In the aftermath of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida there have been all manner of discussions. Setting aside the gun control rhetoric (which has been forwarded enthusiastically by the press) another ledger entry is the call for measures to be taken to make our schools safer. It has been a popular subject, but what do we say to news that months ahead of the tragedy the school had been studied, and advised, on how to take measures to protect against an active shooter situation?
The disturbingly common thread after this violent event is the layers of failure on the part of various authorities in the area: The FBI was inactive to warnings, Broward Sheriff’s Office took no direct action with numerous calls to the shooter’s home, Family Services never went further than issuing reports, the School District never followed policy to get the student assistance, and there were numerous pass-the-buck decisions as he was handed off to 6 different schools over a 3 year span.
Now we can add to this list of local authorities’ inertia the school officials being advised directly on how to protect the campus from an active shooter, just weeks prior to the incident on February 14.
Steve Wexler is something of a fixture at MSDHS. He has seen two of his children matriculate through the school, and he frequently gave safety seminars to students and faculty. As a retired 27 year veteran of the Secret Service he is regarded as a welcome presence on matters of security and safety. This was why he had been invited back to the school in Parkland last December.
In an interview he gave with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel Wexler explained the reason he was asked to meet with members of the school faculty was to specifically go over safety measures on the property regarding an active shooter scenario. What the former SS agent discovered was bothersome. The lack of action taken with his recommendations becomes enraging.
As Wexler details it the meeting was set for December 13, 2017 – nearly two months to the day of the shooting. He arrived much earlier than scheduled in order to see things as they existed on a daily basis. He drove onto the property with no effort, and was able to access buildings easily. He carried with him a stack of numbered Post-It notes, placing them throughout the property where a shooter could impact things violently.
As the former agent explained, he was never halted by security, and never questioned by faculty members. ”Nobody challenged me,” he said. “No one approached me.” He ran out of his twenty markers, and informed the assistant Principal at that moment that he could still continue. Following his site survey Wexler sat down with assistant principals and the school security specialist. He spoke with them for 90 minutes. He informed them, “This stuff is blatantly obvious. You’ve got to fix this.”
On his list of areas that needed to be rectified Wexler noted locking the exterior gates, securing doors to the buildings, and having the students wear ID badges. He also proposed regular active shooter drills in addition to refining the school fire alarm policy, as that is a tactic shooters employ to gather potential targets into areas. “We learned that from Columbine,” says the former agent.
Yet very little action to address the findings seems to have been taken by the school. Weeks later seventeen lives were lost as a result of a shooter finding his way onto the campus and entering the school. Many of Wexler’s observations seem to apply to the actions of that day; the ease of the shooter getting onto the property, his accessing the buildings, and pulling the fire alarm. You are left to wonder how much the killer may have been deterred by application of these recommendations.
When looking into the lack of implementation the newspaper found no answers forthcoming. When school officials could be reached they provided no comment. The principal stated he has not engaged with the press at all since the shooting. And the school district, which has been shown to already be blocking information about the incident from getting out, continues to be evasive. Spokesperson Traci Clark would only acknowledge they were told by a MSDHS school administrator that they received recommendations on campus security, but she would offer nothing further, citing safety concerns.
This leaves questions floating unanswered as to why no steps had been taken to properly secure the school. When he was brought out specifically to address these very issues Steve Wexler is at a loss. “Where on the food chain did that information die?” asked the former Secret Service agent.