A barrage of bullets flew through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Friday, more than five years after the deadliest US high school shooting killed 17 people and wounded 17 others on the Parkland, Florida, campus.
Organizers had advised about 140 live rounds would be fired inside the school to reenact the shooting rampage – part of a lawsuit against a former sheriff’s deputy who stayed outside during the massacre.
During the almost five hour-long reenactment, bullets were fired into a ballistic trap inside a three-story building at the school that turned into a scene of carnage.
The reenactment mimicked the killer’s movements over six-and-a-half minutes on the afternoon of February 14, 2018.
Prosecutors had previously accused Scot Peterson, the former Broward County sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer, of ignoring his training and failing to confront the shooter. Instead, prosecutors said, Peterson took cover outside the building as the victims were gunned down.
Several of the shooting victims’ families and a survivor are suing Peterson. They wanted to reenact the shooting to try to prove the former deputy heard “upwards of 70 shots and knew where they were coming from,” David Brill, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in court in July.
In addition to using the same model of semi-automatic rifle and caliber of cartridges, Brill told the judge the reenactment would sound the fire alarm during the same times as the day of the shooting.
A CNN crew across the street heard four sounds that resembled gun shots during a two-hour span as the reenactment took place.
‘It’s worse than I ever imagined’
Shortly before the grim reenactment, a bipartisan congressional delegation – including a Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate – toured the site of the massacre.
Nine members of Congress spent an hour touring the bullet-riddled and bloodstained halls of the 1200 Building at the school.
Two Florida congressmen, Democrat Jared Moskowitz and Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, organized the tour. They were joined by seven other congressional representatives to see the aftermath of the mass slaughter.
The six Democrats and three Republicans – members of the House School Safety and Security Caucus – were joined by members of the Broward County State Attorney’s Office and some of the victims’ families.
The tour began at the same door where the gunman entered and followed the same path the gunman took during the attack.
After the tour, Diaz-Balart said it’s one of those things that you don’t want to see, but he’s grateful to those families who allowed them to do just that.
“The key here is not just to come and see, the key is can we then put aside some differences, put aside the perfect to try to get some good things done,” Diaz-Balart said.
Moskowitz, a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said before the walk-through that fellow lawmakers need to understand students can be massacred in their districts, too.
“It’s important for folks in Congress, my colleagues, to see what happens when a school shooting comes to your neighborhood,” Moskowitz told CNN on Friday morning. “It’s going to be a very emotional day.”
For some victims’ families, the tour will be the second time they visit the untouched site. Last month, families and surviving victims were allowed to visit for the first time since the tragedy.
Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was killed in his English class on the first floor of the 1200 building, attended a private tour and saw where his child took his last breath.
“I’ve wanted to bring members of Congress to this building for years. And after I walked through it myself and I saw the horror, I saw Alex’s blood all over the floor, all over his desk, and all the other victims, I walked out of that building and I was just so angry,” Schachter said during a Friday news conference.
“It’s worse than I ever imagined.”
The grieving father decided to channel his agony into action.
“I’m like, ‘I know what I need to do, I need to bring as many members of Congress as possible,’” Schachter said. “I want them to see what happens when you don’t prioritize the safety and security of our kids above education. Because what happens is you get dead kids, and we can’t let that happen.”
After Friday’s event, he said he is rejuvenated because he feels like there is a lot of agreement that they can come together to make schools safer.
Moskowitz said the mass tragedy has led to some change but more needs to be done.
“We passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act three weeks after the shooting in the Florida legislature,” a bipartisan effort, Moskowitz said.
The state law raised the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida from 18 to 21. It also appropriated millions of dollars for mental health assistance in schools.
“It was a comprehensive piece of legislation. I don’t know that DC is going to do that,” Moskowitz said.
“But if we can continue to work on mitigation, one thing after the next, we can save a lot of lives.”
‘If you don’t prioritize this issue, this is what happens’
Jurors in the death penalty trial of the gunman also toured the building last year, followed by a group of reporters who described a scene stuck in time: Valentine’s Day gifts and cards, students’ notes and assignments left behind.
The reporters described seeing bloodstains and bullet holes as fragments of broken glass crunched beneath their feet.
Before Friday’s reenactment with live gunfire, Schachter acknowledged his unease.
“I’m scared. I’m nervous. And obviously I’m going to be here, and it’s going to just remind me what Alex was going through, what all of the victims were going through,” Schachter said.
“It’s going to be scary, but we hope the reenactment will get a jury to understand that there is no possible way that the school resource deputy only heard two or three shots when 70 went off in that building.”
The reenactment also includes someone replicating how Peterson allegedly came within feet of the building before retreating for about the next 45 minutes, Schachter said.
There are plans to demolish the building where the shooting occurred, but the Broward County School District has said the demolition will not be completed before school begins on August 21.
“All the families want the building demolished. But if nothing changes, if we don’t use this building to teach others and to educate and use it to prevent the next tragedy, you know, it’s all for naught,” Schachter said.
“It’s Alex, it’s my anger, and my grief that pushes me forward every day. I shouldn’t have to be going through this, none of Parkland should have been going through this. But that’s what I hope the members of Congress will understand, that if you don’t prioritize this issue, this is what happens.”
CNN’s Shawn Nottingham, Tina Burnside and Carlos Suarez contributed to this report.