As Florida Sheriff Comes Under Scrutiny, Proposal to Ban Some Weapons Fails

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An amendment to a Florida bill that would have banned weapons like the one used in the Parkland school shooting failed Monday amid growing cries for accountability and reform.

Memorials are seen on a fence surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 21, 2018. (Credit: RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
Memorials are seen on a fence surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 21, 2018. (Credit: RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of Floridians converged on the state Capitol in Tallahassee on Monday as lawmakers took up a series of proposals in response to the deadly shooting.

One bill included an amendment that would ban assault-style rifles like the one used by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter. Senate Bill 7022, which lets law enforcement seize firearms from people under certain conditions, advanced without the amendment.

Demonstrators in orange shirts signifying gun safety chanted “shame” and “vote them out” in response to the vote, which unfolded as criticism grew toward law enforcement’s response to the shooting.

Students rally for change

It was the second time since the shooting that protesters visited the Capitol to pressure lawmakers into action.

Where students last week sought conversations and lobbied for a variety of demands, Rally in Tally participants listed as one of its aims a permanent ban on assault-style rifles.

Carly Schwamm, a high school student from Boca Raton, said the time had come for a ban on semi-automatic weapons.

“This tragedy hit so close to home,” Schwamm said. “It’s about time that we make actual change.”

In addition to SB 7022, two more proposals advanced: one related to school district policies for active shooters and another banning the release of a crime victim’s address on school grounds.

SB 7022 is “not perfect,” Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky said, but it’s better than nothing.

“To not do anything because it is not the perfect bill is not the right thing,” Hunschofsky said. “We appreciate the action and hope it is a first step so this never happens again.”

Sheriff cooperating

Lawmakers have called for a state investigation of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office response to the shooting. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said his department “will fully cooperate” with the probe, “as we believe in full transparency and accountability.”

Read Sheriff Israel’s CNN interview

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, along with 73 other Republican state representatives, called on the governor to suspend Israel for “incompetence and neglect of duty” in a letter sent Sunday.

They said he and his deputies had information about the shooter, yet failed to intervene “in the years, months and days leading up to that shooting.”

“Sheriff Israel failed to maintain a culture of alertness, vigilance and thoroughness amongst his deputies,” the letter said. “As a result of Sheriff Israel’s failures, students and teachers died.”

Amid calls for his suspension, Israel, a Democrat, said Sunday, “Of course I won’t resign.”

Law enforcement, including the FBI and local authorities, received warnings about the gunman before the attack, including one caller saying the eventual gunman could be a “school shooter in the making.”

What happened during the shooting?

Israel called out the school resource officer assigned to Stoneman Douglas that day, prompting the former deputy to defend his actions.

Israel said Scot Peterson took cover outside the building as bullets flew for four minutes and “never went in.” Peterson resigned last week after his suspension.

“I was disgusted. I was just demoralized with the performance of former deputy Peterson,” Israel said.

Peterson received active-shooter training, Israel said in a letter responding to Florida state Rep. Bill Hager’s request to remove the sheriff from his post.

Peterson’s attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo III, accused Israel of maligning Peterson, who received “glowing” annual performance reviews and in 2014 was named school resource office of the year.

“Allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue,” the statement said. “Mr. Peterson is confident that his actions on that day were appropriate under the circumstances and that the video (together with the eyewitness testimony of those on the scene) will exonerate him of any subpar performance.”

Israel’s account of Peterson’s actions is “gross oversimplification of the events,” the attorney said.

Peterson first received a call of firecrackers, not a gun, and he initially thought the shooter was outside, a conclusion that he felt was confirmed when he heard radio transmission indicating there was “a gunshot victim in the area of the football field,” the lawyer said.

DiRuzzo pointed out that Israel has said it’s important to let the investigation into his department play out. “We question why this statement would not also apply to Mr. Peterson?”

Wounded survivor speaks

Appearing alongside her parents Monday, Maddy Wilford, 17, thanked the police officers, EMTs and doctors who scrambled to save her life after the shooting.

Lt. Laz Ojeda of the Coral Springs Fire Department said that after officers revived Maddy inside the school, she needed a chest seal to stop the bleeding. She had also suffered gunshot wounds to the abdomen and upper right arm, he said. Ojeda wept as he recalled rubbing Maddy’s sternum inside the ambulance.

“She came around. She told me she was 17,” he said.

Dr. Igor Nichiporenko, who was charged with Maddy’s care at Broward Health North, said she was pale and unresponsive when she arrived at the emergency room. Suffering “massive bleeding” and fluid in her abdomen, Maddy was rushed into the operating room within 10 minutes of her arrival. She underwent what he called “damage control” surgeries on her abdomen and arm, before undergoing a thoracotomy, or incision into her chest wall.

Nichiporenko credited the fast work of first responders, his trauma team’s experience and Maddy’s resilience for her quick recovery. She was discharged Wednesday.

“Young people have a tendency to heal very fast,” the doctor told reporters.

Echoing the words of her mother, Missy Cantrell Wilford, Maddy thanked those who supported and prayed as she recovered.

“I’d just like to say that I’m so grateful to be here and it wouldn’t be possible without those officers and first responders and amazing doctors and especially all the love that everyone has sent,” she said, her right arm obviously still troubling her. “All the love that’s been passed around, I definitely wouldn’t be here without it.”

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign used a photo of Maddy in a fundraising email on Saturday. Neither Maddy nor her parents addressed the photo, but her mother told reporters she was “grateful to the President who came.”

Return to campus

As the investigations continue, Marjory Stoneman Douglas students returned to campus Sunday for a voluntary campus orientation. Grappling with trauma, some students and parents making their first emotional return to campus wore school T-shirts that read: “MSDStrong.”

“It was really scary. I didn’t know how I was going to feel when I went in and I saw the fence around the freshman building … and all the windows were covered,” sophomore Tanzil Philip said, adding, “We just gave each other hugs.”

The building where the shooting occurred will remain closed. Armed deputies were on campus and will be on hand when students return to class Wednesday.

History teacher Greg Pittman said where Sunday’s atmosphere on campus was “jubilant” — owing to teachers seeing their students for the first time since the shooting — there was a starkly different vibe Monday.

“It was a very, very, very down and very upsetting day in a way. Teachers are very stressed about being able to do the right thing for their students,” he said. “Some of the teachers had students die in the room, and we were meeting with district personnel to try to advise us, and people were just really stressed about having the right thing to say, the right thing to do.”

While there’s no playbook for teachers welcoming students back into the classroom Wednesday, Pittman said there are definitely some guiding principles.

“I think the best thing that all of us as teachers can do is be ourselves, to let our students know we’re there for them, that we love and care for them,” he said.

Related: These are the victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting

School officials are working with students who don’t want to return to Stoneman Douglas, arranging for them to transfer.

Superintendent Robert Runcie said officials will be accommodating and take measures like adding counselors and service dogs in classrooms.

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