Stu­dents re­turn to Florida school where 17 were killed

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM - By TERRY SPENCER As­so­ci­ated Press

PARK­LAND, Fla. (AP) — Stu­dents at a Florida high school where 17 of their class­mates and staff mem­bers were killed re­turned Sun­day to gather their be­long­ings thrown down in panic dur­ing the school shoot­ing nearly two weeks ago.

Thou­sands of stu­dents joined their par­ents in walk­ing past the three-story build­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School where the Feb. 14 mas­sacre took place. It is now cor­doned off by a chain link fence that was cov­ered with ban­ners from other schools show­ing their sup­port.

“Just see­ing the build­ing was scary,” fresh­man Francesca Lozano said as she ex­ited the school with her mom. Still, she was happy to see her friends. “That made it a lot bet­ter.”

Sev­en­teen peo­ple dressed in white cos­tumes as an­gels stood by a makeshift memo­rial out­side the school be­fore mov­ing near the en­trance. Or­ga­nizer Terry Decarlo said the cos­tumes are sent to mass shoot­ings and dis­as­ters so the sur­vivors “know an­gels are look­ing over them and pro­tect­ing them.” Many of Sun­day’s an­gels were sur­vivors of the 2016 Pulse night­club shoot­ing in Or­lando where 49 peo­ple died, Decarlo said.

The school re­opens Wed­nes­day and ad­min­is­tra­tors said fam­i­lies would get phone calls about de­tails later. Sun­day was a day to ease into the re­turn.

“Two of my best friends aren’t here any­more,” said fresh­man Sammy Cooper, who picked up the book bag he had dropped as he saw the ac­cused gunman, 19-year-old Niko­las Cruz, be­gin shoot­ing. “But I’m def­i­nitely go­ing to school Wed­nes­day. I will han­dle it.”

Ju­nior Se­bas­tian Pena said the gath­er­ing was a chance to see friends and his teach­ers, and to “come to­gether as a fam­ily.”

Ear­lier Sun­day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s of­fice said he had asked Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment Com­mis­sioner Rick Swearin­gen to in­ves­ti­gate the law en­force­ment re­sponse to the shoot­ing. The agency con­firmed it would start the in­ves­ti­ga­tion im­me­di­ately.

Broward County Sher­iff Scott Is­rael has come un­der with­er­ing scru­tiny af­ter the rev­e­la­tion last week that deputy Scot Peter­son who was on the scene did not go in to con­front Cruz dur­ing the at­tack. His of­fice is also fac­ing back­lash for ap­par­ently mis­han­dling some of the 18 tip­ster calls re­lated to the sus­pected shooter. The tips were among a series of what au­thor­i­ties now de­scribe as the clear­est missed warn­ing signs that Cruz, who had a his­tory of dis­turb­ing be­hav­ior, posed a se­ri­ous threat.

Is­rael de­fended his lead­er­ship Sun­day and said in­ves­ti­ga­tors were look­ing into claims that three other deputies were on the scene but failed to en­ter the school when the chance to save lives still ex­isted. To date, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has pointed to only one deputy be­ing on the grounds while the killer was present, he told CNN.

Is­rael also la­beled as “ab­so­lutely un­true” re­ports that the deputies waited out­side even though chil­dren were in­side the build­ing need­ing ur­gent med­i­cal treat­ment.

State Rep. Bill Hager, a Repub­li­can law­maker from Boca Ra­ton, has called on Scott to remove Is­rael from of­fice be­cause of the missed red flags.

Is­rael vowed not to re­sign, say­ing Hager’s let­ter “was full of mis­in­for­ma­tion” and “shame­ful, po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran stepped up the pres­sure Sun­day, call­ing on Scott to sus­pend the sher­iff.

“In the years lead­ing up to this un­speak­able tragedy, Sher­iff Is­rael, his deputies, and staff ig­nored re­peated warn­ing signs about the vi­o­lent, er­ratic, threatening and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior of Niko­las Ja­cob Cruz,” Corcoran said in a let­ter signed by more than 70 law­mak­ers.

Is­rael in­sisted that lapses were be­ing in­ves­ti­gated. He told CNN that a deputy who re­sponded to a Nov. 30 call re­fer­ring to Cruz as a “school shooter in the mak­ing” was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by in­ter­nal af­fairs for not fil­ing a re­port and had been placed on re­stric­tive duty.

“There needed to be re­port. And that’s what we are look­ing into— that a re­port needed to be com­pleted, it needed to be for­warded to ei­ther Home­land Se­cu­rity or a vi­o­lent crimes unit,” Is­rael said.

The FBI has ac­knowl­edged that it failed to in­ves­ti­gate the tip about Cruz that the agency re­ceived on Jan. 5.

The As­so­ci­ated Press ob­tained a tran­script of the more than 13-minute phone call. Dur­ing the call, the woman de­scribed a teenager prone to anger with the “men­tal ca­pac­ity of a 12 to 14 year old” that de­te­ri­o­rated af­ter his mother died last year. She pointed the FBI to sev­eral In­sta­gram ac­counts where Cruz had posted pho­tos of sliced-up an­i­mals and ri­fles and am­mu­ni­tion he ap­par­ently pur­chased with money from his mother’s life in­sur­ance pol­icy.

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