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Shooting Inquiry Reveals Key Breakdowns

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More than nine months since the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the commission investigating the massacre will now begin debating recommendations around student safety, mental health, and how to prevent future school shootings.

The 14-member panel—which includes two parents whose children were among the 17 people killed—wrapped up four days of emotionally charged hearings earlier this month that focused chiefly on problems with school security and law enforcement.

The hearings included testimony from Broward County schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, both of whom have faced heavy criticism for how they and their agencies handled events leading up to the shootings and the aftermath.

Scot Peterson, the disgraced deputy assigned to Stoneman Douglas who did not enter the building to confront the gunman and who had been subpoenaed by the commission to testify, did not show up. Instead, a lawyer for Peterson appeared to announce that he had filed a lawsuit to quash the panel's subpoena.

Disturbing Behavior Ignored?

Across the four days of testimony, the panel heard dramatic and troubling details about the behavior of Nikolas Cruz, the former student charged in the slayings. Investigators told the panel that as many as 30 people had information about the shooter's disturbing behavior and statements that were not reported until after the mass shooting.

Commissioners also described testimony from Stoneman Douglas students indicating that they reported disturbing incidents about Cruz, including a threat to shoot up the school, to school administrators. The students claimed that Assistant Principal Jeff Morford didn't appear to take the claims seriously. Morford denied that he was told such information about the shooter, according to the commission's presentation.

"In the aggregate, it was obvious that Cruz's behavior was escalating over time," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, said of Cruz.

The details revealed by the commission fit in with a larger pattern in which officials from law enforcement, mental health agencies, and public schools appear to have missed possible warning signs related to Cruz. Before the shooting, the Broward Sheriff's office responded to 49 calls involving Cruz or his address, and Cruz was evaluated multiple times by mental-health workers before being deemed not to be a threat to himself or others.

The Broward County district has, among other criticisms, faced harsh reviews for mishandling some of Cruz's special education services and for backtracking on its initial claims that Cruz never took part in a diversionary disciplinary program.

The commission—which meets again Dec. 12—must produce its first report to the governor and state Legislature by Jan. 1.

Vol. 38, Issue 14, Page 5

Published in Print: November 28, 2018, as Shooting Inquiry Reveals Key Breakdowns
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