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Thoughts, prayers, and commitment to mitigation: Community reacts to latest school shooting

By Staff | Feb 15, 2018

As officials and citizens nationwide again try to grapple with a school shooting with multiple casualties, local leaders offer comfort to those affected by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County and to parents here at home.

“On behalf of the community our thoughts and prayers go out to those victimized by this horrible tragedy,” said Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello. “These types of events are happening far too often in our country. As a society we need to address the signs that lead up to these acts of violence. Please keep the Parkland community in your thoughts and prayers.”

Officials on the national and state level offered a similar response along with promises to find ways to mitigate contributing factors.

“For every child, parent and member of the Parkland family whose lives were forever changed yesterday, we must use our sadness, outrage and grief to take immediate action in the coming days and weeks to secure Florida’s schools,” said state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in a prepared statement.

That action includes the necessary funds to both make schools safer, and for prevention, she added.

“I stand with my colleagues today to ensure the families of Florida that we are working through a plan of action to keep our students safe,” Benacquisto said. “We will identify and direct funding to hardening our schools and provide for armed resource officers on every campus for both safety and prevention. We are prioritizing $100 million for mental health training, screening and counseling.

“Floridians have a reasonable expectation that their children are safe when they send them to school. We must, and will, do better.”

Congressman Francis Rooney agreed that looking toward prevention is imperative.

“I pray for the victims, their families, and the first responders on the scene of yesterday’s tragic shooting in Parkland,” Rooney said via email. “It is important that we know the details of the events that occurred, so that we can adequately assess ways to prevent future attacks. Although it is still early in the investigation process, it appears there were warning signs that, if fully reported and investigated, might have prevented this massacre.”

According to the Associated Press, a former student has been arrested in the on-campus shooting that left 17 dead and another 14 wounded.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for “disciplinary reasons,” the Associated Press reports.

Cruz, said to be “equipped with a gas mask, smoke grenades and magazines of ammunition,” is accused of sounding a fire alarm to draw students and staff out of classrooms and then opening fire with a semi-automatic type weapon.

Police and school officials shared Thursday the protocols that are in place in Lee County for both prevention and any active shooter incident.

“The Cape Coral Police Department maintains School Resource Officers in our City Charter Schools,” said CCPD spokesperson Lt. Dana Coston. “These highly trained, armed, and equipped law enforcement professionals work hand in hand with the Charter Schools to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment for students, faculty, and staff. Our School Resource Officers use a 3-pronged approach encompassing education, mentorship, and enforcement to accomplish this goal. These officers wear multiple hats, providing instruction in classrooms on a variety of topics, counseling kids during office visits or in a hallway or lunchroom conversation, and when duty demands it, investigating and handling crimes that occur on or around their campuses. Being a School Resource Officer was one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments I ever held in my career, and these officers stand ready to keep their schools safe.”

School District of Lee County officials said Thursday they work hand-in-hand with law enforcement.

“In light of the tragedy in Broward County, we wanted to share some things the School District of Lee County is doing to ensure the safety and security of your student,” district officials said in a prepared statement released Thursday morning.

“First and foremost, thanks to our partnerships with local law enforcement, we have enhanced security on campuses today. In addition, all of our principals are reinforcing the safety and security procedures at their schools with teachers and staff.

“Safety at our schools is of highest priority. We follow active shooter protocols and have continuous active shooting training throughout the District.

“In addition to safety and security, we have additional counselors available to our students should they need them. We also have resources that you can access on our web site at www.leeschools.net/school-safety.”

The district also added its thoughts and condolences.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the students, staff, families and the education community in Broward County,” the release states. “This unthinkable tragedy is sadly something that we must prepare for and hope never happens. The safety and security of our students is of highest priority.”

Mary Fischer, School Board Member, District 1, said the district emphasizes prevention and that prevention, though intervention, is key.

“Over the past year or two, I have been involved in ongoing community conversations regarding Children’s Behavioral/Mental Health needs, to identify ways to create opportunities to combine school and community resources to better meet those needs,” she said via email in response to a Breeze request for comment.

“Our District School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) consists of district staff and community agency representatives. They meet quarterly to share information to maximize our already existing partnerships with Lee Health, Drug Free Coalition, Salus Care, Health Department and related community organizations in order to better meet the needs of our students and families.”

She re-emphasized the district’s safety efforts.

“Safety is, and has been a priority for Lee County Public Schools,” she said. “We have already entered into conversation to increase the number of School Resource Officers on several of our crowded campuses. We continue to grow by approximately 1,800 students per year. Our population is diverse, and the challenges are many.”

Among those challenges is money.

“Safe Schools funding has dramatically decreased during the past decade,” Fischer wrote. “Florida ranks 50th in the nation in spending on Education. Following the tragic school shooting in Broward County, came an announcement that Florida will pay for the funerals! I ask – why Florida won’t pay up front for prevention education – which would have a more far reaching impact? We need to be more proactive rather than having to react in the face of tragedy.

“This clearly is a critical time to address these needs and to increase our Prevention efforts in Lee County, directly involving our schools, who house the captive audience on a daily basis!”

Being pro-active matters, she added.

“As you may be aware, in 2017 we adopted a Comprehensive Health Education Policy here in Lee County after several years of advocating. I do believe that we have many systems in place that can serve the purpose if we increase community wide collaboration efforts,” Fischer said.

“Our Student Services department staff are trained in identifying and removing barriers to learning and providing strategies and interventions designed to create safe learning environments. Implementing district wide use through training and communication can make a positive difference. Several of our staff members have been actively involved in collaborating with community agencies, acquiring and delivering services to our students and families.”

She closed with thoughts for Parkland.

“We ask that students, parents and our community members join us in thought and prayer as our Broward County Community begins the healing process,” she said