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School shootings like the one in Florida are no longer rare. Are schools more prepared?

Police swarmed a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon where a gunman shot and killed multiple people. The suspect was arrested later off campus and was identified as a former student. Judy Woodruff learns more from Terence Shepherd of WLRN News, Ronald Stephens of the National School Safety Center and Broward County commissioner Michael Udine.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It’s been a day of high speed headlines topped by chaos and carnage in South Florida.  A shooting erupted at a high school in Parkland this afternoon, with at least 17 people dead and more than a dozen wounded.  Police swarmed the site, even as emergency workers treated and transported the wounded to hospitals and frantic parents arrived.

    The suspect was arrested and identified as Nikolas Cruz, who once attended the school.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

  • Scott Israel:

      He is in custody and we’ve already begun to dissect his websites and things in the social media that he was on and some of the things that come to mind are very, very disturbing.  He’s 19 years old.  He was born in 1998.  It’s September.

    He was a former student of the Douglas High School.  He got expelled for disciplinary reasons.  I don’t know the specifics.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For more, we turn to Terence Shepherd, who is the news director of WLRN.  That is the public media station based in Miami.  He’s on the scene in Parkland.

    Terence Shepherd, tell us what you were seeing there.

  • Terence Shepherd:

    The scene earlier was horrific.  I was at the intersection of (INAUDIBLE) the school.  And you have kids breaking down crying because they didn’t know where their friends were.

    We had parents absolutely in explosive demeanor because they didn’t know the status of their children.

    I later talked to a kid who was in a classroom next door to where the shooting started and he tells me that there was a fire alarm earlier in the day, and then there was a second fire alarm.  So, he was curious about what the second fire alarm about.  We had a second fire alarm.  So, he left.

    They were told to leave the classroom and to take their backpacks which he found unusual.  And leaving the classroom, he came across bodies he says.  It’s absolutely horrible scene here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     It sounds unimaginable.

    Terence Shepherd, tell us, are they still — are they still investigating the scene?  Are their still parents standing around, waiting for more information?

  • Terence Shepherd:

    No.  So, they’ve settled students to two pickup locations nearby.  At the scene, the main street is blocked off still.  So, basically, just hangers on, people seeing what’s going on.  But it’s still a crime scene and I imagine that would be that way for a while.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Tell us a little bit about this area, Parkland.  It’s suburban area?

  • Terence Shepherd:

     It’s suburban.  It’s somewhat rural.  Parkland has a lot of homes with large lots.  There’s a considerable equestrian canary (ph).  People with tennis courts and so on in their homes.  Multiple movie theaters and the homes, upper middle class.

    It is, I hate to say, it’s the last place you think that this type of thing would happen.  It’s really a nice area.  It’s a place you want to live and raise your kids.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     And that’s what I was going to ask.  Is this a place that has seen shootings, violent crime a great deal in the past?

  • Terence Shepherd:

     Not that I can recall and I’ve been here three decades.  No.  It’s a great place to live, this entire area.  It’s not a place that’s known for any type of crime.  You may have some minor breaking and entering, a couple of car thieves but other than that, no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Well, Terence Shepherd, the news director for the public media station WLRN, we thank you very much.

  • Terence Shepherd:

     Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     So, today’s shooting is at least the fifth at a middle or a high school in the first two months of this year that has led to deaths or injuries.  There’ve also been shootings near or on the grounds of other schools this year where students and teachers were not injured.

    Ronald Stephens is the executive director of the National School Safety Center.

    Ronald Stephens, it’s no longer shocking now when there’s a school shooting, is it?

  • Ronald Stephens:

      It’s happening far too often and far too many times and every administrator who has faced this, they’ve also said they never thought it would happen here, and yet these events are coming to so many unexpected communities at so many unexpected times.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Do you believe — you’ve been working on this issue with your organization for a long time.  Do you believe schools today are better prepared when something like this happens?

  • Ronald Stephens:

      My take is they are much better prepared.  Our center had actually worked with Broward County Schools nearly a decade ago and they were among one of the first school systems in the United States to really bring together all of the first responders and look at how they would react when a problem like this occurs.  So, in terms of preparation, I would really describe as someone being on the cutting edge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     So, what would that mean?  What would make them cutting edge?  What would that mean they would do?

  • Ronald Stephens:

      Well, they put school safety on the agenda ahead of many other school systems around the country.  But basically, in the training —

    (INAUDIBLE)

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Our apologies there, we lost that interview that we were doing and we’ll try to resume that in just a few minutes.

    But right now, we are joined on the phone by Michael Udine.  He’s a Broward County, Florida commissioner.  He’s the former mayor of Parkland where the shooting took place and he’s a parent of a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

    Mr. Udine, what a terrible day.

  • Michael Udine:

      It’s a terrible day.  I just actually saw some of the students and one of the teachers that were in the classroom.  They’re in a safe place, and just the crazy, senseless tragedy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     What have you learned about what happened?  Have you been able to get anymore information?

  • Michael Udine:

      Well, 17 people are confirmed fatalities.  I know that they are operating on some others right now.  You know, besides that, I don’t have pretty much more details.  The scene is quite active right now as far as people.  I know the governor is on his way.  SWAT team is still out here and they’re just securing the location over there.

    And just a sad — you know, I saw one of the teachers whose room some children perished and I know the teacher well and she was hysterical.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Oh, well, we are so sorry to hear this.

    Is it fair to say now that parents of children who were hurt or worse now know what has happened?

  • Michael Udine:

      I think that they’re starting to hear.  I don’t think it’s been officially released.  But, you know, with social media and with kids and Snapchat and different social media platforms, parents are starting to get some pretty tragic news.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     It sounds like from what you’re describing and you said it yourself, that this is just about the last place you would expect something like this to happen.  We were just speaking to a reporter who described it as a —

  • Michael Udine:

      Absolutely, absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     — quiet, suburban area.

  • Michael Udine:

      This is a quiet suburban town.  We have police officers stationed in the school.  We have sheriff’s deputies in all of our schools in Parkland and it’s just a complete and utter tragedy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     We were saying that you’re the parent of a student there.  Have you talked to your own — is it your son or daughter?

  • Michael Udine:

      I talked to my daughter.  She is calm.  She is fine.  My niece, I spoke to my sister whose daughter was in one of the classrooms hiding in the closet.  Thank God she’s home and she’s fine.  And my daughter and I just exchanged texts that we love each other because what more can you say at a time like this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Michael Udine, do you know if the school had procedures in place to deal with something like this?

  • Michael Udine:

      Yes, they did.  Broward County, our school board, our local police department, we actually have an officer in that school, stationed in that school.  There was a quick response and, you know, I’m at lost for words on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Yes, because I — you know, one wants to ask, is there some way to prevent something like this?  And I know others have said it, if someone is determined to get in, then there’s very little to stop them, I guess.

  • Michael Udine:

      Sadly I guess so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Michael Udine, we thank you very much and our heart goes to you —

  • Michael Udine:

       Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     — and all the others in your community.  Thank yo.

  • Michael Udine:

      Thank you, Judy.  Bye.

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