On February 14, 2018, Officer George was working patrol with his local PD. He’d met some fellow officers for lunch. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then he heard the radio traffic: shots fired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He immediately headed to the campus. This is Officer George’s story of responding to one of the most horrific school shootings in American history. One that would come to be known simply as “Parkland.”
The Detective: Officer George has lived in South Florida his entire life. He’s a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where he played baseball. He moved on to the minor leagues and met Detective Dan, also a professional minor league player. After baseball, he decided in his mid-30s to become a police officer. He worked 5 years as a patrol officer in one jurisdiction and joined the SWAT team there, and then moved to Coral Springs, where he worked an additional 5 years. George retired from law enforcement in 2020. He’s married with two children.Read Transcript
Yeardley: This is the conclusion of our two-part episode about the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. If you haven’t heard Part One yet, I highly recommend to go back and listen to that one before downloading this episode. As a reminder, this is not a comprehensive account of everything that happened that February 14th in 2018. It is the deeply personal account of one officer, Officer George, who was on duty that day and ran to help. As with Part One, I want to warn you that this episode contains graphic descriptions of some of the deceased high school students that officer George encountered, as he was rendering aid. This is Parkland Part Two.[officers on radio]
George: [00:00:59] As the door quietly goes shut, you can just hear the faintest call for help. You just hear help. So, again, we get on the radio, “Hey, we got somebody down. We’re going to advance on the third floor.”
Yeardley: [00:01:13] Hi, there. I’m Yeardley.
Dan: [00:01:15] I’m Dan.
Dave: [00:01:16] I’m Dave.
Paul: [00:01:16] And I’m Paul.
Yeardley: [00:01:17] And this is Small Town Dicks.
Dan: [00:01:20] Dave and I are identical twins and retired detectives from Small Town, USA.
Paul: [00:01:24] And I’m a veteran cold case investigator who helped catch the Golden State killer using a revolutionary DNA tool.
Dan: [00:01:30] Between the three of us, we’ve investigated thousands of crimes, from petty theft to sexual assault, child abuse to murder.
Dave: [00:01:37] Each case we cover is told by the detective who investigated it, offering a rare personal account of how they solved the crime.
Paul: [00:01:44] Names, places, and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of victims and their families.
Dan: [00:01:49] And although we’re aware that some of our listeners may be familiar with these cases, we ask you to please join us in continuing to protect the true identities of those involved.
Dave: [00:01:57] Out of respect for what they’ve been through.
In Unison: [00:01:59] Thank you.[intro ends]
Yeardley: [00:02:09] I feel we should remind our listeners that we had to abruptly stop for about three hours because our hotel here in South Florida was on fire.
Paul: [00:02:19] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:02:20] I kid you not. Everybody is safe. Don’t actually know how the fire started, but suddenly we hear yelling on the street. Dave goes to the window. And he goes, “Why are they all looking up?” Because we’re in a high-rise.
Dave: [00:02:35] I thought there was a jumper.
Yeardley: [00:02:37] And luckily, no jumper. But then all of a sudden, we saw flames lapping up the side of the building. So, we all got out. The fire truck showed up and now we’re back.
Paul: [00:02:49] Well, I will say, this is the second hotel I’ve had to evacuate in the last two months because of a fire.
Yeardley: [00:02:55] [laughs] So, we think it’s Paul.[laughter]
Paul: [00:02:59] I could tell right away it was going to be a while before we’re going to get back in, but at least we’re here.
Yeardley: [00:03:04] We’re here.
Dave: [00:03:05] I’m surprised we got here as soon as we did.
Paul: [00:03:08] Yes.
Yeardley: [00:03:08] I am too. And I’m also glad that the sprinklers didn’t go off inside the hotel and rain all over our equipment because that would have sucked.
Dan: [00:03:15] And I heard this question, and if you’re a cop or a firefighter, you’ve heard this question a million times when you go to a fire. A passerby goes, “What happened?”[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:03:29] I mean, obviously, they want to know that somebody set it, or is it an accident, we don’t actually know. But, in any case, all as well. And now, we’re going to pick up where we left off with Officer George, who at this point, along with his fellow officers has begun clearing classrooms. The police still don’t know where the shooter is, but they also need to start helping the wounded.
George: [00:03:57] So, we’re still in the second-floor stairwell, and we’ve figured out there’s some delay in the video room.
Dave: [00:04:03] So, you now know that the information about the shooter coming downstairs towards you is not correct. But now, you don’t know where the shooter is. You don’t know if he’s still upstairs or anywhere in the building.
George: [00:04:14] Correct. We think the shooter could just be hiding there in the hallway. But I could see somebody laying face down on the third-floor landing. So, I tried to get on the radio.
Officer: [crosstalk] -gunshot wounds on the third floor.
George: [00:04:29] I said, “We got somebody down on the third-floor landing. We got to go.” So, as we’re progressing up to the third floor to assess the victim, we actually bypassed the shooter’s weapon to go check on the victim. On the ground in front of me, I could see the suspect’s AR. I was confident this was a suspect’s weapon and his vest with magazines. I went to go check her status first and see a female face down and you couldn’t see any injuries, no signs of trauma, and we go through that process. I check her, the second guy checks her, the third guy checks her. You can’t even see an injury, but she’s dead. 100% she’s deceased right there. And I made a point of just trying to get on the radio and say, “We found his weapon. Suspect’s AR was dropped here. Magazine’s still inserted, and there’s a black vest there with some more magazines. He may have changed weapons. Look for something different now, possibly.”
Paul: [00:05:25] And when you said vest, was there body armor in that vest?
George: [00:05:29] It didn’t seem like it could have been very thin plates in there, but nothing obvious is, you know, some of our heavier armor. It was a magazine carrier. So, if it had a plate in, I’m not sure, but it was designed to carry additional magazines. So, at this point, now we’re standing on top of the third-floor landing. We looked through the glass, and I could see the window shot out in the first classroom in front of us. Those are just riddled with bullets. I see just glass. We decided that point, “Let’s pick this door. We’re going to pie it open, pick the door.”
Yeardley: [00:05:58] What is that? What is pieing?
George: [00:05:59] We’ll just picture a slice of pizza or pie.
Yeardley: [00:06:03] I don’t understand though the verb ‘pie’.
Dave: [00:06:05] It’s basically a gradual progression to get a better view around a corner. They talk about slicing the pie, you’re just eliminating that whole picture one piece at a time.
George: [00:06:18] Yeah, you’re mostly looking for a problem or a threat. So, you’re making sure somebody’s not hiding, and you’re pieing from a point of cover, you’re going to open up the door, I can get 70% or 80% of that room from outside the threshold of the door. So, you’re going to pie open that door, so I have a visual understanding of what I’m going into.
Dave: [00:06:36] We work on that in these types of trainings, pieing doors.
George: [00:06:41] We will do simple drills like that constantly. You could hide in that kitchen, and I could probably find you before you could see me. So, we’d have people hiding, waiting to see me. You job is to see me, and I’m trying to pick you out from a point beforehand.
Dan: [00:06:53] We talk about the fatal funnel. You don’t just present yourself at the doorway. So, you’re going to clear as much of that room as possible with your eyes, then you’re going to figure out a game plan.
Dave: [00:07:03] It’s all about officer safety. I’m not just going to run into an ambush. I want to see as much on the opposite side of this doorway or this corner as I can without really exposing myself.
Yeardley: [00:07:16] Right. Okay, so George, you pie open the door, what do you see?
George: [00:07:22] So, I open up the door, and immediately on the ground in front of me is a deceased student with very traumatic wounds and pretty traumatic injuries. Down the hallway, it looks like there’s some other people in the hallway. I remember this pretty vividly, as the door quietly goes shut, you can just hear the faintest call for help, you just hear help. So again, we get on the radio, “Hey, we got somebody down. We’re going to advance into third floor.” Immediately, the three of us take the hallway. Classroom on the left is all shot through. I made verbal contact with the victim, told him I was coming, made sure he heard me. My other two guys remained lethal cover, downrange. I run down the hallway, grab him, I drag him backwards, back to that stairwell. That’s an adrenaline dump right there in and itself.
Dave: [00:08:15] You’re running to this victim, not clearing any of the rooms that you’re bypassing. When you say it’s an adrenaline dump, that’s pucker factor like, I’m running, totally exposed, hands are free just so you can grab the victim and pull him to safety. You’ve got to trust your two guys that any threat that presents itself, they’re going to eliminate.
George: [00:08:36] The two guys I was with, I trust 1,000%. And our communication is clear what my job was going to be and what their job was going to be.
Dave: [00:08:44] And what is this victim’s condition?
George: [00:08:47] Shot several times. By the time we get back to the stairwell, luckily, at that point, some SWAT medics showed up and had some more gear than I did. I’ll say I did process a whole bunch of things real fast, and I’m figuring out like, “Man, what just happened? What are we going to do now?” And you can see several wounds. So, we start pulling up the pant legs, and you can see through and through upper thigh, through and through lower chest, kind of the right side of the abdomen, multiple bullet wounds to this person and blood everywhere.
Yeardley: [00:09:17] George, would you define through and through?
George: [00:09:21] So, through and through for us. It’s bullet wounds. It looks like there’s a clear point of entry and clear point of exit. It’s when the round will travel and exit out another area. It’s not a straight line. It doesn’t just go through one spot. It looks different at point of entry and a point of exit, have a different look to them. That’s what I’m saying, through and through. It’s an extremely high-speed round, probably at an extremely close distance, and there was nothing ever going to stop it. So, with the help of the SWAT medics, they had some more gear. We start throwing on tourniquets, patching holes, doing what we can, and now what are we going to do? We’ve got to get the victim out of the building.
George: [00:10:17] Now, we’ve got a wave of people coming in behind us. We got some more officers coming in and hold them down on the third floor. One of the medics had a body sling, he pulled out of his backpack. That’s awesome.
Yeardley: [00:10:27] What’s a body sling?
George: [00:10:29] Like a sheet with handles. It’s made to carry a person. So, we had a sling. So, we placed the victim into the sling, run him down three flights of stairs back out to the doorway. And luckily, both times that I carried somebody out, a golfcart came sliding up. I placed him onto the golfcart with those guys. And the medics stayed with him.
Dave: [00:10:51] And was that victim verbal at all?
George: [00:10:54] We were trying to talk to him, but he wasn’t making a whole bunch of sense. I’m glad that he had enough energy to call for help. We’re trying to just get his name. Just simple things. Just try to comfort him a little bit.
Dave: [00:11:07] George, from the time this victim was shot to the time, you, law enforcement arrived in that hallway, how long do you think he was waiting there?
George: [00:11:16] I don’t know how fast the shooter got to the third floor but minimum 30 to 35 minutes, probably they’re injured in that third floor.
Dave: [00:11:23] Long time to be waiting for help.
George: [00:11:26] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:11:27] Did that student end up surviving?
George: [00:11:29] He did. He had five shots received throughout his body, broken femur through and through on a couple of legs and through and through chest and lower abdomen. He went through several, several surgeries, and he’s still alive to this day. And he is survivor.
Yeardley: [00:11:45] Wow.
Paul: [00:11:46] Now, do you go back into the building?
George: [00:11:48] I do. So, I ran down the three flights of stairs carrying the injured student with the medics. I run back up to the third floor and then continue to help clear classrooms. We now encounter some more deceased students, a deceased teacher there.
Dave: [00:12:03] And this teacher went to that building to respond to this threat.
George: [00:12:07] Oh, yes, 100%. He knew there was a problem there, and he went to go render whatever help he could. And then, he was engaged pretty quickly by the shooter and suffered.
Dave: [00:12:20] It’s important to recognize that we have teachers who sacrifice their lives to protect students.
George: [00:12:26] Yes.
Dave: [00:12:28] So now, we’re starting to bring the students who aren’t injured out also. And now, I’m just acting as a shield that tried to shield the deceased, from their peers that are trying to get out of the building. So, I’m just doing the best I can so that the students don’t have to have a visual anymore of their friends on the ground. Now at this point, we’ve cleared every classroom, every doorway, every hall. There’s no threat in the building. So, the shooter’s not coming at us.
Officer: [00:12:58] Yes, sir. They’re following– it’s about a 20-minute delay. They’re following him on video, on the camera. They have him exiting in the building, running south.
Dave: [00:13:06] So once it’s understood that the security footage had not been live, there was a 20-minute delay, they find the moment on camera where the suspect can be seen exiting the building and running south.
George: [00:13:19] Yes.
Officer: [00:13:21] 7-kilo-1, they have the subject exiting the school about 20 minutes ago, standby for further. He dropped the bag near the stairwell, he possibly may have mixed in with the kids.
Paul: [00:13:31] So at building 12, suspect ditches the AR and the vest with the extra magazines and he’s just trying to blend into the backdrop.
George: [00:13:39] Yeah, he blended in with kids that were not locked into a classroom that had started to flee west off the campus. So, he does blend in with the rest of the student body. We found out he was gone before the police arrived. So, this guy is still at large. We’re pretty sure we got the correct name, correct description. We’re getting information through dispatch that they may have seen the shooter. He’s possibly walking west through a neighborhood. One of our commanders says, “Hey, we need a quick action team. We’re going to put together two cars.” So, we set up two groups of four, plus a medic in each car. We jump into a couple of SUVs and now we’re flying, going westbound towards a neighborhood and looking for the shooter. And there’s thousands of parents and kids out on the roadways now with nowhere to be, and we’re going over curbs, we’re going the wrong way on roads looking for this guy.
[00:14:30] So as we get closer to the area, we hear over the radio that one of the other officers believes he’s got the suspect in sight. As we arrive, he’s got the shooter at gunpoint.
Paul: [00:14:42] Is suspect armed at all that you can recall?
George: [00:14:45] No, he definitely wasn’t armed. He didn’t fight, there was no struggle. They brought him to the ground at gunpoint, handcuffed him, threw him in the back of a car and then I didn’t see him again.
Yeardley: [00:14:56] George, as he’s being arrested, what’s the shooter’s demeanor?
George: [00:15:00] It was soulless, it was just empty. When you’re eye to eye with someone like that, just complete emptiness. So, there’s four or five, six officers there, they’re going to secure him. We have to head back to the school. We still had to clear the entire campus.
Dan: [00:15:16] So, if you know that the threat has left the property, that whole process of clearing that building, actually, it accelerates quite a bit.
George: [00:15:26] Yeah.
Dave: [00:15:28] You work day watch.
George: [00:15:29] Yes.
Dave: [00:15:30] How long is that shift, from which hour to which hour?
George: [00:15:33] So, at that time, I think I was working 6:30 AM to 6:00 PM was our normal shift. So, it’s a little over 11 and a half hours.
Dave: [00:15:41] What time did you actually leave the campus?
George: [00:15:43] I don’t know. We went back and had to clear the entire campus. There were kids still hiding, there were teachers still hiding. There’s kids holed up in every classroom. It’s a full campus, we’ve only got through one building of this building 12.
Dave: [00:15:57] Estimate, how many students go to Douglas High School?
George: [00:16:01] That’s a large school, probably 4000-4500. At that point, there were multiple agencies. And as the rest of the officers work through the balance of the campus, there were still kids continuing to barricade themselves in rooms. So, officers were knocking on doors and telling them to open the door and some kids were like, “No, I’m not going to open a door.” A couple of officers had to take off their ID, slide it underneath the door, show it to the student and the student would slide it back and then they would open up doors because they had the windows blocked, there was no visual, but there’s a cop banging on the door. We had no issue. They were protecting themselves at that point. It was just an interesting thing that happened throughout that process.
Yeardley: [00:16:42] That’s good thinking, slide it under the door.
Dan: [00:16:45] Well, it’s good thinking for those kids to ask, like just not blindly believe that there’s help on the other side of the door. They’re still trying to survive.
Dan: [00:16:55] Yeah. And then, once we were able to clear the campus, everybody goes back to the PD. There’s a debrief. It was a mandatory debrief, and then there’s crime scene investigation. I’m part of the crime scene, I got all sorts of body fluids on me. This time, the FBI is showing up. They’re going to be primary on the investigation, but we were back into at the police department for a while.
Dave: [00:17:18] You had mentioned that there were law enforcement officers on scene from your department and the neighboring agency that had children who attended that school. I can’t imagine the spectrum of emotions a parent would have. Paul had mentioned that his kids are high school aged and I was like, “Do you worry about this stuff?” And he’s like, “Oh, yeah, absolutely.” I don’t have kids. I can’t imagine much less being a law enforcement officer going to the school where there’s a reported active shooter where your kids are in a classroom.
George: [00:17:55] Yeah. So that day, the Douglas incident, some of our command staff had kids on campus. Our sergeant who was off duty, his son was there. There were two guys in our stack, we call it guys working the problem that have kids in the building in the 1200 building. There was a lot of follow up just from guys trying to get in touch through other family members. They couldn’t track down their kids. I had some friends call me that were officers that knew family members, and they’re calling me for intel after when it’s kind of cleared, “Hey, did you see so and so? Have you seen this person? They can’t get in touch with their kid.” I’m like, “Honestly, I saw a lot of faces, I wouldn’t know a name. I couldn’t recall a lot of faces either.” And at that point, there was a hotel not too far away. They were busing kids over there for parents to go meet up with their kids, so they could pick them up. So, there’s parents out there for hours and hours and their kid doesn’t show up. I wasn’t at that end, I was back at a PD at that point. So, there’s people still at that hotel. They had to deal with some families showing up there where their kid didn’t show up.
Dave: [00:19:09] And without saying it, we all know what that means.
George: [00:19:11] Most likely, they were one of the victims.
Dave: [00:19:31] You get home, I’m guessing, fairly late. You walk through the door. What’s the reception by the family? How did that look?
George: [00:19:40] It was okay. I had contacted them throughout it and then contacted them saying we’re going back to the PD. Yeah, it was tough, but it was okay. I tried not to let them see what I looked like coming home. I went into the garage and got rid of that gear. And told the wife, “Bring me some shorts in and stuff, let me change over there, ” so they didn’t have to see what my body looked like coming home from that. But it was tough. There were some tough moments. I cried. I cry sometimes still.
Dan: [00:20:20] Was there any counseling offered to you or the other officers that responded?
George: [00:20:24] Yes. Police department was really proactive about it, making sure that, “Hey, if you guys need grief counseling right now, we got people on their way. And here’s numbers. Here’s what you need.” They made sure everybody checked in and saw somebody to talk to.
Dave: [00:20:38] And that would be my next question is, did you work the next day?
George: [00:20:42] I did. So, I had to work the next day. And they called in, the alternate shifts. We have, what do you want to call it, green, white, or different looks to it. So, they called in a platoon, they’d work the next day. They help cover the road. Again, we had a mandatory debrief for anybody that responded to the incident. And then at this point, they brought in other counselors. And for us, they use a lot of police agency. So, there’s police officers that are involved as that grief counselor so that you kind of feel a little more comfortable talking peer to peer if you want to. If not, you know some people stood up and spoke. A lot of people didn’t, but you had to be there. So, some of it’s helpful.
Paul: [00:21:20] Yeah. I think I’d weigh in on this a bit is that the day after, you’re being provided some resources based on the experiences that you had the day before. But at the same time, you’re with your peers, and we know the culture. Is this an ideal situation if you are struggling to talk freely, because there’s going to be the fear, how are my peers going to perceive me, if I’m really struggling with what I just went through?
Dan: [00:21:54] Peers and command staff.
Paul: [00:21:55] Yes.
Yeardley: [00:21:56] That you would be judged negatively, and that that would have some consequence on how your assignments go forward, that sort of thing?
Dan: [00:22:03] Has a huge impact on your career on how you handle that, and if you feel like the department has your back in a situation like that. I can say speaking for myself, and the situation that I was in, the critical incident that I was involved in, I didn’t feel like I could share everything that I was going through. That’s just my perception. That was my perception. And I’m sure that people in my command staff that are higher than me probably would shake their heads and say, “That’s ridiculous.” But my perception was that I couldn’t speak freely about what I was going through after that day.
Paul: [00:22:42] That is the culture. It’s driven in some by the top down. You get, let’s say, a chief or an elected sheriff, and they have this mindset. And even if your commander or your deputy chief, or whatever the structure is, is maybe more sympathetic understanding, “Hey, this is something that’s impacting this individual, one of the officers as a person. We need to address it.” I’ve seen it over and over and over again. And I’ve been in management within law enforcement, and I’m guilty of the same type of failings to recognize, “Oh, there’s an issue here. We need to address it now and continue to address it throughout the course of individual’s careers,” just because it is something that impacts somebody’s ability on not only in their personal life, but professionally as well.
Dave: [00:23:37] It’s not ideal, but it’s the reality, is that command staff starts looking at, “Well, if we allow everybody that work today to take tomorrow off, how much overtime is that going to cost us?” And we have minimum staffing levels. You can’t just leave the job. Police can’t go on strike. So, you are expected to be back in unless you provide a legitimate reason to not be back in. I think about Dan’s situation. Should he have been working the day after he did CPR on an officer who died? Absolutely not. Should George, in a compassionate world, have been on patrol the next day? And I’m not saying anything about your competence or your ability to deal with stress. I’m saying, is it compassionate to go, “Why don’t you just take the rest of the week and your weekend off and see how you’re feeling?”
Paul: [00:24:36] Imagine if you have a wound, and you let that wound heal, takes time to heal, versus you get the wound and now you have to keep picking at it. You have to go back to work and you’ve never had that opportunity to let it heal, and then eventually it scars up. That’s really kind of an analogy to the trauma that all of us have experienced over the course of our careers. You never let that wound heal. You never let that trauma– And in part it is the culture, in part it’s the failure of the management to really understand, “Hey, we need to make sure that if we have a mass event, what resources can we pull in from maybe other agencies in order to relieve the officers so their trauma can start to heal after that event?”
Dan: [00:25:31] Yeah. George, I’m glad to hear that you say that your command staff was very proactive on that, bringing people in the day of, it’s mandatory that you have a debriefing the day after. It sounds like they were very mindful of long-lasting effects of that incident.
George: [00:25:48] Yeah, if you needed time, they’re going to give it to you. Money wasn’t an issue. Their concern was, “Here’s resources, you want to talk privately. Here’s a bunch of phone numbers you can call. Here’s our resources internally you can call. These are our officers that handle the grief counseling. Here’s other agency officers that handle grief counseling. If you want to speak in a group, speak in a group, we’re here.” We had bimonthly SWAT trainings anyways. So, our next SWAT training was 100% just focused on that. We all just went around the room. We talked about what happened, what’d you do. We tried to learn too, but we just shared our emotions, shared our feelings, we had our SWAT medics in there. And, again, there were things to be learned and there were things that just needed to be shared. And that’s when you’re probably super comfortable with that group of people because you’re with them a lot.
[00:26:31] We have this resource. Take the time you need. Everybody’s impacted in different ways. We all have a comfort level. There are certain people you’re going to share a little closer details. You’ve got a couple of people in the agency that are your go-to people. Then, there’s another level of people that you have good time with, you go have lunch with, but there’s always going to be somebody more comfortable to share details with.
Yeardley: [00:26:54] I’ve often said on this podcast that what you all do, really what all first responders do, is not natural, it’s not normal. And what I mean is, it’s not natural to, day in and day out, encounter people on their worst day and go after the people who wreak havoc on their communities and their loved ones. It’s not really sustainable as a long-term career. And so, for those of you who survive that day to day and are drawn to it even, you guys are different, you’re different from the rest of us. And it speaks to what you all often say, which is, “Police work is a calling. It’s not a job.” Because if it was just a job, you couldn’t do it. You wouldn’t last a day.
George: [00:27:45] No, and I think most people, you almost handled the chaos better when everything stops and settles and you have that alone time that it’s a little rougher. But when you’re in the moment, it’s a job that– there’s no great analogy to it, just changing a flat tire, like I got to change this flat tire. Well, we got a problem in front of us, we’ve got to fix this problem, before I can move forward. Once you fix the problem, and then you settle down, there’s probably some emotional letdowns and things but that’s why, I’ve been fortunate the two guys I was with were my guys, as my go-to guys, so extremely comfortable with.
Yeardley: [00:28:23] That seems really important.
George: [00:28:24] It was.
Dan: [00:28:26] When you’re in law enforcement, you’re used to seeing terrible things. And, George, you sent me a lot of cell phone video and bodycam of this event. And I’m struck by these children. Because that’s what they are, they’re children. These children are in a school where they should feel safe. And once you guys breach the doors and get inside these classrooms and you’re evacuating children, they’ve been hiding and covering their heads. And when they’re made aware and feel safe enough to bring their heads up from where their hiding spot and they see friends and classmates who are deceased on the floor in front of them and they go out into the hallway and try to leave this building on the worst day of their life and they see other friends who are laying there dead in the hallway, the effect that has on those children, it’s terrible. It’s one thing for us to see those things, but for these kids to see it, it’s just terrible.
Dave: [00:29:47] In total, what were our casualty numbers?
George: [00:29:52] 17 that were deceased, 17 with gunshot wound injuries and there’s probably some minor injuries, some other things. But it was 17 deceased, which included faculty and students.
Paul: [00:30:06] Has it ever come out that any of these students that the shooter had any personal vendetta against?
George: [00:30:14] I don’t think that came to light. I don’t know if that’s part of the investigation, but I don’t think there was any one direct person he was focused on. He had made mention years before and during that year on social media that he wanted to be a school shooter.
Paul: [00:30:28] Yeah, at least a little bit that I’ve seen on this case ahead of time, that’s one of the criticisms is that there were some red flags popping up on this guy, and there was a failure to follow through.
George: [00:30:40] Yeah, I mean, there’s history for him. And you guys have gone to enough calls in your life, they reference, “Oh, there’s X amount of calls for service at his house.” Well, sometimes it could have been fireworks, it could have been a loud party. Every call for service is not like a mental health or not a domestic issue. But there were a lot of calls for service at his house that may have required a little further digging. And for us, in our counties, department, children, families, they were involved and followed up. But at some point, he hadn’t done any criminal and he hadn’t really hurt himself. But there were some bad thoughts probably going on in his head for many, many years.
Dave: [00:31:19] That’s the issue. I hear a lot of criticism about the police or the FBI didn’t do anything. Police work is highly reactive. Just because you have an idea or a thought or even made a statement to do something that’s criminal, doesn’t mean that I can just go out and put handcuffs on you. You have to commit the act or commit to an act in furtherance of the act for it to become criminal. You can say what you want in this country. The shooter in this case hadn’t committed a crime until he did.
Dan: [00:31:58] I think that there’s a balance that we have to reach in this country where you have red flags like this pop up, and law enforcement is empowered to do something. The problem is, there are one-off cases where you’re going to be violating people’s rights. So, we have to figure out as a country in a conversation as to how do we balance that.
Paul: [00:32:18] And is it a law enforcement responsibility if the law hasn’t been broken?
Yeardley: [00:32:22] That’s a good point.
Dave: [00:32:25] I, as a police officer, have limits on what I can do to impact your freedom and liberty. Until you break a law, we’re in a sit and wait scenario. It’s not ideal, but that’s a police function. Like Paul says, he hasn’t committed a crime yet, is it a law enforcement issue? Or is it some other agency, some other responsible party who should be responding to this? A lot of the stuff falls on police shoulders just by default.
Paul: [00:33:04] That’s really the point is that patrol has become sort of the end-all be-all for every societal issue. And that’s not necessarily the best resource, or the best use of that resource.
Dan: [00:33:19] It’s the wrong tool for the job. If you think about your toolbox, law enforcement is the hammer. I think that there’s a way where law enforcement, mental health, child family services, they all need to get on the same page so we can have open lines of communication, and every department be made aware of situations like these. I don’t know the solution to this. I wish I had it. I wish this never happened again. That’s the bottom line. But something’s got to change. At the same time, people with hate in their heart, I’m sorry, but they’re out there, and we’ve all met them. Everyone’s sitting at this table, we’ve met evil.
George: [00:34:06] Yeah, they don’t process just normal everyday life like we do. They want a result. And that result is different than what we’re looking for.
Dan: [00:34:13] There are so many lessons learned in situations like this. I think it’s easy for people to Monday morning quarterback these situations, but unless you’ve been in it, you have no idea.
George: [00:34:24] Yes, nobody’s 100% prepared for this.
Dan: [00:34:27] I’m not making excuses for people who didn’t act that day, and in a recent shooting that we had in Texas that didn’t act, I’m not making excuses for that. Every situation is different, and you guys with the information that you had, we’re doing the very best that you could.
George: [00:34:45] Yeah, we felt like we’re moving as quick as possible. Again, how do we know 100% it’s out of the building? Yeah, that building would have been cleared much quicker. But we had to assume there was still a threat there because we came in east and west doors, and it was the only points of entrance or exit. So, we thought we’re going to engage a shooter somewhere in that building.
Yeardley: [00:35:06] So, George, or really this is a question for all of you, given the possibility that police officers everywhere might have to respond to a school shooting, no matter where they are, whether it’s Parkland or Uvalde, Sandy Hook, Thurston High School, how do you ready yourself for an event like that? And how do you find officers that you know will be ready for that kind of event also?
Paul: [00:35:34] This is where you can’t train for the reality. So, you don’t know how anybody is ever going to respond who’s been through the training when the shit hits the fan, it becomes real. You hear about war stories where guys that are great in training and then they freeze up when all of a sudden, the battles on. And so, imagine, now you have all these officers that are rolling out and you see who engages and who doesn’t.
Dan: [00:36:01] Absolutely. I think a lot of that has to do with mentally preparing yourself for that situation. And I think there are some officers that do that, and I think there are some officers that don’t. All of us hope it never happens. Some are deathly afraid of it happening. Others, you hope for the best, you expect the worst. Unfortunately, that’s the way you have to be out on the road now. But if you haven’t run through that scenario and having to deal with that, I don’t know, I just kind of wonder, why are you in the job? You should have run through that scenario in your mind, and are you physically and mentally prepared to react to that?
Dave: [00:36:40] That takes me back to oral board panels where we’re interviewing police candidates. The topic comes up something about a use of force involving your gun or having to shoot somebody. And we had candidates who said, “Well, I’ve never even thought about that.” I’m like, “What the fuck are you doing in this room right now? You should have answered that question before you ever put your name on that application.” That should be a settled subject before you ever decide to entertain the idea of being a cop.
Paul: [00:37:10] The first week of my academy, we had a police chief come in and talked to the group and basically said, “You right now need to think, could you use deadly force?” And we did have one student tap out at that point, said, “Nope,” didn’t think it through.
Dave: [00:37:29] Mm-hmm. Yeah. And, George, you had told me the year before this Parkland shooting, there was actually a call of an active shooter that happened at your child’s high school, which thankfully was a false alarm.
George: [00:37:42] Yeah. The year prior, both of my kids were attending high school in the city and we get a call of a gun on scene at the high school, comes in as an active shots fired. And then, the kids take it over to social media and kids are calling their parents, parents are calling 911. So, we’re flooded with 911 calls. I’m getting text messages now from my kids. I’m on the radio, trying to figure out what I got to do. There’s other people responding. At the same time, texting my daughter saying, “I’m coming to the building. Just hold on. I’ll be here.” She feels like, “I’m being told there’s kids being shot,” and had to reiterate, “I’m on campus. There are no shots happening. I’m coming to your building.” Then, I made sure I’m going to her building. It was extremely tough. Your kid’s in complete fear, and you’re there, and you’re pretty confident there’s nothing happening because your hearing’s good, but maybe there’s something going on in the building you can’t quite determine. Yeah, that was a terrible feeling to experience.
Yeardley: [00:38:50] George, is there anything in particular that you will remember from that day back in 2018, something that will never leave you?
George: [00:38:58] Yeah, there’s certain memories, there’s things that you’ve kind of forget. I don’t know if you just compartmentalize them a little bit, and you remember them in different ways, but there’s certain images that are pretty vivid. Certain smells, and looks and just senses that are pretty vivid. At the time, I have two children that were same age. And this is one of those weird things like our rival high school, so we’re there a few times a year for different sporting events, just because that’s what you do, the good high school community. And we had plenty of staff members that had kids, there. So, you feel it after the fact. I went home to my wife and kids, and it’s Valentine’s Day you just figure you’re going to go home to some dinner and kids run around, but it was a pretty impactful day. It was just something that me along with thousands of people, I’m fortunate that I didn’t lose anybody that day but there’s some points of interest that will probably never come out of my brain.
Yeardley: [00:39:57] George, thank you so much for sharing that with us. It is unimaginable and horrific, and I’m very glad you’re safe.
George: [00:40:07] Thank you for having me. I’m safe, and there’s plenty of other officers that did a lot of good work and fire rescue. So, I always commend them. And I made a point of commending the medical staff at hospitals that did amazing work that helped out too. So, I’m just one of the guys, and there are a lot of people that they did great work.
Paul: [00:40:25] And I know, George, it just couldn’t have been easy to go through, but I appreciate you taking the time to share that story.
George: [00:40:30] No problem.
Dave: [00:40:30] Likewise, appreciate your offer to even give us a story. Greatly appreciate it.
George: [00:40:38] No problem.
Yeardley: [00:40:39] Thank you.
Dan: [00:40:39] Thank you. It’s great to see you again.
Dave: [00:40:42] Yeah, I hope it’s not another 20 years before I see you again.
George: [00:40:45] We’ll work on it.
Yeardley: [00:40:45] [laughs]
Dave: [00:40:48] No fires next time.
Yeardley: [00:40:52] In October 2021, the Parkland shooter pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. As of October 4th, 2022, the sentencing phase of his trial was still underway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty. Small Town Fam, we don’t usually do a postmortem on our episodes. But when after doing my editing pass on this episode, I handed it back to our senior editor, Logan, and our producer, Gary, with my notes, I said I had found Part 2 of this Parkland series harder to listen to Part 1, even though Part 1 had been obviously awful. So, Gary asked if I would share my thoughts with you all in a brief wrap up, because he said you might be feeling the same.
[00:41:44] It’s true that I’ve become somewhat inoculated to the horrible cases we cover on Small Town Dicks, because I spend a lot of time listening to the edits before we release them to you. And in order to get through that process, I shift from listening as an audience member to listening as an editor. So, I was surprised when I was doing my passes on our Parkland episodes, that I had to keep getting up from my computer and walking around, getting a glass of water, anything, just to take a break. And then when I was done editing Part 2, I felt extra restless and unsettled, but also irritable, and so sad and angry, because I wanted more answers and assurances that something like this would never happen again.
[00:42:31] Of course, that wish continues to go unanswered. So, I guess I just want to share with you all that even though Dan, Dave, Paul, and Officer George conclude this two-part series on Parkland with their thoughts on how we can begin to make schools safer, everyone got up from that recording with George that day feeling frustrated over the lack of substantive progress we’ve made in this country on how to keep our children safe and how to keep this from happening again.
[00:43:05] Small Town Fam, as always, we thank you for listening. You are the best fans a podcast could ask for. So, we will see you next week with a brand-new episode from the one and only, Paul Holes. Thank you.[Small Town Dicks theme playing]
Yeardley: [00:43:22] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Logan Heftel, Soren Begin, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
Dan: [00:43:52] If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the show, visit us on our website at smalltowndicks.com.
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Yeardley: [00:44:36] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country-
Dan: [00:44:42] -in search of the finest,-
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Dan: [00:44:44] -true crime cases told as always by the detectives who investigated them.
Dave: [00:44:50] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley: [00:44:51] Nobody’s better than you.
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