Scathing Parkland shooting report, citing widespread failures, goes to governor

The exhaustive report offers a second-by-second account of the tragedy, spreading blame for security breakdowns, systemic school security failures and law enforcement blunders.
Nikolas, Cruz, 19, faces 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the Feb. 14 Parkland school shooting.  [Photo from MSNBC]
Nikolas, Cruz, 19, faces 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the Feb. 14 Parkland school shooting. [Photo from MSNBC]
Published Jan. 3, 2019|Updated Jan. 3, 2019

The grim video tells the story of a student named Andy struggling with mental disorders who, after being mercilessly teased by students, returns to school with a gun, walks into a math class and begins killing — both of his two bullies and a bystander who had sympathized with him but had said nothing to stop it.

The video, by the rapper Token, is among the last that Nikolas Cruz viewed on his phone, offering a window into the disturbed mind of the young man behind the worst high school shooting in U.S. history. It is just one of scores of prophetic details revealed in a blistering 458-page report released Wednesday by a state panel investigating how and why Cruz was able to kill 14 students, two teachers, and a staff member; and wound another 17 students at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine's Day.

The 19-year-old Cruz — a former student at the school — was apprehended off campus one hour and 16 minutes after the first shots were fired.

The exhaustive report offers a second-by-second account of the tragedy, spreading blame for security breakdowns, systemic school security failures and law enforcement blunders across a wide spectrum of people and agencies, from assistant principals and sheriff's deputies to social service providers and the FBI — some of whom were warned that Cruz was a potential security threat but took no action, the report said.

The responsibility of what action to take on the report now falls on Florida's Legislature and Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, who had indicated during his campaign that he would consider suspending Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, who has received withering criticism for the haphazard way his deputies responded to the shooting.

DeSantis' transition communications office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon. But DeSantis, on Jimmy Cefalo's radio program on 610 WIOD Wednesday morning, said he expected to make a decision on Israel's fate after reviewing the commission's report.

"I don't think there's any questions that there were balls dropped along the way and I think it's a tragedy that could have been prevented," DeSantis said.

The commission's report, approved unanimously Wednesday, notes that long after the tragedy, key people involved in the incident, including sheriff's deputies and high school assistant principals, provided investigators with accounts that contradicted the evidence, including surveillance video, leading the panel to believe they were either incompetent or untruthful.

Yet the 15-member Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission did not offer an opinion on whether the sheriff, Superintendent of schools Robert Runcie — or anyone else — should lose their job. It did note that "accountability starts at the top of every organization, and all leaders have an obligation to ensure not only that the law is followed, but that effective policies and best practices are implemented.''

Most ominously, the report emphasizes how Florida schools — nearly a year after the massacre — remain unsafe.

"There remains non-compliance and a lack of urgency to enact basic safety principles'' in Florida schools, the report noted.

Commission Chairman and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri bemoaned a of lack of accountability in complying with safety requirements like school threat assessments.

"There needs to be a sense of urgency," he said. "And people need to understand that there's an expectation — and a rightful expectation — on the part of parents: When you send your kids to school in the morning, there's an expectation they're gong to come home alive in the afternoon."

One remedy offered by the commission is to change state law to allow certain trained teachers to carry firearms, a controversial measure opposed by both the Florida Education Association, which represents teachers, and the Florida PTA, which believes more guns on campus will make schools less safe.

Gov. Rick Scott — who leaves office on Jan. 8 — said through a spokesman that he too was reviewing the report.

The Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Israel, a Democrat who was first elected in 2012. One week ago, possibly in a bid to stave off suspension, Israel sent a letter to the commission highlighting a series of actions and reforms that he initiated in the wake of the rampage. Those include instituting yearly active shooter training for all officers, internal affairs investigations into the inaction of two deputies and a directive that deputies immediately confront an active shooter.

In the years since the slaughter of students at Columbine, law officers have generally been trained to enter a building and confront an active shooter immediately rather than setting up a perimeter and waiting for the SWAT team. Previously Sheriff Israel had changed the policy at BSO to say deputies "may" go in to confront an active shooter — essentially giving them an option.

The commission's report noted that several deputies did indeed wait outside, taking cover behind trees or their patrol vehicles, until officers from neighboring Coral Springs charged past them and entered the freshman building where Cruz had gone on his killing spree.

Israel's letter was sent just before the release of new witness statements that underscored how delays and chaos in the sheriff's department's response may have worsened the tragedy. The safety commission, which held hearings in November, found that eight deputies, including the school resource officer, Scot Peterson, heard gunfire but did not immediately enter the building.

Peterson has resigned and refused to appear before the commission.
If DeSantis were to suspend Israel, the sheriff could request a trial before the Florida Senate.

Runcie's fate has also been unclear. The report took the district to task for many errors, including ignoring Cruz's behavioral and discipline issues. It also noted a series of serious security breaches at the school that allowed Cruz, who was not a student at Stoneman Douglas at the time, to easily enter the campus through an unstaffed open gate and unlocked door, toting a rifle bag and several hundred rounds of ammunition.

The report also listed the following security failures: inconsistently locked and unlocked classroom doors; school personnel inadequately trained in the school camera system; no public address system speakers in the hallways and a lack of safe areas in classrooms where students could have hidden out of Cruz's line of sight.

It also noted that administrators' decision to lock the first- and third-floor bathrooms prevented at least three students from seeking shelter to avoid being shot.

The report was especially critical of Assistant Principal Jeff Morford, who denied that he ever received warnings about Cruz's behavior despite ample evidence to the contrary.

"Investigators found Morford to be remarkably absent-minded in remembering details about various events and/or being intentionally deceptive,'' the report stated, recommending that the district undertake an investigation into whether he violated district policies.

"There are at least six people who stated that they brought concerns about Cruz and his behavior, including discussions about Cruz being a 'school shooter', to Assistant Principal Jeff Morford," the document states. "Morford denies every one of these reports or claims he does not recall the reports.''

The report notes that the FBI, which also received tips about Cruz in the months before the rampage, also failed to investigate. The commission concluded however, that the FBI has taken "remedial measures'' to remedy the flaws that allowed Cruz to slip through the cracks.

The panel was clearly not convinced, however, that the school district was addressing serious safety matters, noting that "the district did not have and still does not have a formal, written and disseminated Code Red policy'' — what to do in the case of an emergency like an active shooter.

In summary, the commission said that the state Legislature needs to increase funding for school safety, including additional school resource officers and give local school boards the ability to levy additional taxes to support law enforcement officers and other security measures for Florida schools.

— Julie K. Brown wrote this story

Miami Herald staff writers David Smiley and Colleen Wright and McClatchy DC reporter Caitlin Ostroff contributed to this story.