Everywhere classmates turn at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, it’s a stark reminder of the mass shooting — the freshman building where 17 died and 17 others were wounded.
Some in the Parkland community have called it horrific: Why make students keep walking past this fenced-off, three-story building each day for years to come? Why not immediately demolish it?
The issue resurfaced Thursday when the Broward Public Defender’s Office, which represents Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, argued that the 1200 building’s mere presence is traumatizing. They bashed prosecutors’ decision to keep it standing.
Cruz faces 17 counts of first-degree murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. They view the building as crucial for trial, when jurors could walk through it as part of determining the shooter’s fate.
But the shooter already has admitted to the killings. And it’s unnecessary to keep the building because “multiple agencies have developed computer-generated simulations of the events that can be presented at trial,” the Public Defender’s Office said in court documents.
When Parkland residents recently asked Broward State Attorney Michael Satz why the building must remain, he “suggested that it be covered with camouflage,” the defense lawyers wrote.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus said Satz has reached out to U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, whose district includes Parkland, “seeking his assistance in finding a way to further obscure the building, but still preserving the most vital piece of evidence in the case.”
“The prosecution team has discussed with the murder victims’ families — and other members of the community — how vital this evidence is to the case,” Marcus responded in an email.
Although Cruz’s lawyers offered a guilty plea in exchange for multiple life sentences, a trial is needed to sentence him to death.
Prosecutors say that just as the shooter shouldn’t be allowed to decide his punishment, he shouldn’t have a say in which evidence is used against him in court. The building is “an absolute necessity,” because it offers a true depiction of how and where the massacre happened, they say.
“Our community deserves no less,” said a State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman. “A Pac-Man-like video is not an adequate demonstration of what happened there. The building itself is the best evidence, and we believe it is vital for the jury to view the scene.”
Ernest “Ernie” Rospierski, a social studies teacher, was inside the freshman building when shots rang out on Feb. 14, 2018. Two bullets grazed him. He had initially preferred saving and reusing the building, because “the building did nothing wrong.” But given that’s unlikely, his next choice is having his belongings returned and quickly gutting the structure.
It’s such an “open-and-shut” court case that there’s no need for preserving it, he said. A jury still will know what happened, he said.
“Let them talk to some of my kids. Let them watch the video,” Rospierski said. “There’s no need for that building to be up.”
Still, razing the 1200 building may not necessarily do much to ease the heartache, mental-health experts say.
They “can’t remove the whole school,” said Dara Bushman, a clinical psychologist in Pembroke Pines. “There are veterans who go to war — there are still going to be things that happen that remind them of a certain event.”
Some people see the entire school campus as a traumatic reminder, she said.
“Does that mean taking down a memorial and banners?” she asked. That’s “still a reminder of what happened, re-stimulating for some people.”
In March 2018, Stoneman Douglas Principal Ty Thompson said he expected the building would be preserved for many years because of the pending case.
“I don’t know how long that building is going to be there,” he told a school advisory council at the time. “It could be there for six or seven years.”
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who is presiding over the murder case, has told attorneys she wants the trial to start in January, even though it’s a tentative goal that’s subject to change. By comparison, many other murder cases in Broward have taken years before reaching a final outcome.
The Broward Public Defender’s remarks about demolishing the building came as part of a motion in which they argued that Cruz himself should be barred from future court appearances. His defense attorneys say his mere presence is unsettling for the public.
His presence “peels back the scars and starts the trauma process all over again” for the shooting survivors and the community, said Gordon Weekes, the executive chief public defender.
The prosecutor’s office objected to the request, saying Cruz’s presence in court “is important, in light of the seriousness of the crime, and potential punishment.” The judge ruled immediately Thursday, saying in court documents that Cruz must attend a hearing Friday, but she could excuse him later.