Parkland, Florida – In a poignant visit on Monday, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, was deeply moved by a tour of the building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where a tragic mass shooting took place almost six years ago. Accompanied by five other House members, Fitzpatrick witnessed the haunting remnants of the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre – blood-stained floors, bullet-pocked walls, shattered glass, and wilting flowers and balloons. The group also engaged in heartfelt conversations with family members who have since become advocates for stricter national gun laws and improved school safety programs.
Over the years, Fitzpatrick’s distinguished law enforcement career had exposed him to unimaginable horrors, yet the experience of walking through the halls of the Parkland school left him at a loss for words. Expressing his empathy for the grief-stricken families, Fitzpatrick, the sole Republican member on the tour, remarked, “There are no words to describe the feelings that go through you walking those halls. I cannot even begin to imagine how the families feel when they’re walking through.”
This was the second tour organized for House members, with the first taking place in August and including six Democrats and three Republicans. The building, which is slated for demolition in the summer, has been preserved as evidence, allowing visitors to witness the harrowing aftermath of the tragedy. The perpetrator, Nikolas Cruz, was sentenced to life in prison.
Freshman Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Stoneman Douglas alumnus representing Parkland, spearheaded the congressional tours. He hoped that this visit to what he called a “time capsule” would galvanize momentum in the House to pass measures aimed at preventing mass shootings and mitigating their impact. Moskowitz acknowledged, however, that significant changes to the nation’s gun laws would likely be incremental, if they materialize at all. While he expressed his willingness to organize more tours if there is interest, there are currently no plans for additional visits before the building is demolished.
Notably absent from the tours were Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, both Republicans, who declined the invitation. This omission sparked anger from Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was among those killed. Guttenberg criticized the senators for their absence, stating, “They should have been here and they’re not. This was set up as a bipartisan educational effort to show people what happened in that school almost six years ago. Why 17 people, my daughter included, and so many others in this room’s loved ones included, why they were killed in a preventable act of gun violence.” Guttenberg has been a vocal advocate for stronger gun laws, including legislation mandating background checks for ammunition.
In response to the senators’ absence, Scott’s office declined to comment but highlighted that he was on a congressional delegation trip to Ecuador on the day of the tour. As governor in 2018, Scott spent several days in Parkland after the shooting and signed a bill that raised the state’s age limit for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21. He also implemented the “red flag” law, which enables police and judges to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. Rubio’s spokesperson did not provide a response to requests for comment.
The perpetrator, Nikolas Cruz, was a former student of Stoneman Douglas. Armed with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, he terrorized the building for nearly seven minutes, firing approximately 140 shots. Cruz pleaded guilty in 2021 and received a life sentence last year after the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on imposing the death penalty.
Max Schachter, who lost his 14-year-old son Alex in the shooting, emphasized the importance of government officials witnessing the impact of even minor changes to school infrastructure. Schachter highlighted that making classroom doors and windows bullet-resistant could potentially save lives, as his son was fatally shot through a classroom door window. Following his son’s tragic death, Schachter abandoned his insurance agency to become a full-time advocate for school safety. He expressed, “Every member of Congress we bring through this building is another step we are taking toward making schools safer.”
Since the first tour in July, approximately 300 individuals, including relatives of the victims, elected officials and their staff, and law enforcement and school safety officials, have visited the building, according to Broward County Schools. These visits aim to provide a tangible reminder of the impact of gun violence and to advocate for comprehensive measures to prevent future tragedies.