PARKLAND — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Florida Senate leaders visited Broward County on Friday as the community continued to reel from a mass shooting this week that killed 17 people at a Parkland high school.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, went to Broward Health, where they met with medical workers who treated victims of Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to Negron’s office.
They also met with family members, hospitalized victims and Broward County schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and saw parts of the high school.
“I cannot imagine the fear our students and teachers were facing on Wednesday afternoon. The pictures and video I viewed previously did not prepare us for the horrendous sight we viewed today at Stoneman Douglas,” Negron said.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, who was expelled from the school last year because of disciplinary issues, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after entering the high school with an AR-15 rifle and going on a shooting spree. The shooter pulled a fire alarm and was dressed to blend in with the crowd of students. He then opened fire for seven minutes close to dismissal time.
A football coach, an athletic director, a social studies teacher and 14 students were killed. At least 14 people were wounded, with five suffering life-threatening injuries.
Nelson, talking with reporters Friday, expressed concerns about how Cruz, despite having mental-health issues, purchased the semi-automatic rifle.
“I grew up here in Florida on a ranch. I have always had guns as a boy growing up on a ranch,” Nelson, a Democrat, said. “I have hunted all my life and still hunt with my son, but an AR-15 is not for hunting. It’s for killing.”
On Friday afternoon, the FBI acknowledged that it had failed to act on a tip last month about Cruz. That led Governor Rick Scott to issue a statement calling for FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign.
“The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable,” Scott said. “The FBI has admitted that they were contacted last month by a person who called to inform them of Cruz’s ‘desire to kill people,’ and ‘the potential of him conducting a school shooting.’ ”
The attack Wednesday was the second-worst mass school shooting in U.S. history.
Charlotte Dwyer, a junior at the high school, told The News Service of Florida that she was in Spanish class, across campus from where the shooting took place, when her class heard the fire drill. Dwyer and her classmates walked 10 to 15 feet from their building when they saw students running for their lives.
“Everyone started screaming, ‘Stop! Please, go back inside! Code Red! Code Red! Active shooter!.’ ” Dwyer said. She and her classmates ran into the auditorium, which was the nearest place for shelter and hid in the seat aisles.
“We didn’t know what was happening. Some people thought it was a drill, we were discussing new safety procedures,” she said. “We went on Twitter and saw tweets that people were actually shot, and that was heartbreaking because we just thought maybe it was a kid who came in with a gun and not that anybody was actually hurt. About two hours later, we were evacuated, and that was a really good feeling because just sitting there, waiting, wondering whether somebody was going to come in or not, was terrifying.”
Scott traveled to Parkland on Wednesday to be briefed by law enforcement officials and to visit the wounded in area hospitals. He attended memorial services and vigils on Thursday.
Nelson on Friday talked with reporters about the difficulty in passing gun-control measures.
“It’s very hard to pass legislation unless the president will support it,” Nelson said. “What I would say to the president is, please change your position on assault weapons. Please, change your position, Mr. President, on background checks. These are two common-sense things that we need to etch into law right now.”
President Donald Trump signed a proclamation in honor of the shooting victims and issued a statement Thursday about the shooting.
“Today we mourn for all of those who lost their lives,” he said. “We comfort the grieving and the wounded and we hurt for the entire community of Parkland, Florida, that is now in shock and pain and searching for answers.”
Annika Dean an elementary school teacher, wrapped up her day when she received a text message from her son about an active-shooter drill. A few moments later, Dean got a text message from her son notifying her that it was not a drill. Dean was a survivor of a mass shooting last year at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Now, her son is also a mass shooting survivor.
“In the airport, I was pretty calm. I was scared. I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die,” she said. “Mostly, I was concerned about being able to continue to be my son’s mother. With this incident, I just felt helpless. I was worried for him. I knew exactly what he was going through.”
Funerals for the victims began Friday morning, with attendees including U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat whose district includes Parkland. Deutch has worked on a bill, called “The ‘Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act” to try to improve local early intervention programs to prevent future school violence.
Dwyer urged local and national lawmakers to act and implement gun-control laws.
“So many of these things have happened,” she said. “We’ve had Sandy Hook, other school shootings and movie theater shootings. When is it going to be enough for them to say, ‘You know what? It’s time we need to put different laws down.’ ’”
Nelson was taken aback by how vocal students have been in the aftermath of the shooting in calling for changes.
“The students are terrific,” he said. “The fact that they are speaking up as boldly as they are, maybe that is the turning point. You haven’t heard students speak up one after another, after another, after they witnessed this carnage and speaking with conviction.”