On Valentine’s Day, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and began firing, according to police officials. With an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, he killed 17 students and teachers and seriously wounded 14 others, five of whom suffered potentially life-threatening injuries.
Leading the effort to capture Cruz and provide comfort to the victims was the Broward County sheriff, Scott Israel. He lived at one time in Baldwin and attended Baldwin High School in the mid-1970s, according to his Facebook page.
Israel has been in law enforcement for 37 years. He joined the Fort Lauderdale Police Department in 1979, two years after graduating from Cortland State University. He became the Broward County sheriff in 2012, according to his online biography.
Israel immediately jumped into the gun-control debate last Wednesday. “I’ve said this time and time again,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday shortly after the shooting. “While the people who are victims of mental health illnesses in this country are being treated, in the opinion of this sheriff, they should not be able to buy, surround themselves with, purchase or carry a handgun. Those two things don’t mix.”
Israel appeared at a televised CNN town hall on Feb. 21 to address mass shootings and gun violence. There, he hammered home a message: Police should have the ability to remove guns from those they deem potential threats to themselves and others, and potentially bring them in for a mental-health evaluation.
"Things have to change in Washington, D.C. ... What I’m asking the lawmakers is to give the police more power," Israel said.
He also said there should be fewer guns "on our streets."
"We do need to have some gun-control reform," Israel said. "An 18-year-old kid should never have a rifle. Bump stocks should be outlawed forever."
A bump stock allows a shooter to fire up to nine rounds per second, or 90 rounds in 10 seconds, instead of the 90 rounds per minute that an AR-15 fires, according to The New York Times.
Israel said that armed deputies will be on hand at schools throughout Broward County when Marjory Stoneman school students return to classes next week.
Cruz, who was known to the FBI as a potential threat, arrived at the Marjory Stoneman equipped with a gas mask, smoke grenades and multiple magazines of ammunition for the AR-15. The attack was the nation's deadliest school shooting since one in Sandy Hook, Conn., more than five years ago, in which 28 students and teachers were killed before the shooter took his own life.
Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. According to the Broward County sheriff’s office, he confessed to the killings.
Israel, who could not be reached by phone, described the shooter's social media posts as "very disturbing" at last Wednesday’s news conference, and has called on state and federal officials to expand the state's Baker Act.
According to the Baker Act, a person can be detained against his or her will for up to 72 hours under certain circumstances, particularly if that person is deemed a potential threat to society. Israel wants to expand the law to include giving police and doctors more power to involuntarily hospitalize people for psychiatric evaluation because of violent and threatening social media posts they have made.
“That should not happen in Parkland. It should not happen anywhere in this country,” Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said during the news conference. “We have got to find a way for this to stop.”
Last week’s mass shooting came as a shock to people back in Israel’s hometown of Baldwin. “My wife and I always felt safe when we went to school. We also felt our children were safe when sending them off to school,” Samuel Ango, of Baldwin, said. “Obviously, parents can no longer feel their children are safe upon learning there have already been eight school shootings this year.”
Ango said he believes the conversation surrounding the shooting should not only be about mental health, but also gun control. The National Rifle Association “and their supporters tell us it's because of mental illness, and we must do a better job identifying those who could be a potential threat,” he said. “We should remind them that mentally ill people have always been among us. What has changed is they now have access to purchase assault weapons.”
Last week was not the first time that Israel has had to deal with a high-profile shooting. Last January, a gunman opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, killing five and wounding 35 others.
After that shooting, he said in an interview with the online news website Behind the Badge that he “was never so proud to be in this profession.” He said the communication and cooperation between his office and other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies was seamless.
The investigation into the Marjory Stoneman school shooting is ongoing, and the Herald will continue to follow this story.
––Scott Brinton contributed to this story.