Responses To Ocala, Parkland School Shootings Take Center Stage This Week

Apr 27, 2018

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri speaking to members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which he chairs. It had its first meeting Tuesday.
Credit Florida Channel

Between a Medal of Heroism ceremony honoring a school resource officer and a commission convened to investigate the failings that led up to a Valentine’s Day massacre, mass school shootings still took center stage in Florida this week.

“I didn’t know what happened,” Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Jimmy Long. “It was a sound that I never would have imagined. The sound that I heard was not what I thought was a gun shot. It was like an explosion.”

He’s also the school resource officer who’s credited with taking quick action that prevented a mass shooting at Forest High School in Ocala.

Governor Rick Scott says Long’s quick response along with others allowed him to take the 19-year-gunman into custody.

“On the morning of April 20, 2018, Deputy Long heard the loud bang of gunfire from inside the school—as I said, my heart would be pounding,” Scott said, at the time. “Without hesitating, he was trained and he knew exactly what to do. He immediately responded to the source of the sound. Within three minutes, he found and apprehended the suspect, saving countless students from potential harm. He put his own life at risk to keep his student safe. It’s because of his bravery that this tragedy never had the chance to unfold.”

One person was shot in that incident, but officials say it could have been much worse.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods says this really was the work of different agencies working very well together during this active shooter incident.

“We all need to remember, it wasn’t just solely law enforcement, you know, it was EMS, the teachers, the staff, the students themselves, everybody came together, and as a community, that’s how it works,” said Woods. “It doesn’t work with just one sole entity. It happens because we all come together, and that’s what makes us great in Marion County.”

But, the same could not be said for the agencies that responded to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

“This is a situation where the Coral Springs Police Department and the Broward County Sheriff’s office were not on the same radio channel, because you had different things happening and they weren’t talking,” he stated. “They couldn’t talk, and that in my view, from what I know at this point, absolutely affected the operation and the response.”

He says it was the police radio and 911 systems that contributed to the chaos during and after the Parkland school shooting.

“If you are on a cell phone and you are in Parkland, and you call 911, it goes to the Coral Springs Fire 911 answering point,” Gualtieri added. “But, if you’re calling from a hardline, it goes to the Broward County Sheriff’s office communications center. So, you had a whole bunch of people that were calling in from the school calling in from cellular that was going to Coral Springs Fire. The law enforcement first responder is the Broward County Sheriff’s office. So, the Broward Sheriff’s office wasn’t getting information in their communications center about a significant law enforcement event and information was having to be transferred and passed.”

Gualtieri chairs the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which recently had its first meeting. Under a new gun safety law signed last month, it created the commission with investigating the Parkland shooting.

There were also some other issues discussed during the meeting about the radios, and fixing something like that may require a legislative change, said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen.

“This is frustrating to listen to,” he remarked. “It’s very similar to after 9-11, when we realized all of the silos that had to be broken down. A lot of that exists here, whether it’s communicational or whether it’s organizational or jurisdictional, or whatever—a lot of this is because of silos that exist between agencies and entities. As far as the state radio system, we pay vendors a lot of money for that system, and if we find out that there are issues here with that system, we need to make sure that our legislature holds those vendors accountable and we fix those issues with that system.”

The fathers of three Parkland victims also sit on the panel, and Max Schachter says his goal is simple.

“My goal is to get to the bottom of what happened in this crisis that ended in 17 lives being taken and 17 injured, including my little boy Alex,” he said. “Out of this commission, I hope that we develop a much better nationwide national safety school standard. We’re going to investigate what works and what doesn’t work, and out of tis, should come that and a national school safety strategy should be implemented.”

Looking into the infrastructure of classrooms as well as looking into the agencies and people who had an interaction with the accused Parkland school shooter are just some of the areas the commission will also cover.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.