PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — On Friday, gunfire erupted again at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland as part of a reenactment by ballistics experts of the 2018 massacre that killed 14 students and three staff members.
Two shots were heard by reporters sitting about 600 feet from the building around noon, and two more about an hour later. A few hours later, the fire alarm went off, just like during the 2018 Valentine’s Day attack, but no shots were heard underneath. 139 shots were fired during the massacre.
The reenactment is part of a lawsuit by the families of the victims and injured that accuses the Broward County deputy assigned to the school of failing in his duty to protect them and their loved ones.
David Brill, the lawyer overseeing the reenactment on behalf of the families, did not answer a call for comment on Friday, so it was not known if only four shots were needed for the test or if a problem developed and it had to be demolished.
The reenactment began shortly after nine members of Congress toured the blood-stained and bullet-stained halls of the three-story classroom where Nikolas Cruz made his six-minute assault. The building is behind a locked gate to serve as evidence at Cruz’s trial last year.
The shooting sparked a nationwide gun control movement and traumatized the South Florida community. Cruz, a 24-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student, pleaded guilty in 2021 and was sentenced to life in prison.
The experts fired an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, identical to the one Cruz used, and the bullets had to be intercepted by a safety device.
Brill said in previous hearings that the purpose of the reenactment was to record what Deputy Sheriff Scot Peterson heard during the attack.
Peterson, who worked for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and is named in the lawsuit, said he didn’t hear all the shots and couldn’t pinpoint their origin because of echoes. He came within steps of the door of the building and drew his gun, but backed away and stood next to an adjacent building for 40 minutes making radio calls. He has said he would have burst into the building had he known the shooter’s location.
Families of the victims who filed the lawsuit allege that Peterson knew Cruz’s location but backed down out of cowardice and in defiance of his duty to protect their loved ones.
Peterson, 60, was acquitted in June of child neglect and other criminal charges of failure to act, the first U.S. trial against a law enforcement officer for conduct during a campus shooting.
The burden of proof is lower in civil proceedings. Circuit judge Carol-Lisa Phillips allowed the reenactment, but made it clear she was not ruling on whether the recording will be played at trial. That will have to be disputed later, she said. It is likely that Peterson’s lawyers will oppose the attempt.
No trial date has been set. The families and injured are demanding unspecified compensation.
Earlier in the day, six Democrats and three Republicans from the House School Safety and Security Caucus toured the building for nearly two hours — an experience few have had since the shooting. They called it a “time capsule” of the devastation of the attack.
Broken glass is still on the floor, along with withered roses, deflated balloons and discarded gifts. Opened textbooks and laptop computers are left on students’ desks – at least the ones that didn’t fall over in the chaos.
In a classroom, there is an unfinished chess set that one of the killed students was playing, the pieces unmoved. Reporters were barred from Friday’s tour, but The Associated Press was one of five media outlets allowed in after Cruz’s jury came down last year.
“We just had a shared experience that will change our lives for the rest of our lives. To see children’s blood on the floor in a school together will change the way we interact and work together,” New York Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman said.
After the tour, members traveled to a nearby hotel to discuss school safety issues with parents and wives who lost loved ones in the attack. The round table meeting was held in the same ballroom where the families learned of the deaths of their loved ones.
Members said that while there is widespread disagreement on issues such as gun control, there should be bipartisan support for providing federal funds to install bulletproof glass and panic buttons in classrooms, mental health care for students and better training for on-campus police officers.
Florida Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz, a Stoneman Douglas graduate whose district includes Parkland, said Congress owes it to the families who have lost children, parents and spouses in school shootings to pass such measures and make campuses safer to make. He said seeing the scene enabled members to fully understand what was happening.
“You can read about it all day and argue about it all day, but it’s not like walking through the school,” said Moskowitz, who organized the tour with Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami. Moskowitz pointed out that Parkland, an upscale suburb of Fort Lauderdale, is considered the safest city in Florida.
“It is now home to the largest high school shooting in our history,” he said.
During his tour of the building, Diaz-Balart said he was struck by how quickly lives were being lost — all fatalities occurred within the first four minutes of the attack.
“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 good things done. I’m optimistic,” Diaz-Balart said.
The building will soon be demolished, but House members and families hope it can hold out a little longer so that more state and federal lawmakers and White House advisers can tour it as well.
Parent Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was killed in the shooting, suggested that Moskowitz hold the tour and safety round at the school.
“We can come together and put in place sensible school safety solutions so this never happens again,” says Schachter, a former insurance broker who is now a full-time advocate for campus safety. “Safety must come before education – you can’t teach dead children.”
The school is closed for the summer and there were no students or teachers on campus on Friday.