South Florida

South Florida Students, Parents and Leaders Head to Tallahassee in Latest Push For Gun Law Reforms

What to Know

  • Close to 100 people left Miami early Monday morning, heading to Tallahassee, expected to be joined by other protesters coming from Florida.
  • A second group, consisting of parents from the Parkland and Coral Springs area, will leave Monday morning.

As teachers and staff return to the site of the Parkland school tragedy nearly two weeks ago, the next wave of parents, students and politicians left South Florida on Monday as they headed to Florida’s capital in a continued push for gun law reform.

Close to 100 people left Miami early Monday morning, heading to Tallahassee for a rally led by former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is currently running for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Levine was joined in the march to the Capitol building by other local leaders, including Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, State Sen. Gary Farmer and more.

The group was joined by other protesters coming from across the state, planning to attend hearings by the Florida Senate and speaking with members of both chambers of the legislature.

"It is no longer acceptable that our children are dying in the schools," activist Monica Oganes said.

A second group, consisting of parents from the Parkland and Coral Springs area, also left Monday morning for Tallahassee before spending Tuesday speaking with politicians in hopes of some action in the aftermath of 17 people being killed inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th.

The latest rallies come as teachers returned for the first of two planning days ahead of students making their return to the school on Wednesday for a modified schedule.

Sunday, the line of students and their parents wrapped around the school, several thousand people entering the campus for the first time since a gunman took lives nearly two weeks ago.

They walked solemnly but resolutely through gates that had been locked to all but law enforcement and school officials since the Valentine's Day shooting, set to collect backpacks and other belongings left behind as they fled the massacre. To enter, they passed within feet of the three-story building where the shooting happened. It is now cordoned off by a chain link fence that was covered with banners from other schools showing their solidarity.

"Just seeing the building was scary," freshman Francesca Lozano said as she exited the school with her mom. Still, she was happy to see her friends. "That made it a lot better."

"Two of my best friends aren't here anymore," said freshman Sammy Cooper, who picked up the book bag he had dropped as he saw the accused gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, begin shooting. "But I'm definitely going to school Wednesday. I will handle it."

Junior Sebastian Pena said the gathering was a chance to see friends and his teachers, and to "come together as a family."

The students were greeted by 17 people dressed in white costumes as angels standing beside a makeshift memorial outside the school. Organizer Terry Decarlo said the costumes are sent to every mass shooting and disaster so the survivors "know angels are looking over them and protecting them." Many of those dressed as angels at Stoneman Douglas on Sunday were survivors of the 2016 mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse, where 49 people died.

Earlier Sunday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office said he had asked Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen to investigate the law enforcement response to the shooting. The agency confirmed it would begin the probe immediately.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has come under withering scrutiny after the revelation last week that deputy Scot Peterson, the school's assigned security officer, was nearby when the shooting began but did not go into the building to confront Cruz during the attack. The sheriff's office is also facing a backlash for apparently mishandling some of the 18 tipster calls related to the suspected shooter. The tips were among a series of what authorities now describe as the clearest missed warning signs that Cruz, who had a history of disturbing behavior, posed a serious threat.

In an exclusive interview with NBC 6, Israel also said he will not step down as sheriff, despite a call by 73 Republican Florida lawmakers demanding that he be removed from office. The lawmakers made their demand in a letter to Gov. Scott.

State Rep. Bill Hager, a Republican lawmaker from Boca Raton, has called on Scott to remove Israel from office because of the missed red flags.

"In the years leading up to this unspeakable tragedy, Sheriff Israel, his deputies, and staff ignored repeated warning signs about the violent, erratic, threatening and antisocial behavior of Nikolas Jacob Cruz," House Speaker Richard Corcoran said in a letter signed by more than 70 lawmakers.

“Leaders are responsible for the agency, but leaders are not responsible for a person,” said Israel. “I gave him a gun. I gave him a badge. I gave him the training. If he didn’t have the heart to go in, that’s not my responsibility.”

In the interview, Israel chose not to focus on reports claiming that three other Broward County Sheriff’s deputies, in addition to the school’s resource officer, did not go inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when shots rang out.

Scott said in a statement Sunday that he understands Corcoran's concerns, but added "there must be an independent investigation."

"Like me, he wants the families to have answers and for there to be full accountability. That's what the victims and their families deserve," Scott said.

Israel insisted that lapses were being investigated. He told CNN that a deputy who responded to a Nov. 30 call referring to Cruz as a "school shooter in the making" was being investigated by internal affairs for not filing a report and had been placed on restrictive duty.

"There needed to be report. And that's what we are looking into— that a report needed to be completed, it needed to be forwarded to either Homeland Security or a violent crimes unit," Israel said.

The FBI has acknowledged that it failed to investigate the tip about Cruz that the agency received on Jan. 5.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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