Trump meets Florida survivors as shooting suspect plans to plead guilty

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Trump meets Florida survivors as shooting suspect plans to plead guilty” was written by Richard Luscombe in Parkland and Lois Beckett in New York, for The Guardian on Saturday 17th February 2018 06.33 Asia/Kolkata

Donald Trump visited a Florida hospital on Friday night to meet survivors of this week’s deadly high school shooting, as the local public defender said the suspect would plead guilty.

“It’s very sad something like this could happen,” Trump told reporters at Broward Health North hospital. “But the job the doctors did, the nurses, the hospital, the first responders, law enforcement, was really incredible.”

But when asked if gun laws needed to be changed, Trump had no comment.

break the cycle

Also Friday night, the Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein told CNN that Nikolas Cruz, 19, planned to plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in order to escape the death penalty.

“Everybody knows who committed the crime and that the only question is does he live or does he die,” public defender Howard Finkelstein said, adding: “This is an opportunity to put the criminal case behind and help the victims and families begin to pick up the pieces of their lives.”

The president and the first lady also planned to meet with law enforcement officials at the Broward County sheriff’s office later Friday. The president arrived at the hospital, immediately after landing in West Palm Beach where the president will spend the weekend at his estate, which is about 40 miles from the school in Parkland.

 

The arrival of Donald and Melania, who visited several victims in hospital as well as first responders and medical staff, came amid mounting anger within the town and beyond about political inaction on gun control and an admission by the FBI that it failed to investigate a January tip about the alleged attacker’s instability.

Some of the parents, survivors and others affected by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school have angrily called for firm action to prevent future assaults.

“I don’t want Trump to come but we want more gun safety,” said 18-year-old Kevin Trejos, a senior at the school. “It’s a dream. It hasn’t hit me yet.”

As Parkland began the distressing process of staging funerals for the 17 students and teachers killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, grief in the community gave way to anger and renewed calls to change the nation’s gun control laws.

The mood began to swing from shock to protest Thursday, led by Scott Israel, the sheriff of Broward County at an emotional candlelit vigil. Police said Cruz, a former student of the high school, used an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle to carry out the attack.

“If you’re an elected official, and you want to keep things the way they are, and not do things differently, if you want to keep the gun laws as they are now, you will not get re-elected in Broward County,” Israel told about 8,000 mourners at Pine Trails park, less than two miles from the scene of Wednesday’s shooting.

By Friday, the close-knit city of 30,000 prepared to begin burying their dead. A thousand people and Florida governor Rick Scott crammed into Temple K’ol Tikvah for the funeral of 18-year-old Meadow Pollack, where her father, Andrew Pollack cried out in reference to Cruz: “You killed my kid.”

He looked down at his daughter’s plain pine coffin. “My kid is dead,” he said. “It goes through my head all day and all night. I keep hearing it. This is just unimaginable that I will never see my princess again.” As he paused, mourners began to wail.

Mourners at the vigil on Thursday night.
Mourners at the vigil on Thursday night.
Photograph: Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile school students who survived attacked Washington’s inaction after a slew of previous mass shootings in American schools.

Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old in his junior year at Stoneman Douglas high, criticised the Republican party.

“Everything I’ve heard is we can’t do anything, this is out of our hands and this is inevitable’. But that’s just the facade the GOP is putting up,” said Kasky, who has set up a Facebook page for fellow students and the community to press for action.

It emerged on Friday that Cruz, who legally bought the rifle and ammunition used in the shooting at a tactical supply store in Coral Springs after passing a background check, allegedly fired more than 150 rounds at the school, and abandoned many dozens of unspent rounds.

Trump failed to use the word gun in his address to the nation on Thursday and in a coded message to his pro-gun supporters in the NRA, set his face against tougher background checks and a ban on assault weapons as he said: “It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference.”

The campaign group Everytown for Gun Safety said on Friday it has received $800,000 in unsolicited donations since Wednesday’s shooting, calling it a precursor for voter sentiment in the midterm elections in November 2018.

How many have there been so far this year?

There have been eight shootings at US schools this year that resulted in injury or death, including 17 dead on Wednesday. In December, the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, in which 20 children and six teachers died, was marked by congressional Republicans seeking to weaken restrictions and make it easier to carry a concealed weapon across state lines. Donald Trump promised to support the National Rifle Association (NRA) and oppose limits to gun ownership.

Key statistics

97 children have been killed and 126 injured in mass shootings in schools since 1989. These are the three worst incidents:

14 February 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida

14 December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary, Connecticut

20 April 1999 Columbine High School, Colorado

Why is the NRA so powerful?

In 2017, the NRA spent at least $4.1m on lobbying. In the 2016 US elections, it spent $14.4m supporting 44 candidates who won, and $34.4m opposing 19 who lost, according to CRP. But “the real source of its power comes from voters”, said Adam Winkler, a UCLA professor of constitutional law. The 145-year-old organisation claims 5 million active members and Prof Robert Spitzer of the State University of New York at Cortland said it has “a very powerful ability to mobilise a grassroots support ”.

The public view

79%: Proportion of Americans who favour banning assault-style weapons, according to a recent poll

84%: Democratic voters who said that gun laws should be ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ stricter than at present

72%: Republican voters who agreed that ‘the benefits of gun ownership outweigh the risks’

 

In the search for basic safety measures, parents who lost their children in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook are pushing for one route through the political inertia in Washington which could help make every school in America safer.

In the five years since 20 children were murdered in the Connecticut elementary school, Mark Barden, whose son Daniel died in that shooting, has worked with a small group of other Sandy Hook families to try to change America’s reaction to the ‘red flags’, warning signs that indicate a student might be a risk.

Sandy Hook Promise has shared its “Know the Signs” training programs with 2.5 million students and adults, working across the country, one school district at a time, offering the training free of cost to school to educate kids and teachers about what to look for and what to do.

Legislation brought forward by Republicans and Democrats would authorise federal funds to expand the programme.

Barden said he felt extreme sorrow and frustration. “We know all too well that this is preventable, that there were plenty of warning signs missed,” he said.

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Trump meets Florida survivors as shooting suspect plans to plead guilty - NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE

Rajesh Ahuja

I am a veteran journalist based in Chandigarh India.I joined the profession in June 1982 and worked as a Staff Reporter with the National Herald at Delhi till June 1986. I joined The Hindu at Delhi in 1986 as a Staff Reporter and was promoted as Special Correspondent in 1993 and transferred to Chandigarh. I left The Hindu in September 2012 and launched my own newspaper ventures including this news portal and a weekly newspaper NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE (currently temporarily suspended).