PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick spent years as an FBI agent and federal prosecutor, but he was shaken Monday by a tour of the building at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 teens and staff members were gunned down nearly six years ago.
The Pennsylvania Republican and five other House members saw the blood-stained floors, the bullet-pocked walls, the shattered glass and the wilted flowers and balloons that remain from the Valentine's Day 2018 massacre. They also spoke with loved ones who were left behind and are now advocates for stronger national gun laws and school safety programs.
“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,” said Fitzpatrick, the only GOP member who took Monday's tour.
Monday marked the second time House members have toured the three-story building, following a group of six Democrats and three Republicans who visited in August. The building — set to be demolished in the summer — and its contents were kept intact as evidence. The murderer, Nikolas Cruz, received a life sentence.
The congressional tours were organized by freshman Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Stoneman Douglas graduate whose district includes Parkland. He hopes visiting the building, which he called a “time capsule,” will create momentum in the House to pass measures that will prevent mass shootings and mitigate those that do happen.
“It’s important to see, unfortunately, what it looks like when a mass shooting comes to your high school, when your high school is turned into a war zone," Moskowitz said.
But he conceded that any changes to the nation's gun laws will likely be incremental, if they happen at all. Moskowitz said he would work to bring more lawmakers to the school if there is interest but that no other tours with House members are planned before the demolition.
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting, said he is angry that Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, both Republicans, did not attend either tour, though they were invited.
“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 said. He has become an outspoken advocate for stronger gun laws, including a bill that would require background checks for ammunition, not just guns.
Scott's office declined comment, but noted that he was in Ecuador on Monday as part of a congressional delegation. He was governor in 2018 and spent several days in Parkland after the shooting. He also signed a bill weeks later that raised the state's age limit for purchasing a gun from 18 to 21 and instituted its “red flag” law, which requires that people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others by police and a judge to temporarily give up their guns.
Rubio's spokesperson did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment.
Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student, stalked the building for nearly seven minutes, firing almost 140 shots with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. He pleaded guilty in 2021 and received his life sentence last year after a jury could not unanimously agree he deserved the death penalty.
Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died in the shooting, said it is important for government officials to see that even small changes such as making classroom doors and windows bullet-resistant could save lives. Alex died from shots Cruz fired through the window in his classroom's door. Schachter gave up his insurance agency after his son's death to become a full-time advocate.
“Every member of Congress we bring through this building is another step we are taking toward making schools safer,” he said.
Broward County Schools says about 300 people have toured the building since the first group in July — relatives of the victims, elected officials and their aides, and law enforcement and school safety officials.