Broward County Marks 1 Year Since Parkland School Shooting

Feb 14, 2019
Originally published on February 14, 2019 6:59 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are just a few miles away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where one year ago today, Valentine's Day, a mass shooting took the lives of 17 people. Jessica Bakeman is one of the journalists who has covered the tragedy and its aftermath. She covers education for member station WLRN in South Florida, and she is with me now. Hi there, Jessica.

JESSICA BAKEMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: Talk me through how this community is marking one year today.

BAKEMAN: So today, the high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas is having what they're calling a day of service and love. So that's an opportunity for students to come in for a half day of community service activities. At 10:17 a.m., they're going to do a moment of silence to honor the victims. Obviously, 17 is the number of people who died.

GREENE: Significant number, yeah.

BAKEMAN: And then there are also going to be some community groups having activities throughout the day. For example, there's a nonprofit called ShineMSD that was founded by some of the students who wrote a song called "Shine." They sang it at the CNN town hall one week after the shooting, on national TV. And so they're going to have art therapists at the park that's near the school, so students can go and do some drumming and do some painting. I know some students are doing a poetry reading - so lots of activities for people, if they want to, to come together and try to heal together.

GREENE: But a lot of students are being kept home to just spend time with their families, it sounds like.

BAKEMAN: Yeah, so students are allowed to just not go to school today and tomorrow. They're encouraged, if you don't want to participate in some kind of community service activity, then stay home with your family.

GREENE: Can I just ask you - it seems like, even a year on, there is still so much anger here, a lot of it being directed at the school superintendent in Broward County, Robert Runcie. I mean, Florida's new governor came out yesterday, said he wants a grand jury to investigate how, you know, school safety is handled throughout the state, but especially here in Broward County. What - why all this anger?

BAKEMAN: Yeah. So the parents of the victims especially, and also parents of students who still go to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, are really angry that some of the school safety measures they see as critical are not in place yet or weren't in place before the shooting that could have potentially prevented some of the death that happened. So specifically, there's a commission called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. It was created by the legislature to investigate the shooting. And some of their recommendations are specifically looking at what would have prevented what happened last year.

So, for example, they want the police officers in Broward to have access to cameras because there was an issue with delayed surveillance footage. They want a code red policy, so that it's clear what happens if there is an active shooter situation. And they also want what we - what are called hard corners. So those are spaces in classrooms where students can hide away from a threat where they wouldn't be able to be seen or shot through a classroom window or door, which is something that happened on February 14 last year.

GREENE: All right. WLRN's Jessica Bakeman. Thanks so much.

BAKEMAN: Thanks, David.

GREENE: And, you know, I had a chance to sit down with the superintendent, Robert Runcie, in Broward County in his office yesterday. And as Jessica just was telling us about those hard corners in classrooms to protect people, I asked the superintendent if they have now, a year on, been marked off in every classroom in the county.

ROBERT RUNCIE: Not in every school in the county. Our goal was to try to get this done by the end of February. It may go a little longer than that because we're trying to work with law enforcement agencies, and there's some apprehension on some of them to be engaged in a process of designating that because of maybe liability concerns. So it's not...

GREENE: Let me just give you the chance to explain why is that not going - like, it seems, I think, to some people, like you're just putting tape down in - so why is that...

RUNCIE: Oh, no. So here's what the concern is - the corners are not so straightforward. So, for example, if I have a classroom that has two doors, where is the corner? Is it over here, if you come through that door? Or is it over there, if the threat comes through the other door?

So this is not something that you want to simplify. It's an important and thoughtful thing that needs to be done in each and every classroom because not every single classroom in this county or in any district anywhere is exactly the same.

GREENE: Well, can I ask you about something that's been very personal? There have been some of the families of victims who have felt like you didn't reach out to them in ways they had hoped for. We were actually sitting down this week with the brother of Alaina Petty, who was killed. He said that families have been disappointed that you haven't visited with them, families of victims.

I mean, he said to us, he hasn't come - speaking about you - come to visit with his family. That - are we missing something? I mean, or is that a decision that you made?

RUNCIE: No, that - so I have visited with families. I have not been able to visit with all the families. There were some that, at that time, were not at a place that you could - they wanted to talk to anyone. And then, you know, that grew into anger and so on. I've continued to try to reach out.

GREENE: Then is this a miscommunication, when you have, you know, a family saying that the superintendent hasn't reached out to us?

RUNCIE: No. I have reached out and tried to connect with families that, in some cases, they don't want to talk to us. But I can't make somebody meet with me.

GREENE: How hard has it been on you personally to have days like this, I mean, where there has been so much loss in this community? And then I just think about you having just watched the governor basically undermine you and say that this district needs to be investigated with potential subpoenas for how it has handled a tragedy.

RUNCIE: Well, I didn't hear him say exactly that. But - and so...

GREENE: But also said he's been asked to suspend you, and that he's not...

RUNCIE: No, he's - and he's said that before. I - and I understand that, right? But I can't focus on that, and I honestly don't. I need to have a laser-focus every single day on how we're going to get better and better at improving safety and security in Broward County Public Schools. And we're moving as fast as we can, but - and we need to deal with things the right way, not just quickly.

GREENE: Let me just finish with a personal question. I've read about you and your own experience with gun violence, and your mother, having to live through her being shot when you were a kid. Can you tell me about that and how you've reflected on that?

RUNCIE: Yeah. So I was 8 years old, and I was standing next to my mother on a Saturday, on our porch. And a gentleman started shooting at us and shot my mother in the face. And, you know, it was a horrific hate crime. You know, she survived it.

But one of the things I reflected on almost immediately upon the tragedy at Parkland is that I never had any counseling services. We were just left on our own - as a family, just - you guys go figure out how to deal with it. And I wanted to ensure that these families in this community would never have to go through anything like that. You know, we - and we continue to provide as much support as we can because I - you know, I have some sense of how difficult this is for them.

And, you know, I've tried to bring that experience to help our community. I know there are families that are angry, and I've tried to balance with giving them space and offering support as much as I possibly can. And until all the families that don't feel that I've reached them or done enough, I offer my sincere apologies, and I will continue to do everything I can to support them.

GREENE: Superintendent Runcie, thank you for your time.

RUNCIE: Yeah. All right.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And on this anniversary of the Parkland shooting, David is reporting from South Florida throughout today's program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.