Schools across the nation are on edge.
On Friday, a number of schools had canceled classes and other activities after receiving unsubstantiated threats.
The Gilchrist County School District in Florida shuttered its schools after receiving an email threat, and the Nutley Public School System in New Jersey also said it would be closed because of a security threat. A high school in Colorado Springs canceled a pep rally.
A school district in Redwater, Tex. decided to close after the superintendent said it received “a rumor about a possible shooter.” And a school in Massachusetts announced it would deploy more police officers and do random security checks throughout the day because of a threatening post on social media.
Schools also wrestled with how to proceed with lockdown drills, which have become as routine as fire drills as students prepare for the possibility of a shooting. Some schools opt to make the drills feel partially authentic — an approach several schools backed off from this week out of fear they would stir already heightened anxieties.
At Dysart High School in El Mirage, Ariz., the principal took extra steps to make sure students knew its previously scheduled drill on Thursday was, in fact, just a drill. The reminder was included in the morning announcements, and she reiterated it on the public address system several times throughout the day, said Zachery Fountain, a district spokesman.
Eureka High School in California postponed its drill that had been scheduled for Thursday, partly because officials were concerned about the mental state of students, said Fred Van Vleck, the district superintendent. Typically, the school doesn’t announce that the lockdown is a drill, telling students only that there could be a drill within a one-week window, he said.
“We determined it was best to allow the teachers the time in the classroom to have the conversations with students, rather than running them through drills at this point,” he said.
McNeil High School in Austin, Tex., went ahead with its lockdown drill on Friday, but only after an unusual level of communication.
“Normally we would not announce drills to students and parents so the drill is more authentic, however I felt it important to notify our families in advance so as not to cause any fear or panic,” the school’s principal, Courtney Acosta, wrote in an email to parents, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Fourteen students and three faculty members died.
Among the victims were Aaron Feis, a popular football coach, Christopher Hixon, the school’s athletic director, and Scott Beigel, a geography teacher credited with saving a boy’s life.
Mr. Feis was seen as someone who looked out for students who got in trouble, those who were struggling, those without fathers at home. “He’d go out of his way to help anybody,” said Mr. Feis’s grandfather.
The teenagers who died enjoyed soccer, swimming, dance and marching band. Some did church volunteer work or were involved in Junior ROTC. Seven were only 14.
As a boy, her grandfather survived a mass shooting by hiding in a closet. Now she was doing the same.
During the horror at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Carly Novell, a 17-year-old senior who is an editor for the school’s quarterly magazine, The Eagle Eye, hid in a closet and thought about an awful family tragedy from before she was born. Her mother had told her about how her grandfather had survived a mass shooting in 1949 in Camden, N.J. His family had not made it.
“My grandfather was 12, and his grandma and his mom and dad were killed while he hid in a closet,” Ms. Novell said. “They heard gunshots on the street, so my great-grandma told my grandpa to hide in the closet, so he was safe. But he didn’t have a family after that.”
Interviewed on Thursday, she said: “I was thinking of him while I was in the closet. I was wondering what he felt like while he was there. My mom has told me he was in shock after it, too — that he didn’t remember how he got to the police station, or anything like that. I didn’t forget anything, but I was in shock and I didn’t understand what was going on.”
Mr. Cruz made his first court appearance.
In an orange jumpsuit and shackled around his hands, feet and waist, Mr. Cruz was asked if he understood the circumstances of his appearance in court. “Yes, ma’am,” he whispered.
“He’s sad. He’s mournful,” his public defender, Melisa McNeill, said afterward. “He is fully aware of what is going on, and he’s just a broken human being.”
Mr. Weekes, the chief assistant public defender, said lawyers were still trying to piece together the details of Mr. Cruz’s life. He has a “significant” history of mental illness, according to Mr. Weekes, and may be autistic or have a learning disability.
But Mr. Weekes was not ready to say whether he would pursue a mental health defense.
Howard Finkelstein, the chief public defender in Broward County, said the case would present a difficult question: Should society execute mentally ill people?
“There’s no question of whether he will be convicted of capital murder 17 times,” he said. “When we let one of our children fall off grid, when they are screaming for help in every way, do we have the right to kill them when we could have stopped it?”
Mr. Cruz had lived with another family since his mother died.
After Mr. Cruz’s mother died last fall, the family that took him in, the Sneads, had seen signs of depression but nothing indicating he was capable of such violence, Jim Lewis, the family’s lawyer, said. The family had allowed Mr. Cruz to bring his gun with him to their house, insisting that he keep it in a lockbox.
Mr. Lewis had encouraged Mr. Cruz to attend adult education courses, work toward his G.E.D. and take a job at a local Dollar Tree store, he said in a brief interview. The Sneads’ son, a junior, knew Mr. Cruz from Stoneman Douglas High.
On Wednesday, Mr. Cruz and the Sneads’ son were texting until 2:18 p.m., Mr. Lewis said — about five minutes before the first 911 calls about the shooting. “But there was nothing crazy in the texts,” Mr. Lewis said. Here is our profile of Mr. Cruz.
What can the authorities do when there is a ‘red flag’ about mental illness?
Elected and law enforcement officials — from President Trump to the Broward County sheriff — have ramped up their demands for expanded authority over the mentally ill who pose a danger. In doing so, they stepped into a long and complicated balancing act in the United States between public safety and the right to bear arms for people with mental health issues.
Others, including some gun control and mental health advocates, point to the increasing number of states that allow law enforcement officers or, in some cases, family members or others to petition a court to temporarily take guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.
The measures, known as “red flag laws” or extreme risk protection orders, have shown evidence of reducing suicides in Connecticut, where the first such law was passed in 1999, and in recent years have also been passed in California, Washington and Oregon. Eighteen states, including Florida, and the District of Columbia are considering such laws this year, according to a list compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group.
“To claim, ‘Oh, well, you should see the signs and tell law enforcement,’ to me is disingenuous unless there is something law enforcement can do,” said Avery Gardiner, the co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Red flag laws, she said, “provide a path to remove guns from somebody in a temporary crisis.” And, she said, even if a family decides not to seek a gun restraining order, the fact that the option exists can prompt frank conversations with struggling relatives.
Read more about the debate around mental illness and gun ownership here.
Lawmakers urged to take action: ‘We need change.’
Students and parents in Parkland, an affluent suburb in Florida’s most intensely Democratic county, said a focus from policymakers on treating mental illness was not enough.
Ms. Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed, made an emotional plea for action.
“President Trump, we need action, we need change,” she said, the urgency rising in her voice. “Get these guns out of the hands of these young kids and get these guns off the streets.”
“If we’re constantly having our children worried about getting shot at, what are we telling our future?” said David Hogg, 17, a senior, who said two of his 14-year-old sister’s friends were killed. “And that’s what these people are killing, our future.”
In an address to the nation on Thursday, President Trump announced he would visit Parkland and work with the nation’s governors “to help secure our schools, and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” But he made no mention of guns.
In a Twitter post on Friday, the president said that he was working with Congress “on many fronts” and would “be leaving for Florida today to meet with some of the bravest people on earth – but people whose lives have been totally shattered,” without providing details on either matter.
Democrats in Congress pushed for a renewed focus on gun control on Thursday. Republicans called for prayers, and argued that no single fix to the nation’s gun laws would deter a shooting like the one on Wednesday in Parkland.
“This is one of those moments where we just need to step back and count our blessings,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said. “We need to think less about taking sides and fighting each other politically, and just pulling together.”
Read more about Congress’s failure to act on gun control legislation here.
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