Fathers of murdered students named to state panel
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Three fathers whose children were among the 17 victims of one of the nation’s worst school shootings will serve on a Florida commission that will investigate events surrounding the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland.
The 15-member panel, named after the Broward County school, will also include law enforcement officials, school board members and a mental health counselor, according to an announcement Tuesday from Gov. Rick Scott’s office.
The commission is part of a new law, signed by Scott on March 9, that was crafted in response to the Valentine’s Day mass shooting by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who is charged with using a legally purchased AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to kill 14 students and three staff members.
Cruz had a lengthy history of mental health problems, documented by dozens of interactions with law enforcement, mental-health professionals and others. The FBI had received at least two alerts warning that Cruz posed a danger.
Lawmakers created the commission to “investigate system failures” in the Parkland shooting and other mass violence incidents, and to make recommendations for improvements. Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron each appointed five members to the panel, which will be chaired by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and is required to convene before June 1.
Scott’s appointees include Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was among the murdered students, and Andrew Pollack, the father of 18-year-old Meadow, another of the victims.
In the final days of the legislative session this month, Andrew Pollack and Ryan Petty stood out among the Parkland students, parents and teachers who made emotional appeals urging lawmakers to pass a measure to address the shooting. Both men were present, along with other victims’ family members, when Scott signed the bill.
Pollack has said he “is on a mission” to spread school-safety measures similar to Florida’s sweeping law, which deals with mental health, schools and guns.
“This is a start. And after this moment, we’re going to work on moving forward and hitting every other state to make sure they follow the lead of Florida,” Pollack said after Scott signed the measure. “What we did here in Florida is incredible. A bipartisan bill in three weeks. It’s unheard of. And we did it. We all came together as one party.”
Scott’s other appointees include Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley, Brevard County schools Superintendent Desmond Blackburn, and Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin Lystad, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, who will serve as vice-chairman.
“Since the shooting in Parkland, our number one focus has been to make our schools safer while doing everything possible to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again. I’m confident that these appointees will continue the work that has already started in our state to keep our students safe,” Scott said in a prepared statement Tuesday, adding that Pollack and Petty “were critical” in the swift passage of the school-safety measure.
Under the new law, the commission must develop “a timeline of the incident, incident response, and all relevant events” preceding the Feb. 14 shooting, “with particular attention to all perpetrator contacts with local, state and national government agencies and any contract providers of such agencies and entities.”
The panel must also investigate “any failures in incident responses by local law enforcement agencies and school resource officers.” Video released last week showed Scot Peterson, the school’s armed resource officer, standing outside of the freshman building where Cruz was inside mowing down students and faculty. Peterson last month resigned from his post as a Broward County sheriff’s deputy after it was revealed that he did not enter the building during Cruz’s shooting spree.
The commission must identify existing policies and procedures for active shooter incidents on school premises and “evaluate compliance with such policies and procedures in the execution of incident responses.”
The commission also must “evaluate the extent to which any failures in policy, procedure, or execution contributed to an inability to prevent death or injuries.”
And the panel, which has subpoena powers, must make specific recommendations for “improving communication coordination among entities with knowledge of indicators of risk or possible threats of mass violence in the future.”
The commission has until January to give its initial report to the governor, Senate president and House speaker and can continue to issue annual reports for four more years.
Panel members also include Corcoran appointee Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old Alex was among the slain students and who tearfully pleaded with lawmakers to take action following the shooting.
Corcoran, who said the commission will serve as “a model for the nation” also tapped Gualtieri; Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd; Bruce Bartlett, 6th Judicial Circuit chief assistant state attorney; and Auburndale Police Chief Chris Nelson.
Schachter “brings the tragic experience of being a father who lost his son in that day's awful events and who is driven to ensure it never happens to another family ever again,” Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said in a prepared statement.
Negron appointed Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who was instrumental in helping students from the Parkland school lobby Tallahassee officials; James Harpring, undersheriff and general counsel for the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office; Melissa Larkin-Skinner, a mental health counselor and CEO of Centerstone Florida; Citrus County School Board member Douglas Dodd, who served as a school resource officer for a decade; and Martin County School Board member Marsha Powers.
“We can never replace the 17 lives lost, and we can never erase the traumatic experience that lives on in the memories of those who survived this horrific attack. However, this commission will help ensure we do everything we can to reduce the possibility of a tragedy like this ever happening again,” Negron, R-Stuart, said in a statement.
News Service of Florida