In an unprecedented move, nine members of Congress are set to embark on a somber tour of the blood-stained and bullet-riddled halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. With a goal to shed light on the devastating impact of school shootings, this tour organized by Florida Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart will be joined by Cruz’s prosecutors and the families of the victims.
Taking place on Friday, the visit is expected to leave a profound impact on the congressional delegation comprising six Democrats and three Republicans, who are all members of the House School Safety and Security Caucus. This marks the first time a congressional delegation has toured the site of a mass shooting, making it a significant event.
The eerie silence inside the three-story building has lingered since the Valentine’s Day tragedy in 2018. The structure, now locked behind a chain-link fence, has been preserved as evidence for last year’s penalty trial of shooter Nikolas Cruz. As the members explore its gloomy interior, shattered glass covers the floors, wilted roses lay forgotten, balloons lay deflated, and discarded gifts are scattered throughout. Remnants of the chaos still remain – open textbooks, laptops on students’ desks, and an unfinished chess game left untouched by one of the slain students.
The emotional tour was suggested by Max Schachter, a father who lost his 14-year-old son, Alex, in the shooting. Schachter, now a full-time school safety advocate, believed that experiencing the aftermath of such a horrific event firsthand would help the members truly understand the impact on families and communities when a school becomes a war zone.
After the tour concludes, the members and the families will gather at a nearby hotel to discuss pressing school safety issues. Although immediate policy changes may not be formulated on-site, Moskowitz acknowledged that it is crucial to ensure no other families suffer the devastating loss experienced by those impacted by the shooting.
Following the delegation’s departure, ballistics experts will conduct a reenactment at the school. Using an identical AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, the experts will fire up to 139 shots from the same spots as Cruz did during his six-minute attack. Seeking to capture the environment that Deputy Scot Peterson, assigned to the school, encountered, technicians positioned outside the building will record the sound of the gunfire. This reenactment is part of a lawsuit filed by the victims’ families and the wounded, accusing Peterson of failing his duty to protect them.
Peterson, who had worked for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, drew controversy through his actions during the shooting. He stood near the building’s entrance and made radio calls but did not enter due to reported echoes and an inability to pinpoint the shooter’s location. Acquitted of felony child neglect and other criminal charges in June, Peterson still faces civil claims of negligence from the victims’ families.
While the reenactment is a significant development in the case, the recording’s admissibility during trial remains undetermined. Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips allowed the reenactment but emphasized that the use of the recording as evidence would need to be argued at a later date. Peterson’s attorneys are expected to challenge the attempt.
In a final act to bring closure to the community, the Broward school district plans to demolish the building after Friday’s events. As Parkland continues to heal, the memory of this tragedy will persist, and the nation will gratefully remember the courageous efforts made to ensure no other families become members of this exclusive club no one wants to belong to.