By Joseph Pangaro, CPM
President and CEO of True Security Design
On February 14, 2018 at about 2:15 PM, the school day was winding down at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland Florida. Little did the students and staff know, they were only moments away from joining a terrible fraternity, a fraternity of death and terror. Nicholas Cruz, a former student of Stoneman Douglas High School and by all accounts a very troubled young man, walked onto the school’s property carrying a bag; in the bag was a rifle and, in his heart, he carried rage and anger. Cruz had been suspended several times before ultimately being expelled from the school all together. He was a loner who didn’t fit in, a kid who had announced to the world that he was dangerous, but no one was taking his seriously.
The Tragic Timeline
On that fateful February day, Cruz had made plans to attack the school and kill as many of his former classmates as possible. He made cell phone videos to document his plans and create a record of his anger. Then he called an Uber for the start of this deadly journey.
Arriving at Parkland High School Cruz stepped out of the car and walked towards the unguarded, unmonitored pedestrian entrance to the campus. He was near building 12, the place he would unleash his attack and kill 17 people in less than 5 minutes.
While walking towards building 12, Cruz was spotted by Security Monitor # 1, a staff member armed only with a golf cart and a radio. The security monitor recognized Cruz as a problematic former student and started toward him in the golf cart as Cruz entered Building 12 through an unlocked, unmonitored door. The security monitor would later tell investigators that he recognized Cruz as a kid some staff had joked about being the “kid who would shoot up the school”. Instead of putting the school into lockdown, the security monitor # 1 radioed to another security person inside building 12, security Monitor # 2 to tell him about Cruz’s presence.
Security Monitor # 2 was at the opposite end of building 12 on the first floor and he saw Cruz enter the building and go into a stairwell near the door. Security Monitor #2 would later tell investigators that instead of running after Cruz he decided to go up the stairwell nearest to him and cut Cruz off on the second floor. Security Monitor # 2 did not call the building into lock down.
Upon entering building 12 and ducking into the stairwell Cruz took the next steps in his attack. He removed his rifle from the bag he was carrying and loaded it up. As he was doing this another student, a freshman entered the stairwell and saw Cruz loading his gun. Cruz looked at the boy and said something to the effect “You better get out of here it’s going to get messy”.
This freshman student ran out of the stairwell and out of the building. He came across Mr. Feis, a teacher at the school along with a security monitor. The young man told Feis about the gunman and continued away from the area. Mr. Feis proceeded towards building 12 where he would ultimately be killed by Cruz a short time later. Mr. Feis did not call the building into lock down.
Cruz, with his now loaded rifle and extra ammunition, stepped out into the hallway on the first floor and immediately began to target his victims, unleashing the first of many volleys of shots at the kids in the hallway. Several kids were killed on the first floor. Cruz walked the length of the hallway and up the stairwell to the second floor.
Upon his arrival to the second floor Cruz found it almost abandoned. No one was killed on the second floor. It is thought that someone on the second floor heard the gun shots. Cruz then went up the stairwell to the third floor, where the people here had apparently not heard gun shots.
Instead the students and staff on the third floor were reacting to a fire alarm that began sounding. Later investigation would reveal the fire alarms were triggered when Cruz’s rifle shots caused dust on the ceiling tiles to come loose and fly into the air setting off the fire alarm sensors. The students and staff on the third floor responded to the fire alarm as we are all taught. They left their classrooms and headed for the exits; Cruz saw the kids and staff and began shooting in the hallway, killing several students.
The investigation revealed that several students and staff were killed out their classrooms, inside their class rooms and outside the locked bathrooms. It also revealed that Cruz was able to see inside several of the classroom doors from the hallway. When he saw kids in the room, he began firing into the rooms, killing several kids. There were other classrooms with people inside that were out of his line of sight, resulting in their safety from his gun fire.
Once Cruz got to the end of the third-floor hallway, he entered the teachers’ lounge. He began firing through the exterior windows of the building down on the people outside. Miraculously no one was hit. It appears that the storm glass prevented the rounds from hitting their targets. Cruz exited the lounge, dropped his weapon and fled down the stairs and out of the building; his killing done. In a span of about 5 minutes he had killed 17 people and seriously wounded another 17 innocent people. By the time Cruz was done shooting and fled, the building was still not put in lock down.
What Went Wrong that Day?
The simple answer: EVERYTHING
The investigation that was conducted produced a report that describes all these events in detail. The report was released on January 2, and can be found here; it is well worth the read. I wanted to thoroughly understand the timeline of events in order learn the lessons taught by the events of this tragedy. As I read the report, it became clear that there was no one thing that went wrong. It turned out to be a systemic failure on the part of the school district, the police, the local justice system, along with the policies and practices in place at Parkland High School that all combined to allow such a devastating attack.
Takeaways to Consider
The entryways to the school property should have been properly monitored and secured with standard protocols in place.
Despite having unarmed security monitors and an armed school resource officer assigned to the property, the events on campus that day show that the exterior of the property was not actively or effectively monitored or secured. This allowed anyone, including Cruz, to walk onto the campus without confrontation.
Cruz should have been confronted outside Building 12.
The investigation reveals that Cruz was known to be an expelled student that brought concern to the faculty and staff. The system in place at the school was not capable of dealing with a young person with the problems Cruz had.
Throughout our nation we do not talk about mental health issues. Unfortunately, we shy away from them. Our laws do not account for modern threats we face from unstable people who have voiced potential danger but have not actually hurt anyone... yet. This MUST change if we hope to find a way to intervene before violence erupts.
A lockdown should have been issued as soon as Cruz was spotted entering Building 12, if not sooner.
According to the report, there were multiple missed opportunities to call the school into lockdown. Cruz was carrying a duffle bag which, in retrospect, should have raised a red flag to all the security monitors involved in the incident. While locking down the school may not have saved everyone, it could have saved many.
The school needed effective safety protocol and security equipment.
First and foremost, the school staff was not trained properly. The fact that several security monitors saw Cruz, recognized him as a threat, but did not call a lockdown can only be attributed to improper training and drills. We have covered three moments in this attack when a call to lockdown could have saved some lives. In addition, the police response was less than adequate. A policy should be clear and indicate to every officer that when gun shots are heard or suspected, they are to proceed immediately to the sound of the gun fire and confront the shooter.
Although the school had security cameras, the investigation revealed that they were on a 20-minute time delay. The police were reacting to information form the school officials who were watching the cameras and thought they were seeing real time events, when in fact they were watching events from 20 minutes earlier. Because of this, Cruz was gone before anyone knew it.
Another deadly flaw was found in the classroom door locks. The classrooms were all equip with door locks that had to be key locked from outside the room. The classroom doors in Sandy Hook Elementary School were of a similar kind which, unfortunately, resulted in the death of teachers in the hallway trying to lock their doors. With that said, all classroom doors must have locks that engage from inside the room or pre-locked doors with door magnets in place for fast locking from inside the rooms.
In addition, the classroom door windows were not mandated to have covers on them to prevent people from seeing inside the room from the hallway. This was documented in the Parkland report and matches my experiences. Some classroom doors had window covers to keep Cruz from peering in, whereas many students became victims in the rooms with uncovered windows. Cruz was able to find easy targets simply by looking through the classroom door windows. The lesson is clear: classroom windows should have coverings that teachers can deploy quickly to prevent anyone from seeing into the room. If these were in place, I believe fewer students would have been injured or killed.
We also discovered that bathrooms on the first and third floors of building 12 were locked due to incidents of “vaping”. When student tried to seek refuge from the gunfire in the hallway they were trapped at locked doors. Schools need a solid vaping policy and vape detectors to prevent such activity, not locking bathrooms the kids need every day.
In any active shooter event the concept of time equaling life comes into play. It is known from the historical record of active shooter incidents that the shooter is not on scene to make demands or negotiate a concern. When he or she arrives and feels the moment is clear the attack begins, usually shooting at any victims within sight.
It is understood that even the shooter knows that the police will be on their way as soon as he or she announces his or her presence through forced entry into a facility or once the first shots have been fired. With this knowledge, the shooter knows that his or her time is limited.
Most active shooter events last between 3 and 15 minutes. To survive we must keep ourselves away from the shooter for that amount of time at a minimum. The key to enhancing the odds of survival is to see and identify the approaching danger and remove oneself from the shooters target zone by finding a secure place where he or she cannot get to you.
The list of problems that led to this horrific event are common to many schools across our nation even after the occurrence of so many other senseless tragedies. The report and the facts of this incident call us to examine our own schools and ask these simple, but vital questions: Are our schools properly prepared? Are staff members trained properly? Do our schools have the proper equipment in place to save lives? Reality tells us the next deadly school shooting is only days or even minutes away.
A Call to Action
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