Parkland shooting panel concludes work, sends 400-page report to governor

Commission chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the investigative phase of the commission, which will sunset in 2023, is “significantly done.”
Published Dec. 14, 2018|Updated Dec. 14, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — The state panel created to dissect what led to Florida's deadliest school shooting met for the last time Thursday before it delivers a 400-page report to the governor by New Years Day.

Since April, the 15-member Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety commission met seven times to dissect the events leading up to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that left 17 dead and another 17 wounded. Its findings have prompted resignations and reassignments at the Broward Sheriff's Office and Stoneman Douglas and affected policy and protocol changes in several governmental organizations.

Commission chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the investigative phase of the commission, which will sunset in 2023, is "significantly done."

"As we move forward, we're more focusing on the solutions and figuring out what could be done to make it safer and better," he said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the commission went over the recommendations, which touched on failures at the school level like leaving the front gates open and no one calling for a lockdown, BSO's haphazard response to the scene and holding school districts accountable for reporting threats and crimes on campuses. The recommendations called for more internal investigations and possible disciplinary measures for personnel at BSO and Stoneman Douglas.

The Broward County Sheriff's Office provided a statement from Sheriff Scott Israel, who testified at the November meeting.

"We look forward to reviewing the commission's findings," it read. "We will use it as a basis to conduct our own thorough investigation, and we'll take appropriate steps to make any necessary improvements."

Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie sent a follow-up letter to the commission Wednesday detailing steps the school district is taking in light of the commission's findings. He said the district is working on providing live video feeds from school surveillance cameras to law enforcement and holding 1,000 "code red" trainings for students and staff. Runcie vowed to contract with a third-party investigator to "undertake further investigations."

"The purpose is to both bring appropriate accountability and to improve the quality of educational services in the safest environment possible," he wrote.

The panel also took last-minute votes on recommendations to the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which allows non-sworn school staff to carry firearms to protect schools from threats. They voted to recommend that teachers can be eligible as a "guardian" and that local sheriff's offices shall establish a guardian program if approved by the local school board.

Some of the final comments in the group's last meeting foreshadowed no easy paths to come. In fact, the touchy subject of adding more rules for safe gun storage was briefly brought up near the end, by the two Parkland parents that sit on the commission.

"When you look at most of these mass shooting incidents they got firearms from home, unsecured firearms from their parents," said Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed in the February shooting and who worked with Florida's Republican leaders in the session afterward to craft the bill that has since become law. "I'm interested to understand what the possibilities are and I don't know where I'll come out on that but I would like to understand it."

Other Parkland parents were in the audience, including Thomas Hoyer, whose son, Luke, was also killed. He agreed that guns was an issue he would like to see taken on more directly by the commission in the next stage, and ticked off some of the things he would like to see addressed.

"Owners are responsible for their guns and what happens with their guns … universal background checks," he said. "I think this commission will be open to universal background checks."

For his part, Gualtieri expressed early and decisive resistance to certain ideas, such as requiring gun owners to lock up their firearms in a safe. He also defended the commission's recommendation to arm teachers, which was met with a tsunami of criticism when it was suggested during the past legislative session, including from Gov. Rick Scott.

"My position has changed on it because of what I've learned and the facts … my position is not based on some ideology," Gualtieri said. "It's compelling that somebody has to do something extremely quickly and the people who are best suited from what we've seen here and what history tells us are the people who are right there all the time, and that's the school personnel."

Petty thanked the commission for all its work over the past eight months.

"We've gotten to a set of facts we can all agree on," he said. "We've honored our loved ones for doing that, and I thank you for that."

Before the commission concluded, commissioner Max Schachter, whose son Alex was also murdered, called for a moment of silence in memory of the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting and all those lost in school shootings.

Schachter pointed out there was a school shooting in Indiana earlier Thursday.