US: Florida school shooting releases monumental information throughout the week

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Booking photograph of Nikolas Cruz
Image: Broward County Sheriff's Office.

Sunday, the prime suspect in February 10th's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida, Nikolas Cruz was recommended by school officials and School Resource Officer (SRO) Scot Peterson for involuntary commitment under Florida's Baker Act in September 2015.

This caps a week of new tribulations surrounding the 7-minute assault which took the lives of 17 students and staff and an additional 18 injured. Starting Monday, March 12, 2018 in the morning, police radio recordings were released. The transmissions confirmed the police were using an antiquated cover and assess tactic, as an attempt at containing the active shooter and allowing a heavy arms team to seek the shooter. In the afternoon, a petition filed by CNN and local media outlets were heard by Judge Jeffrey Levenson ordering the Broward County Sheriff's Office (BCO) and Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) to release the external surveillance video feeds.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018, Judge Elizabeth Scherer reversed suspect Suspect Cruz's March 8th 'standing mute' plea back to 'not guilty'. A status update hearing was scheduled for April 11, 2018.

The surveillance video from the court-ordered release was provided Thursday, March 15, 2018, documenting SRO Peterson's activities for 27-minutes.

Nikolas Cruz legal developments[edit]

Nikolas Cruz, 19, was formally charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder on Wednesday. His attorneys do not contest suspect Cruz committed the shooting because after suspect Cruz was read his Miranda Rights, he confessed to officers that he had committed the shooting.

The public defenders were allowed to continue his defense after suspect Nikolas and brother Zackary could inherit more then $800,000 USD from adoptive mother Linda Cruz's estate. In a February 16th ruling, Judge Charles Greene allowed suspect Cruz unimpeded access to his retained attorney, Audra Simovitch, for the estate and public defenders would not obstruct.

A March 8, 2018 pre-arraignment hearing, Cruz's public defenders entered a 'standing mute' plea. According to Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill, "We’d just like to advise the court and the state of Florida that at any time Mr. Cruz is willing to enter a plea of guilty on all 34 counts consecutive life sentences in exchange for the waiver of the death penalty."

Florida prosecutor Michael J. Satz is seeking capital punishment for sentencing. Satz went on to says, "[this] type of case the death penalty was designed for.” For a capital punishment sentence, a jury must unanimously agree. If Cruz goes to trial, the defense could show police, medical, and school records with behavioral testimony by witnesses and videos showing diminished capacity from anger impulse impairment disqualifying him from capital punishment.

Inside the court, Cruz appears in an orange standard issued prison jump suit with handcuffs extending around his waist. Leg irons were also used with a personal security detail and extra security scrutiny for courtroom audiences. Absent from the courtroom was a bullet resistant vest, which are often provided with high profile cases. During the court proceeding he is looks at the ground.

Cruz was transported from an area hospital receiving treatment for labored breathing to the prison. Upon arrival at the Broward County Jail, he was initially admitted to the infirmary and later placed in administrative segregation as a protection measure. Detention officers describe him as “quiet demeanor”, “follows commands”, and “talks softly”. There is one documented incident by detention officers of Cruz giggling and laughing for 22 minutes, the cause unknown. Cruz's sleep patterns were recorded where he appeared to be sleeping but his eyes were open and moves often during sleeping hours. He has been sitting on his bed and steering into the wall with his eyes closed described as relaxing as opposed to sleeping. Cruz's medical treatment or mental health screenings has never been released.

Today, official documents revealed suspect Cruz was recommended for involuntary commitment to a Henderson Behavioral Health facility as part of Florida's Baker Act. Henderson Behavioral Health did not specify the reason for not committing suspect Cruz. School officials and SRO Peterson made the recommendation in September 2016. The reasoning for the recommendation was due to students reporting suspect Cruz wanted to buy a gun and wrote 'kill' in a notebook. Suspect Cruz admitted to officials he cut his arm after breaking up with a girlfriend. If suspect Cruz was committed via the Baker Act, he would have had difficulty buying a firearm.

Suspect Cruz's brother, Zachary Cruz, was committed for three days of observation in an unknown psychiatric facility for unknown reasons following his brother's arrest. At the time, Zachary Cruz was living in a trailer park with a family friend since Lynda Cruz's death.

Confusion amongst first responders[edit]

Audio recordings of police were difficult to interpret since multiple officers were speaking over each other. The dispatcher, whom has not been named, ordered all non-essential traffic turned to bravo, a secondary police band channel. On the ground leadership was not present on the audio recordings for 22 minutes after the first shots were fired. Officers were often talking over each other and making redundant statements. Echos and high-pitched noises can be heard all due to feedback or officers keeping their microphones live.

The 27-minute video begins with SRO Peterson riding on the back of a school golf cart with two unidentified males. SRO Peterson would remain at a concrete staircase outside of Building 12 during the last 6 minutes of shooting. Camera 51 was used for the majority of the video. It shows SRO Peterson being obscured by a concrete staircase but not inside Building 12. SRO Peterson can be seen walking back and forth 3 times and encountered 3-5 students. The first group of students came between Building 12 and 13, then running away. A second group came out of Building 13 where SRO Peterson pointed his service handgun at them as they rushed back into Building 13. Both student groups encountered SRO Peterson after the shooting ceased. At the end of the video, a school golf cart can be seen with two deputies in front and what looks to be an injured student laying on the flatbed.

Police Deputies also used surveillance feeds during the response giving updates over the radios. This information would turnout to be false since the surveillance feeds were on a 20-minute delay, rendering the feeds tactically useless during the response.

Timeline of the shooting[edit]

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collected thousands of pieces of evidence and eye witness accounts then reconstructing a second-by-second timeline documenting the shooter, leadership, dispatcher, officers, and medical personnel.

Police radio recordings released consist of three separate locations for the active shooter, sourceless descriptions, and overlapping transmissions. The BCO and school board were ordered by Judge Jeffrey Levenson to release the external video requested in the CNN and local media sponsored complaint. Outside of suspect Cruz, an individual of interest is SRO Scot Peterson who is widely criticized by national and local media personalities as failing to confront the active shooter or enter Building 12. The surveillance feeds follow SRO Peterson's location for 27 minuted and do not include audio with student's identities obscured.

The FBI's timeline begins with suspect Cruz arriving at MSD at 14:19 (UTC-4) by Uber with an AR-15 variant in a dark soft case and a backpack with additional 30 round magazines. Suspect Cruz is shown opening the soft case and and walking towards the east entrance. The assault begins as suspect Cruz enters Building 12, at 14:21 (UTC-4).

At 14:22 (UTC-4) the fire alarm was activated which triggering a school wide evacuation. SRO Peterson arrived at Building 12, sometimes referred to in the police recordings '1200 building', at the same time. SRO Peterson first radio transmission about the incident was at 14:23 (UTC-4), “Be advised we have possible, could be firecrackers. I think we have shots fired, possible shots fired —1200 building.”

14:23-14:24 (UTC-4) surveillance video shows SRO Peterson arrived at the southwest corner of Building 12 and retained a defensive position walking between a Building 12 stairwell and the sidewalk connecting Building 12 to 13. As officers arrived, SRO Peterson's elevated voice said, “Get the school locked down, gentlemen!”

SRO Peterson assessments remained unclear with, “All right... We also heard it’s by, inside the 1200,” at 14:25 (UTC-4).

According to investigators, suspect Cruz discharged his weapon at a hurricane resistant window for the sole reason of holding an elevated tactical position. When the window does not shatter at 14:27 (UTC-4), the active shoot then discards the AR-15 variant with the remaining full magazines discarded by the third floor stairwell.

Active shooters movements within MSD.

As of 14:27 (UTC-4) there was no clear description of the shooter or the location. Officers responding found a injured victim caught on a chainlink fence. A request for bolt cutters was issued and the dispatcher acknowledges the request. Suspect Cruz blending in with students fleeing Building 12 at 14:28-14:29.

SRO Peterson then gave an order, “stay at least 500 feet away at this point.” The dispatcher relayed that information, "Stay away from 12 and 1300 building.” Camera 54 shows SRO Peterson pacing back and forth with service weapon draw. At one point aiming his weapon at three students whom ran off camera.

Coral Springs Officer Tim Burton announced the second and most accurate suspect description saying, “White male with ROTC Uniform Burgundy Shirt”. The description of the suspect matched Cruz's appearance when apprehended. Officer Burton's description origin is unknown since he arrived after suspect Cruz exited Building 12 at 14:29 (UTC-4).

The New York Times interviewed Officer Burton describing SRO Peterson position, “seeking cover behind a concrete column leading to a stairwell,” at 14:29 (UTC-4). A second prominent BSO internal investigation subject is the senior officer in charge of the response, BSO Capt. Jan Jordan. Capt. Jordan was first recorded at 14:31 (UTC-4) asking, “Do we have a perimeter set up right now and everyone cleared out of the school?” Dispatcher responded, “That’s negative.”

Police radio channels had first responders talking over each other and relaying conflicting information. The dispatcher announced all nonessential traffic to go a secondary radio channel referred to as 'bravo channel'. Area fire department and ambulance personnel were confused by the situation as they arrived near MSD. The medical response was delayed by police not declaring the area secure. Police must definitively declare the area secure before medical aid are allowed to enter, preventing active shooters from targeting medical personnel.

The movements of Suspect Cruz on MSD grounds.

Building 12's first breeched was a victim extraction by four Coral Springs Officers and two BSO Deputies according to a 14:32 (UTC-4) police radio transmission. Building 12 was cleared at 14:34 (UTC-4) with a 10 officer breech of the east entrance and medical teams were deployed. Three additional officers moved towards SRO Peterson's position at the same time.

Suspect Cruz moved west across the MSD's athletic fields crossing Holmberg Road's bridge reappearing on a Walmart surveillance cameras less then a half mile away at 14:50 (UTC-4) ordering a drink from the in-store Subway. An early officer requested stopping civilian traffic along Holmberg Rd., hampering additional officers entering from the northern housing developments and for the east using the Saw Grass Expressway.

Suspect Nikolas Cruz being arrested by local police fitting the description transmitted by Coral Springs Officer Tim Burton.

Suspect Cruz walked through a local McDonald's at 15:01 (UTC-4) parking lot appearing on surveillance. Suspect Cruz was apprehended 15:41 (UTC-4) approximately one mile from MSD. Casualties were not treated in or around Building 12, instead police using school golf carts transporting victims for triage outside the hard parameter.

Public statements and conflicting statements[edit]

SRO Peterson resigned eight days after the shooting as Sheriff Scott Israel said he was, “devastated, sick to my stomach,” about SRO Peterson's performance. President Donald Trump addressed SRO Peterson by saying, "When it came time to get in there and do something, he didn't have the courage, or something happened ... He certainly did a poor job. That's the case where somebody was outside, they are trained, they didn't react properly under pressure or they were a coward."

A statement made on behalf of SRO Peterson on February 26th says,

"[The] allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue. Mr. Peterson is confident that his actions on that day were appropriate under the circumstances and that the video (together with the eye-witness testimony of those on the scene) will exonerate him of any sub-par performance." (Joseph DiRuzzo III)

According to Paterson, the shots came from outside and he took up a tactical position by Building 12. His description of the activity places the active shooter either at Building 12 or by the football field. A second transmission from Paterson places the shooter by Building 12 and 13.

Since President Trump's comments, former SRO Scot Peterson received a number of messages reiterating the coward sentiment and credible death threats, prompting police protection. The FBI remains the lead investigative authorities, collaborating with other federal law enforcement agencies, the school district, local and county police, and state investigations.

DiRuzzo, walked back the February 26th statement on Friday by addressing BSO policy saying, “BSO trains its officers that in the event of outdoor gunfire one is to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes with other law enforcement.”

Policy Changes[edit]

The cover and assess-like tactic have been proven ineffective with active shooters allowing suspects time preparing for police intervention and/or taking more casualties. This tactic involves a parameter hardening and a four person heavy weapons team in a Dimond formation seeking the perpetrator(s). Cover and assess-like tactics were scrutinized after the 49 minute attack on Columbine High School by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killing 15 and injuring 24, ultimately clearing the school 4 hours after the first shots. The policing policy of Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) replaced cover and assess-like policies nationwide and meets the criteria for implementing IARD at the MSD shooting.

Students across the US have organized walkouts and protests for stronger gun control. Memorials have been scheduled while raising money for the victims of the MSD shooting and their families. Gun control Political Action Committees, often called super-PACs, have organized, provided aid, and/or collected money for their political causes. Government representatives have had their offices be the site of sit-ins and protests. Many states have since re-evaluated their gun control policies and school security measures.

The states have since re-evaluated their school protection laws and programs. Various gun control laws have been developed, but most have not passed substantial legislation. For example, Florida developed a School Marshal program legislation giving administrators, counselors, and athletic coaches with 132 hours of training the ability to carry firearms in schools with an opt-in clause for superintendents and school boards determining the participation.

Trump has since talked about many gun related policies including stronger background checks with mental health, stopping the sale of bump stocks, age limits on assault style weapons, arming teachers, and mandating SROs. Trump has told Republican's not to be afraid of the National Rifle Association (NRA) going into mid-term elections where the majority part traditionally losses seats. The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying forces in Washington, with deep financial influence in the Republican Party.

See Also[edit]


Confusion amongst first responders

Nikolas Cruz legal developments

Timeline of the shooting

Public statements and conflicting statements

Policy Changes