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Florida school shooting reenacted for lawsuit | #schoolsaftey

PARKLAND, Fla. — Despite the dread and anticipation surrounding the reenactment the 2018 shooting by a former student who killed 17 students and staff members in Parkland, Fla., the procedure itself appeared plodding and methodical, as workers moved from place to place and measured distances.

The first gunshots cracked across the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at noon Friday. Two shots could be heard by reporters near the school’s 1200 building, scene of the massacre, in what was to begin a long series of tests with live ammunition and the same type of rifle used in the attack. Two more shots were heard at 12:41 p.m.

The gunshots are being used for tests as part of a lawsuit by victims’ families against the Broward County sheriff’s office and the on-campus deputy who failed to intervene to stop the massacre, which left another 17 people wounded. The city of Parkland warned residents that the sound of gunfire could last into the evening and be heard more than a mile from the school.

Only four shots had been heard as of 2 p.m. During the massacre, 139 shots were fired.

David Brill, the attorney overseeing the reenactment on behalf of the families, did not return a call seeking comment Friday, so it was unknown if only four shots were needed for the test or if a problem developed and it had to be aborted.

By midafternoon, the media audience had thinned, neighbors were back behind closed doors and there was only an occasional hint of activity outside the 1200 building: two men carting equipment, a man with a camera capturing images outside the structure, men darting around in a golf cart.

TV news crews sweated under umbrellas. Two hours passed without the sound of gunshots.

The first event of the day was a visit by members of Congress — six Democrats and three Republicans from the House School Safety and Security Caucus — who toured the halls and classrooms that were the scenes of the shooting. A second tour is being planned at a later date.

“I felt it was important for them to walk through the 1200 building today so they could see the horror, the glass on the floor, the bullet holes in the walls and the blood that still is on the floor there,” said Lori Alhadeff, chair of the Broward County School Board, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was killed in the attack. “And to know that this tragedy — they need to now take action, they need now to make sure that we have every school security measure possible to be put in place, and they have that ability as a congressperson to be able to make that change for school safety at the federal level.”

The lawsuit that led to Friday’s gunshot tests involved Deputy Scot Peterson, the only armed law enforcement officer on campus when the shooting began, who took cover at a nearby building for more than 40 minutes and did nothing to confront the killer. Peterson, 60, was acquitted in June of felony child neglect and other criminal charges for failing to act, the first U.S. trial in history of a law enforcement officer for conduct during an on-campus shooting.

He claimed he couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from. Victims’ families vilified him as a coward and a liar, and their lawsuit against him led to Friday’s live-fire test, which is intended to establish whether or not he could have known the source of the gunfire.

“We were all in support of the reenactment,” Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex, was killed in the shooting, said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “The jury that had watched the video during the criminal trials, there was no audio in that video. And so that’s why we’re doing the reenactment, and we believe that it will show that there’s no possible way that Scot Peterson didn’t hear the 70 rounds from an AR-15 when he was just feet away from that building.”

The destruction of the 1200 building had been postponed for its value as evidence in the criminal case against the shooter and in the lawsuits. But the school district plans to demolish it this year, removing an eerie and disturbing presence from the Stoneman Douglas campus.

“It’s just always there no matter what,” said Alex Gott, a Stoneman Douglas senior covering the reenactment for the school’s production team, who had attended the adjacent middle school at the time of the shooting. “So as much as I try to enjoy the high school experience, you can’t really forget about that.”


At midmorning, families and members of the congressional delegation began arriving for a roundtable discussion at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs — the hotel where many families learned that loved ones had been killed on the day of the shooting.

“I hate it here,” said Debbi Hixon, whose husband, athletic director Chris Hixon, was murdered in the attack. “But things keep happening here, so you figure it out. This is my least favorite place ever.”

After brief introductory remarks, the congressional delegation and family members held a roundtable discussion that was closed to the media. They were scheduled to make remarks to the media after the discussion.

“I want to thank the families for walking us through the building today, allowing us the opportunity to get a slight glimpse into what they deal with every single solitary day,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a 1999 Stoneman Douglas graduate.

At the time of the shooting, he had been on the state House floor debating a tourist development tax when his wife called with the news. He headed home immediately.

“It was in this building, in this very ballroom, where I wound up meeting some of these parents that I shouldn’t know at all,” he said. “This was the ballroom [in] which they told these family members what happened to their kids or their husbands or their loved ones.”

He noted they were able to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which included money for school hardening, requirements for armed officers in schools and some gun restrictions.

“Parkland was the safest city in the entire state of Florida based on crime statistics when this event happened,” Moskowitz said. “And now it’s home to the largest school shooting in American history.”

At a news conference after the roundtable, Moskowitz described the tour of the building, saying law enforcement officials “helped walk us through and showed us step-by-step the carnage that the shooter did.”

“That building is still a time capsule,” he said. “It’s exactly as it was the day after the shooting.”


Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter, Gina, was killed in the massacre, said he was grateful the tour included members of Congress from both parties.

“That is the only way we are going to pass lasting and meaningful legislation in Congress that will make our students and our teachers safer,” Montalto said. “Both Republicans and Democrats want safe schools for their children.”

He said participants in the roundtable “had fulsome discussions in there. They realize that they could come together and make some of that change. We’re hopeful to see more of their colleagues join them.”

“You can read about it all day long, and debate it all day long, but it is not the same as walking through the school,” said Moskowitz, who organized the tour with Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami. Moskowitz pointed out that Parkland, an upscale suburb of Fort Lauderdale, is considered Florida’s safest city.

“It is now the home of the largest [high] school shooting in our history,” he said.

Diaz-Balart said while touring the building, he was struck by how fast the lives were lost — all the fatalities happened within the attack’s first four minutes.

“The key is not just to come and see; the key is that we can put aside our differences, put aside the perfect and try to get some good things done. I am optimistic,” Diaz-Balart said.

Diaz-Balart said the federal government “has done some things, but it goes without saying you can never do enough. I think most folks would agree on 60, 70 or 80% of what those additional steps should be.”

Gun control, which had been a major cause of Stoneman Douglas survivors and family members, was discussed at the roundtable, Moskowitz said.

“We talked all issues. Nothing was off the table,” he said.

“There’s agreement in some places, disagreement in some places,” he said. “This was a full conversation.”

But Diaz-Balart, who voted against gun legislation passed last year, wouldn’t say whether he would be willing to bend on his opposition to gun control.

Asked whether he might support future gun control legislation, he said, “We need to put aside those issues which might be the ones to get all the headlines, but we know are very difficult to get bipartisan support.”

At the high school, the gunshot tests were expected to last all day. Todd Foot, who lives across from the school and whose son attended school there, came out of his house to film on his phone as the delegation entered the building early Friday. He said his son went to the school when the shooting happened.

“If it’s going to help the case of holding Scot Peterson accountable and parents are OK with it, then I’m OK with it,” he said. “But it’s traumatic for the whole community again.”

He’s looking forward to the demolition of the building.

“We’ve been waiting for it to be knocked down for 5 ½ years,” he said. “Justice hasn’t been done so far with the shooter getting a non-death sentence. … Hopefully [Peterson] gets sued into oblivion.”

The congressional members’ visit came at the invitation of Schachter. Leading the delegation were Moskowitz and Diaz-Balart, and the group visited hallways and classrooms that remain virtually untouched since the massacre, with blood stains and bullet scars. Victims’ family members participated in the tour.

The building is scheduled to be demolished soon, but the House members and families are hoping it can be kept up a bit longer so more state and federal legislators and White House advisors can also tour it.

The school is closed for the summer and no students or teachers were on campus Friday.

Information for this article was contributed by David Fleshler, Brittany Wallman, Shira Moolten, Danica Jefferies and Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun Sentinel (TNS) and by Terry Spencer and Freida Frisaro of The Associated Press.

    Lori Alhadeff shows a photo of her daughter, Alyssa, during a news conference Friday following a discussion with members of Congress, parents and school administrators in Parkland, Fla. (AP/Marta Lavandier)

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