The Parkland Shooting: One Year Later From a Parkland Dad

Memorial site at Marjory Stoneman Douglas after 2/14. Photo by Sharon Aron Baron.

By: Lonny Anger

“DON’T CALL ME I’M HIDING IN A CLOSET WITH MY TEACHER”

This was the text I received on 2/14 from my daughter after I tried calling her, when I was informed there was an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where she is a student.

It was also the moment that changed life forever for my daughter, me, and for our community.

I have attempted numerous times to try to write this article, commemorating one year after the shooting. (I won’t refer to it as an anniversary.)

I have failed each and every time.

I have saved it as a draft, deleted it, re-wrote it, thought about it, and started again.

Why am I struggling?

I mean – What are you supposed to do on this day? How do you address the victims’ families? What possible words could you say or write that have any meaningful impact? 

What do you say to your kids who were in the school? What should they do? Do they go see their friends? Do you ask them to talk about the tragedy and how it has affected them? Join a service project?

What about your younger kids who weren’t in the school? Do you send them to school? Do you let them stay home and go to a friend’s house? Do you make them join a community initiative, even though they may not have a complete grasp on why?

And what about us, the adults? Do you go to work? Act like it’s a regular day? Go to lunch? Dare to laugh? Or do you take your kids and leave the area?

Although I lived and worked in Manhattan when 9/11 happened, I had similar questions after the first year. 

But this one is different.

Not any less painful, just different. Mainly because this was focused on one community, and also involves kids – my kids, our kids, my friends’ kids.

There is no handbook on how to grieve the year after a historic tragedy, so everyone will do what they think is the best way to get through the day.

Some will visit graves. Some will vent on Facebook. Some will just cry. 

All will be devastated.

And I finally realized that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Community doesn’t need a date to remember, or pay tribute to what happened. 

There is rarely a minute in my waking day that I don’t think about what happened, how timing played a key role in who was killed, injured, and spared, and how there is a community out there that is months, weeks, or days away from the next school shooting.

Whenever I see or speak with a member of the victims’ families, I see the pain in their eyes, the agony in their demeanor, and the hurt in their hearts.

I feel thankful that I am not them.

And I walk away suffering from extreme survivor’s guilt for feeling that way, because I know that I would not be able to handle their worst nightmare with the same drive of fighting for justice and change as they have.

No, I fear I would be in jail because of the lack of accountability, lack of transparency, and severe failures that have occurred. My mission would be to get revenge, rather than campaign for safer schools  and less gun violence as they all have valiantly done. 

So, what will I do? 

I don’t really have a great answer.

It will be a combination of everything I mentioned above, but the first thing I did was write this article.

Everyone here has their role. Some are activists. Some are vocal on social media. Some organize events. 

I write.

I write with the hope that it helps heal others, specifically in my community. I write for those outside of our community so they know what is going on here, and give you some insight about what occurs after a tragedy.

But mostly so you are prepared for when it happens to you.

I’ve chosen to write about the words/terms/phrases/people that have been most prevalent/argued/discussed since 2/14, and I have selected the number 17 to honor the most beautiful souls lost and the 17 injured.

Mistakes

There are so many mistakes that people made, it is difficult to keep track. The FBI made a colossal mistake, by not following up on a reported tip about the shooter. However, there were so many more – The PROMISE program, which was designed to give kids a second chance to avoid prison, however that was a failure. It didn’t change negative behavior, and actually encouraged it by suggesting that there were no consequences to their actions. No metal detectors, school gates unlocked prematurely, bathroom doors locked, no Code Red training for staff, no code Red called, no hard corners, unqualified assistant principal conducting a threat assessment, No cases of bullying, harassment, or trespassing reported even though there was, uninterested or uninvolved leadership at the school regarding safety and security, armed SRO (School Resource Officer) not entering the building when the shooting began, BSO (Broward Sheriff Office) taking their time when shooting was happening and not entering, BSO Sheriff changing the order of “shall” enter to “may” enter during an active shooting, unprepared and unqualified Parkland Police Captain, communication fiascos including non live video and not knowing it wasn’t live, radio transmission issues, Mom purchasing and allowing guns for the shooter despite clear mental health issues, people who took in the shooter also allowed the shooter to keep guns, gun laws that allowed the shooter to purchase guns legally.

Is that enough for you?

If any of these mistakes were corrected, it’s very possible the shooting could have been prevented or at the very least, more lives would have been spared.

Accountability

Sadly, despite this long list of mistakes, errors, and failures, most people in leadership positions have barely been held accountable. The most glaring example is the Superintendent of Broward County.

It is in my humble opinion that the only way for our community to move forward towards healing, is every single person that was involved directly or indirectly of the above mentioned items, should be removed from their position.

Harsh? Unfair? Maybe.

However, I have not heard one person involved say something along these lines:

I am so sorry. I know I did not do or support the right thing. My actions or lack of action resulted in deaths and injuries. I cannot change what I did, and I know these words can never bring back those lost. I will forever live with the fact I could have helped prevent this atrocity.”

I have done many things that I regret professionally. Made tons of mistakes. Whenever I had the opportunity and especially in the most egregious examples, I have apologized profusely and asked to earn trust and respect back.

In some cases that occurred, in others I paid the consequences.

The problem is that we are taught from a young age to deflect blame. 

“He hit me first”, “She started”, “It isn’t mine”, etc.

All the families and this community wants is accountability; it’s a shame we haven’t been able to give it to them.

Public Relations

If you are a Public Relations expert, there is plenty of opportunity in Broward County. For instance, The Broward County School Board hired a PR consultant to help them navigate through the tragedy, referencing grieving families as “crazies” and the “opposition”. 

Really? Now I don’t have a Public Relations degree, but I don’t see how that was good strategy.

The SRO officer who did not enter the building started GoFundMe page to help with his defense. 

GoFundMe pages were meant to help people dealing with difficult life events, as a way to fundraise.

Since when is a cowardly act a difficult life event?

Even if he didn’t hire a Public Relations firm, someone else must have known that he was going to do that. 

How does someone not say “Hey, you know what? I don’t think that is a very good idea.”

The Principal of MSD also started a page to help with his wedding, that was postponed because of the shooting.

Perhaps it’s because I have been married a while, but if you need a GoFundMe page to help you get married – maybe it’s not such a great idea to do so until you are in a position where you don’t need a GoFundMe Page.

Again, not really a great strategy when you are dealing with a crisis that you were involved in, and happened under your leadership.

Cover Up

Perhaps this occurs in many areas, but the culture within South Florida to cover up runs rampant.

An example is when Jose Fernandez, the young promising pitcher of the Miami Marlins was tragically killed during a boating accident, immediately the reports from the Fish and Wildlife Commission was that there was no alcohol involved in the crash. 

At least not by Fernandez. 

And I suspect that was done to protect his vast fortune, and potential lawsuits.

Drugs and alcohol were later found to be the contributing factor in his death.

Although the circumstances were different, the theme and focus of the Broward County School Board were the same.

They delayed or held records, spent a lot of money on spin control, and hired lawyers who basically told them to keep their mouth shut and use the privacy laws to their advantage.

Why?

Because they didn’t want them to admit that any of their failures contributed to the shooting, for fear of further lawsuits.

So, the promise of transparency was replaced with false narratives, and denying our community of answers we so richly deserve.

Students

The 1200 building where the shooting occurred is still standing, due to the fact that it is considered a crime scene.

There is a fence around it, covered with many supportive banners that have been sent in from around the World.

I get an uncomfortable feeling each time I am in close vicinity, and I give a tremendous amount of credit to the students who walk by it every day.

Many of the students have used their unwanted platform for greater good; campaigning for safer schools, mental health, gun control, etc.

They have been thrown into a situation no one should ever experience, and have proven that everyone’s voice matters.

Families

If you are a parent of a student anywhere in the US today, you should be thanking each and every one of the 17 victims’ families – because they are all advocating on your behalf.

On a daily basis, they are using their voice to make schools safer for your children.

Although there are some differences in how they approach school safety amongst them, at the end of the day their overall goal is the same.

They are very visible within the community, and engage with their supporters and detractors.

It’s been a year of missed birthdays, anniversaries, milestones – not just of those that were murdered – but of their families and friends as well. 

I don’t know how they wake up every day, but they are some of the strongest people I have ever met.

Now when I hug my kids, it has more meaning

With each touch of their body against mine, I pray that it won’t be the last time. 

When I tell my kids that I love them, they are no longer words just to say – they have more significance, because I know the families no longer have that opportunity.

Victims

Being a teenager is tough. You are at that point of trying to be independent, which often times conflicts with the needs you possess. 

Most likely view their parents as “uncool”, or “annoying”, and are embarrassed by their display.

I know my kids think that of me.

However, I want to let Carmen, Meadow, Peter, Nick, Luke, Alaina, Jaime, Martin, Alyssa, Helena, Joaquin (Guac), Cara, Gina, and Alex know that you would be so proud of all of your parents and friends, and the things they have done in your memory.

To Coaches Biegel, Feis, and Hixon – Your bravery in the moment will be always be talked about, and the impact that you have had on your students, wives, parents, and children will be remembered forever.

I have enjoyed learning more about your background, interests, and goals. 

It is clear that the impression each and every one of you has had on your families and friends will never be forgotten.

Healing

As with any tragic event, people grieve and heal differently. 

Some like to talk about it.

Many don’t.

Some use their platform to get their message out.

Some have PTSD. 

Many see therapists, and many more probably should.

I am proud to be on the Board of Directors for SHINE, MSD whose mission is “Healing through the Arts”.

We consider ourselves “non-political”, although we do sometimes get accused of “picking sides” – specifically as it relates to gun control.

We have performed at events that support gun control, as well as others that do not.

The City of Parkland has done a good job of making residents aware of programs available, and there has been an outpouring of support from around the world.

I recently attended one of the superintendent Town Hall meetings.

One mom made a great suggestion – she suggested that each MSD student should have a mental health evaluation, and a professional should determine the level of therapy necessary.

I thought that was brilliant.

We aren’t professionals – we are parents. We don’t know what to look for, or know if our child is still struggling. We need help from people who know what they are doing.

No matter what, healing will be a lifelong process – and since these are unchartered waters, we still are trying to figure out our way.

Guns

Currently, the word “guns” continues to be the most polarizing 4-letter word in our nation. 

It paralyzes everyone.

In the “mistakes” section above, I mention over 20 items that could have prevented the shooting.

For those who are opposed to gun control, they will only focus on the fact that I mentioned guns.

They will say “Guns had nothing to do with the shooting”, “Gun laws wouldn’t have prevented this”, “Criminals will always find a way to get guns”, etc.

I find those comments fair.

However, if your response is “Guns had nothing to do with the shooting”, followed up with “He should have never been in the PROMISE program to begin with” as the reason why – I submit to you that the argument can be same.

Let’s say for instance he wasn’t in the PROMISE program, and was expelled from school or even jailed for a period of time. Is it possible that he still could have carried out the school shooting?

Yes.

However, I would concur it would be less likely. 

And that is all people who are supportive for more sensible gun laws are trying to say.

In a previous article, I related stricter gun laws to airport security. After 9/11, it got more difficult to get on an airplane. Lines are longer. You have to take your shoes and jackets off. 

99.9 percent of all air travelers have no intention of blowing up a plane.

However, for the .1 percent who may – I don’t mind spending an extra few minutes going through security.

Most legal gun owners are law-abiding citizens. As long as you aren’t planning on shooting up a school, religious sanctuary, or movie theater, what’s the big deal on waiting a few more days or filling out some more paperwork?

To those who say, “That’s the start of coming for your guns” – I say “Really?” 

The logistics on that would be an absolute impossibility. Show me an example in modern times where the United States government has come to your home and taken something from you that you legally own.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine, who is a staunch gun advocate. He was all riled up, and looking forward to getting into a heated discussion with me about gun ownership, laws, etc. I told him before we started that he will be surprised to learn that we likely agree on more than he thinks. The conversation went like this:

Me: “Would you agree that there should be a Universal Background Check”?

Him: “Yes”

Me: “Would you agree that if you are found to have mental health issues, you should not be allowed to purchase a gun?”

Him: “Yes”

Me: “Is there a need for the average person to use bump stocks, or any type of gun that fires in rapid succession like in the military?”

Him: “No”

Me: “If you had to wait a few extra days to get approved for a gun purchase, would that affect your life dramatically?”

Him: “No”

And that my friends, is what sensible gun laws are all about.

I don’t own any guns, and I don’t plan on it. However, I support your right if you want to.

Arming Teachers

There has been a recent debate about arming teachers.

That was one of the recommendations that came out of the MSD Commission Report.

Now I come from a family of teachers. Both of my parents were teacher’s, and my father later in his career was the Deputy Superintendent of our school district. My sister, wife, and sister-in-law were or currently are teachers.

Although I love them dearly, I wouldn’t feel any safer if they had a gun.

Now should there be armed personnel on school property?

Absolutely.

But a school officer (one that would actually have the courage to do something), a principal, or some other authority figure.

A teacher?

The only way I would support that is if a teacher actually wanted to be armed. 

Most don’t.

I spoke with a police officer in Broward County who does the active shooter training for schools.

Do you know how many teachers volunteered to be armed out of 80 schools? 

Five.

So, let’s say there is an average of 2,000 students per school with a 20:1 ratio of teachers to students.

That’s 100 teachers per school that went through the training.

80 x 100 = 8,000

5 out of 8,000 is .06 percent

Even if my estimate is off, 5 teachers out of 80 schools in Broward County is an extremely low number.

President

I want to preface this section by letting you know that I am registered Republican. 

Here is my take on the president:

He is the greatest salesman that ever lived.

When he ran for office, he was really just using his celebrity to become even more famous.

He had no intention of winning.

So, he makes some outlandish claims, knowing he never had to follow through on it because he doesn’t believe he will win.

He brings on some very smart people who realize that they will get the Republican vote, and all they have to do is turn over some Democratic voters who seem disenfranchised. 

The Democrats never took him seriously until the end, and the president was as surprised as anyone that he won.

Now he has to actually follow through on some of his promises, such as building a wall at the border.

Let me let you in on a little secret.

He doesn’t give a flying fuck about that wall.

And the only reason why some people are supportive of that wall, is because he told them to care about the wall.

Let’s all be honest here for a second – how many of people reading this article consider building a wall for border security a Top 3 concern when they go to bed?

I’ll give you my three. Actually, my top 10 in no particular order.

I worry about my wife, kids, family, work, health, money, school safety, economy, friends, retiring at 62. 

Border Security/Immigration is certainly an issue, but it doesn’t even crack the Top 10 for me when I go to sleep at night.

Now I give him credit for the low unemployment rate, the economy is still strong, 401K’s are still performing well, and he established the school safety commission for safer schools.

But he still hasn’t acknowledged that guns played even a small role in the MSD shooting. He should have mentioned something about the Parkland shooting during his State of The Union Address, especially with some of the parents in the audience.

For me, he can’t just play up to his base. You know those people who say “Thank God for President Trump” or remark about how much he loves America.

He needs to be the president for everyone.

Politics

I don’t recall another time when there was so much divide when it comes to politics. Everything opinion comes down to party lines. 

And I think the Senate and the House are filled with scared, insecure, vindictive people.

On the Republican side, they are all afraid of losing their jobs and don’t call out the President nearly enough when he does something wrong. 

I find that weak.

On the Democratic side, they hate the president so much that they do anything to undermine him and rarely take him seriously.

Everyone needs to do a better job of finding more compromise, and reach across the aisle in a more meaningful way.

The biggest thing I see is the hypocrisy in all of us.

We will call for a resignation of the opposing party when they do something offensive, but when it happens within your own party it is not considered the same.

If you are going to call out someone to resign, then when it happens with your candidate you better be consistent.

It is in my humble opinion that if the Republicans compromised a bit on the abortion and gun issues, they would have a flock of Democrats and Independents running their way. These are two of the biggest sticking points for many who shy away from the Republican party.

On a positive note – Our newly elected governor for the State of Florida has done a great job so far. He has followed up on his campaign promises (IE – suspending the Broward County Sheriff), and there is an expectation he will do the same with the Superintendent. (As of this writing, that has not happened yet.)

Social Media

I still find social media a fascinating phenomenon. 

It hadn’t been invented yet when 9/11 happened, so most people relied on the news and discussing the issues the old-fashioned way – in person.

Now, it has provided a platform for activists to get their message out, as well as regular people to express their opinions.

I think many people however, determine the level of hysteria or support for an issue based on what they read on social media.

I am no different.

I subscribe to the 80/20 rule in all aspects of life.

You spend 80 percent of your time with 20 percent of your friends. You frequent 20 percent of the restaurants you know 80 percent of the time. You wear 20 percent of your clothing in your closet 80 percent of the time. You watch 20 percent of the channels or shows you subscribe to 80 percent of the time. 

The list can go on and on.

I believe the same to be true in social media. 

My opinion is that 80 percent of people on social media probably agree on safer schools, mental health awareness, and sensible gun control.

Ten percent are extreme to the left, and 10 percent are extreme towards the right.

Of those extremes (Total 20 percent), 80 percent of what is written/posted are from the same people.

I look on the different Parkland or MSD social media groups, and it is the same 9-10 people that post or comment the most extreme views.

Many write that they are trying to “stimulate conversation”, but it is really a guise to extract a reaction from an opposing view.

I have friends that fall into all of these categories. I don’t agree with what is posted or written all of time, but I respect their right to post it.

However, as I have mentioned in previous articles the two items that bother me the most is any type of personal criticism of the victims’ families or the March for Our Lives kids.

Especially from when it is from people outside of the community who have no real connection to the shooting – however, I have seen it within my own community as well.

I rarely respond to social media comments, except when someone is attacking these two groups personally.

Don’t agree with what they have to say? Okay, state that. However, to direct derogatory statements towards them is pathetic.

School Safety

The one area where I think there is almost 100% agreement is the topic of school safety.

Although some things have been done, there is not enough.

Still no hard corners.

Still no metal detectors.

Still no improvement on communications.

I know of many families who are looking at alternative schools to MSD.

Or simply moving away.

Our school should be the safest after the disasters have been exposed, and we should be the prototype of how all schools around the Country should follow.

Sadly, that is not the case today.

Mental Health 

I recently attended a seminar on suicide, where one of the victim’s family members was speaking.

I was surprised to learn that in almost all cases of school shootings, the shooter has previously expressed suicidal tendencies.

This happened in the case of the MSD school shooter as well.

I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising after all, but clearly everyone needs to be on higher alert when any of the signs are present.

These include talking about wanting to kill yourself of others including animals, talking about feelings of hopelessness or having no purpose, talking about being a burden, increase in the use of alcohol or drugs, acting agitated, anxious, or reckless, withdrawing, showing rage, mood swings, etc.

If you recognize any of these warning signs in your own children or your children’s friends, please alert a mental health expert as soon as possible.

Community

I have seen the best of our community, as well as the worst.

For the most part, everyone seems very supportive of the victims’ families and their efforts.

Especially when it comes to school safety.

I haven’t found one person yet that isn’t in favor of making our schools safer.

The one area where people appear to take sides is (again) on the issue of guns.

This is bothersome because there shouldn’t be a “side” to take – whether you support more gun control or not, ultimately we should do a better job of coming together as a community to end gun violence. 

And there is more than one answer as to how to address it.

While there are many in our community who have done great things, I would like to acknowledge Jon Faber for taking a leadership role in the healing process. I normally do not mention names when it comes to Parkland, but the self-proclaimed “Proud Parkland Parent” has gone above and beyond in terms of helping our community heal – he supports all initiatives, is outspoken on issues, and is known as the go to person in time of need. One of the many great things he has accomplished was being a part of “Project Love Grow” – a garden at the corner of Holmberg Road and Pine Island Road. He had the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sign replaced by generous donors, and the community comes by to plant flowers, color rocks, or just to pray. It is a powerful location, especially because it is the closest corner to the 1200 building. 

He has never asked for anything in return, except for me to mention that he is superbly handsome, incredibly brilliant, and absurdly rich in case anyone who doesn’t know him was interested in learning more about him.

Thank you, Jon, for all that you have done, and may we all continue to follow your lead. 

You

If you are reading this article, clearly the shooting had an impact on you.

The remembrance of the shooting will be hard on most in our area.

You likely will want to do or say something, in an effort to bring comfort.

Everyone will appreciate that.

However, I ask of you one thing.

Do not just say “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you”.

I’ve always felt this puts an unnecessary burden on the person you are saying it to – it now becomes the responsibility of the person in pain to let you know when they need something.

Instead, I suggest telling them exactly what you are going to do.

For instance, do you have an opinion on safer schools or accountability? Write a letter supporting your position to those in charge. 

Know of those going to visit a cemetery? Offer to walk their dogs or clean their house.

Know someone that is being detrimental to the healing process by engaging in social media meant to incite, but they disguise it as “meaningful conversation” or “healthy debate”? Call them out on it.

Know of a hobby of someone affected? Go do that activity today in their honor.

Better yet, heed the warning signs of a potential school shooter. 

Question your local school district as to why your school is not safer.

Learn from the countless errors of the Parkland shooting to make sure that your kids come home from school alive. 

One of the lines from the spoken word portion of the song “SHINE” states, “You have the power to change the world around us”.

That is what YOU can do today.

In summary, so much has changed in Parkland – but not necessarily the right things.

I don’t even recall life before 2/14, even though I wish for it every day.

When I wake up every morning, I still crave that it was all a nightmare.

However, reality soon sets in.

I pray for the families, I root for the community, and hope it will never happen again.

But I know it will.

This is one year later in Parkland.

Lonny Anger is a “proud” Parkland resident and father of three children including his daughter who attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas. He is a licensed general contractor and owner of Merrick Industrial Management Corp, a commercial construction firm specializing in hospital and healthcare facilities interior renovation.  Anger serves as vice president/media relations for Shine MSD, which was formed by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Students after the shooting to support victims’ families and healing the Parkland community through the arts. He also enjoys volunteering in the city as a baseball and flag football coach. 

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