Members of Congress visited the site of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High tragedy on Monday, in what’s expected to be the last in a series of tours designed to urge lawmakers to take action on school safety.
This was the second time U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Parkland, led a bipartisan group of House members through the vacant 1200 building that has remained a time capsule since it was the site of the mass shooting that killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018. They also had a closed-door roundtable discussion with relatives of Parkland victims.
Those who visited Monday say they were moved by the horrific scenes of broken glass and blood stains, as well as by stories of the failures that happened that day. They promised to continue the push for legislation to improve school safety.
“The highest responsibility any of us have, not just as elected officials, but as human beings, is to take care of our kids,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican congressman and former FBI agent from Pennsylvania who toured the building. “And our kids are not safe right now.”
Other Congressional members in attendance were three of Moskowitz’s fellow Democrats: Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Daniel Goldman of New York and Wiley Nickel of North Carolina. Nine members of Congress, including Moskowitz, toured the school in August.
With turmoil in the House this year over issues such as who would serve as speaker, Moskowitz said it’s hard to get legislation related to school safety or any other issues passed this year.
“We’re at just an unfortunate chaotic time, but there are more discussions going on right around school safety or where can we find agreement on gun violence prevention,” he said. “D.C., unfortunately, doesn’t work very quickly.”
While Republicans have been resistant to tightening gun laws, Wasserman Schultz said the visit helped her see issues that could generate bipartisan support.
“If you go through the building and the frozen way in which time was encapsulated, you can really see how you can change the structure and the way we build buildings, and the way we run schools to make sure that a shooting like this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
She noted that student Jaime Guttenberg was running to the stairwell during the attack, but “she couldn’t get there in time, because of the configuration of the doors that were locked. She couldn’t get to safety.”
With a different building configuration, “she would have been alive today,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Members of Congress also toured the 1500 building, which opened on a different part of campus in 2020 to replace the 1200 building.
“It has all the top, best safety features in the country and is probably the safest building around,” said Max Schachter, whose son, Alex, was killed in the shooting. Schachter and Tony Montalto, who lost his daughter, Gina, accompanied the members of Congress.
A major safety upgrade in the new building is at the windows on the classroom doors, Schachter said. The shooter in the 2018 attack didn’t actually enter classrooms but shot through the large window pane on the doors,, he noted.
“If you look at the new building, the pane of glass is very, very thin, and so the kids he can see in the classroom are much more limited,” Schachter said. “And you can’t just shoot through the glass, put your hand in, unlock the door, walk in and shoot everyone.”
District spokesman John Sullivan wouldn’t discuss specific safety upgrades to the 1500 building except to say, “The materials used in the construction took into account the structural and safety failures in the 1200 building.”
Along with members of Congress, U.S. State Attorney Markenzy Lapointe also toured and shared a letter from U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland written to family members of victims.
“We renew our commitment to working together to put an end to the gun violence that has devastated too many families and too many communities,” Garland wrote. “I know that nothing can undo the enormous loss you have suffered. The Justice Department will never forget what happened here; we will never forget those you lost; and we will never stop working to honor their memories.”
The building is scheduled to be demolished next summer. For more than five years, the State Attorney’s Office had maintained it as a crime scene for the trials of killer Nikolas Cruz, who was sentenced to life in prison, and former school resource officer Scot Peterson, who was acquitted of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury charges.
The school district received full control of the building in July, and since then, it’s been toured multiple times by legislators, law enforcement officials and school district leaders from around the country.
Schachter and Moskowitz said they would like more members of Congress to tour the building before it’s demolished, believing that seeing it can prompt them to act on school safety. However, Sullivan said he expects this to be the last tour. He voiced a similar prediction last month after more than 200 officials from various school districts visited.
“The superintendent said there will be no more visits,” Sullivan said Monday. “We will clean the 1200 building as soon as possible.”