More Parkland Documentaries, on Football and the Scene Inside Building 12

By Mark Walsh — February 11, 2019 5 min read
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Two more Parkland documentaries are debuting or reaching wider audiences this week, just days before the Feb. 14 anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

On Sunday, ESPN aired “Parkland 17,” a short documentary about the football team at Stoneman Douglas and how it coped with the shooting, which included the death of assistant coach and school security guard Aaron Feis. The documentary aired as part of ESPN’s “E:60” sports magazine show and is now available on demand.

On Tuesday, the two-hour documentary “Parkland: Inside Building 12” is released on DVD. The film by director Charlie Minn, which details the movements of the shooter inside the “freshman building” on the Stoneman Douglas campus and the circumstances of the shootings of the 17 students and staff members who were killed, has had a limited release in theaters since last year. (It will also be available for sale or rental on Amazon Prime and for free rental through through participating public libraries.)

These films join others, including HBO’s “Song of Parkland” and the independent film “Awakening: After Parkland,” which I wrote about last week and which focused on theater students at Stoneman Douglas.

Here is a closer look at the two films released or getting wider release this week.

“Parkland 17"

This report by correspondent Jeremy Schaap clocks in at just under a half-hour, but packs a lot of emotion involving the Parkland shooting.

The focus is on the Stoneman Douglas football team, the Eagles, and how it returned to the field this past fall while still coping with the shooting tragedy, which included the deaths of Athletic Director Chris Hixon, 49, and Feis, the 37-year-old teddy bear of a security guard and football assistant who had attended and played football at MSD.

Feis’s sister Johanna Feis recalls that her brother would give students rides on the sprawling campus in his golf cart, telling them, “Hey, you’re on this campus, you’re safe. Nothing’s going to happen to you because I’m here.”

Feis and Hixon both ran toward Building 12, the “freshman building,” when the shooting erupted last Feb. 14 and both ended up in the line of fire.

Willis May, the head football coach at Stoneman Douglas for the last six years, shows that Feis’s desk and work area in the athletic department have remained undisturbed since his death.

The ESPN doc tells the basics of the shooting and includes some of the harrowing student cellphone video from inside the classrooms in Building 12.

May tells Schaap that the football team wasn’t very good, but its members had special motivation last fall to aim for a strong season in honor of Feis and the other victims. They wanted to “represent the 17.”

The team had not made the state playoffs in 17 years, and it won its first game of the season by 17 points. But it then lost the next three out of five games, and on Senior Night, last Oct. 18, the Eagles faced a must-win situation to qualify for the playoffs.

At halftime of that close game, the team recognized the victims of the mass shooting and retired Feis’s No. 73 jersey number.

Coach May tells Schaap that holding the emotional ceremony at halftime of a key game probably wasn’t the best timing, and the viewer rightly suspects that there will be no Disney-like storybook ending to the football team’s season.

Like the two documentaries about Stone Douglas theater students, the ESPN documentary seeks to tell just a small chunk of the Parkland story. But it tells that story nicely.

“Parkland: Inside Building 12"

This full-length documentary is much more ambitious, though it, too, is only seeking to tell part of the story of the Parkland shooting.

Minn is a former producer for “America’s Most Wanted” who has directed other crime documentaries, including “77 Minutes,” about a 1984 mass shooting at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Diego.

For this documentary, he conducted more than 40 interviews with students, teachers, family members, and others in Parkland. The focus is on the victims, and the second half of the doc devotes at least a few minutes to each of the 17 who were killed.

But it is the first hour that is most gripping, with Minn using an animated diagram of Building 12 to detail the movements of the shooter as well as the victims and survivors. The diagram is especially helpful in visualizing the storyline.

The film also makes use of student cellphone video that has gotten wide play since last year but is still shocking as students scream each time the gunman shoots into a classroom.

I was worried that the cellphone video might be too much to handle, but Minn uses it just enough to remind viewers of the shock of those moments.

The documentary explains that the shooter never made it into a classroom, but was able to break and shoot through the windows on classroom doors. One student explains to a 911 operator that the shooter could have reached in those windows and unlocked a classroom door. But he never did. A teacher points out that at one point the shooter sought to fire outside the building at fleeing students, but the school’s hurricane-proof windows thwarted that.

The film explains how students and teachers on the third floor of Building 12 were initially unaware of the mayhem taking place on the two floors below them. Some thought the gunshots were a noise they were familiar with, of heavy computer carts loudly being moved down the stairway.

Minn’s film touches on some of the missed signs in the shooter’s background, but the film is hardly comprehensive on that aspect of the story. Nor does the film focus on the #NeverAgain movement sparked by surviving Parkland students, though it concludes with one of the more inspiring moments of last year’s March for Student Lives.

But that’s OK. The #NeverAgain movement has been well-covered, and the complex story of the shooter’s background can be the topic for another Parkland documentary.

For its focus on the details and movements inside Building 12 at Stoneman Douglas, Minn’s film should be required viewing for educators, law enforcement, and anyone else working preventing such tragedies and improving the response to them.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.