additional training that's necessary."
As for plans to look into shortcomings by state and local officials, a Broward Schools spokeswoman said Thursday evening that she was not aware of the House's plans to potentially issue subpoenas to district officials. Department of Children and Families could not be immediately reached late Thursday.

"Our intentions are to honor the kids' movement, which is [called] 'Never Again. And in order for us to be able to accomplish that we have to figure out what, in detail, exactly happened," said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and former prosecutor. "There were so many warning signs. How did we miss them?"