For the thousands of people in the southern Florida community affected by a tragic high school shooting, Valentine’s Day will forever mark the worst day of their lives.
Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Nikolas Cruz allegedly walked into the school in Parkland, Fla., last Wednesday and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, killing 17 people and injuring at least a dozen more.
Police said he hid additional magazines in his vest and backpack. Following the incident, Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of murder.
Cruz had previously been expelled for disciplinary reasons from the school where he was described as a social pariah. After the death of his mother, he had been adopted by a friend’s family.
Details about the shooter have since emerged, showing a pattern of warning signs and troubling behavior. The FBI received a tip before the incident about a YouTube comment from a “Nikolas Cruz” saying “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”
However, follow-up was minimal as the FBI states it did not receive any other indicators as to the individual’s identity. It is said Cruz may have been identified as a potential threat at the school and was not allowed to have a backpack on the premises as a student.
Cruz’s attorney said he will plead guilty in exchange for prosecutors taking the death penalty off the table.
Reaction at local schools
Locally, school districts and law enforcement have been preparing for such an incident and continue to evaluate the safety of students. Waterloo school superintendent Brian Charron said he and building administrators came together following the shooting.
“I did meet immediately with administrators in grades 6-12,” he said. “We just revisited our own protocols and discussed what might be vulnerabilities in our system.
“I also met with elementary principals, just not in the same meeting. That involved reviewing when doors are locked and unlocked and different security procedures.”
Additionally, Charron noted the district is evaluating safety outside of school hours for programs such as the schools’ before-and-after-school child care program. He explained the goal of evaluating the schools’ safety is to see if any potential pitfalls exist for the district to improve upon.
On top of that, the school district meets with law enforcement and first responders on an annual basis to go through any safety concerns that would involve police and other agencies.
Columbia school superintendent Dr. Gina Segobiano explained that her district conducts the same such meeting with first responders.
“Columbia CUSD4 is lucky to have such proactive police and fire departments that prioritize school district needs,” she said.
Segobiano said the school district also sent an email to parents notifying them of Columbia schools’ relationship with law enforcement. In addition, the school district’s letter addressed the importance of contacting the schools when warning signs crop up on social media or through conversations with a student.
First responder procedures
Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul agreed that his department maintains a working relationship with the school district in creating a safer environment for students. To elaborate, Paul said the annual safety meeting serves as an indicator for what training and protocols the department needs to conduct.
“What happened in Parkland is a tragedy, but it’s a reality that we need to train for,” he said.
One of the most well practiced exercises for active shooter training includes the 4E model developed by Tier One Tactical Solutions, Paul said. The four Es include Educate, Evade, Escape and Engage.
Aside from training, Paul said communication often serves as a first line of defense for potential incidents.
“If anybody ever encounters anybody who says something suspicious or concerning, they should contact (Columbia Police Department) immediately,” he said. “That’s really one of the most important things is to have that communication.”
The CPD can be reached at 281-5151.
In accordance with that, Waterloo Deputy Police Chief Jeff Prosise explained that his department is receptive to calls regarding any kind of suspicious activity at the schools.
Waterloo police can be reached at 939-3377.
“The schools will call us about things from time to time,” he said. “Heck, even if it’s just someone hanging out behind a dumpster at the school, we’ll go over there and check it out every time. Thankfully, it’s been nothing so far.
“But I do think we have an awesome relationship with the schools where they can call us anytime.”
Prosise said officers also conduct regular patrols of the schools daily. Additionally, he said Waterloo police made more of an effort to make their presence known the day after the Florida shooting to put the community at ease.
“We’ve trained and prepped for this as much as we can. And I feel like we’re where we need to be,” he said.
Through a St. Louis Area Regional Response System grant, tactical equipment has been provided to three local counties for preparation of a potential active shooter in the communities, including Monroe County.
Columbia EMS Director Kim Lamprecht said her facility is the county’s location for this equipment.
The equipment includes four ballistic vests and helmets, and a cache of tourniquets, chest seals, trauma dressing, quick clot combat gauze and portable litters. Lamprecht included that a three-day class May 14-16 at the St. Louis Downtown Airport Fire Department in Cahokia will help improve collaboration between law enforcement and other emergency personnel in an active shooter situation.
For the course, Lamprecht said she will be sending three people from Columbia EMS to participate. The course is part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium.
“This will assist all agencies and all jurisdictions to work toward a coordinated response to reduce mortality associated with these types of incidents,” Lamprecht said.
On the day after the shooting, President Donald Trump issued a statement on the “terrible violence, hatred and evil” behind the act.
“Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families. To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain,” he expressed.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sent out a news release reminding residents of the state’s School Violence Tipline for anyone to anonymously report threats of violence or weapons violations on school grounds. Tips can be directed to 1-800-477-0024, which is a line operated by Illinois State Police dispatchers.