Gun violence in the US

US President Trump avoids gun control debate during visit to Florida school massacre survivors

People affected by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have angrily called for firm action to prevent future assaults

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 February, 2018, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 3:32am

President Donald Trump made a grim trip to a Florida community reeling from a deadly school shooting, meeting privately with victims and cheering the heroics of first responders.

But he extended few public words of consolation to those in deep mourning, nor did Trump address the debate over gun violence that has raged since a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others.

Two days after the shooting, and amid outrage over the FBI’s failure to act on two previous tips, Trump visited Broward Health North Hospital on Friday where he saw two victims and praised the doctors and nurses for their “incredible” job. With his wife Melania, he also paid his respects to law enforcement officials in Fort Lauderdale, telling officers he hoped they were “getting the credit” they deserved.

“I was at the hospital with a lot of parents and they are really thankful for the job you’ve done,” Trump said at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, where he was joined by Governor Rick Scott, Senator Marco Rubio and other Florida officials. He added that the young victims were in “really great shape” considering what they have been through.

Never a natural at consolation, the president seemed more at ease extending hearty thanks to first responders, marvelling at the speed with which they rushed the wounded to the hospital and quipping that they deserved a raise. He had less to say to the grief and sorrow gripping a shocked community and nation after the deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an junior school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Asked if he had talked with victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Trump added: “I did indeed, and it’s very sad something like that could happen.”

Trump met privately with two victims, a boy and a girl, at the hospital. At the Sheriff’s Office, he also met Detective Richard Olson and his son, Will Olson, who was shot during the attack. Trump spoke about the girl he met with, saying she had been shot four times, and that first responders had helped save her life by getting her quickly to the hospital.

Late Friday, he tweeted about the school shooting: “Our entire Nation, w/one heavy heart, continues to pray for the victims & their families in Parkland, FL. To teachers, law enforcement, first responders & medical professionals who responded so bravely in the face of danger: We THANK YOU for your courage!”

Speaking directly to the raw emotions was Rubio, who told Trump, “This is a community and a state that’s in deep pain and they want action to make sure this never happens again.”

Trump replied: “You can count on it.”

Still, the president made no policy statements. An avid supporter of the National Rifle Association, he did not mention the renewed debate over gun violence, ignoring a shouted question about gun laws.

Trump’s visit followed a similar script to his visit to Las Vegas in the fall after the worst mass slaying in modern history. On that trip, he also made a visit to a hospital, meeting with victims behind closed doors and then congratulating first responders.

Despite Trump’s earlier than expected arrival in Florida, some of the parents, survivors and others affected by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School said they were wanted firm action to prevent future assaults rather than a presidential visit.

Outrage surrounding Wednesday’s shooting was made worse on Friday when the Federal Bureau of Investigation admittedit had in the past six months received two tips about the suspected gunman Nikolas Cruz. Someone who knew him had alerted the agency, saying hey believed Cruz was capable of murdering teachers and students, and an online commenter using the handle “nikolas cruz” professed his desire to become a “professional school shooter”.

But no one at the FBI connected the dots or shared information with the agents who might have stopped him before Wednesday.

Though the FBI said it had no way to trace the chilling online comment, flagged in September by a tipster in Mississippi, to South Florida, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the tip from the person close to Cruz – delivered in a January 5 phone call to a bureau hotline – was simply never passed along.

Cruz’s defence lawyers have said they plan to offer a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison, Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said on Friday.

“There is only one question: should this young man live or should he die by execution?” he said. “We believe it’s in nobody’s best interest to go through a circus of a trial.”

Though Broward County state prosecutors have not yet formally charged Cruz, the defence lawyers said they were certain that the Broward State Attorney’s Office would seek the death penalty. In Florida, a 12-0 jury vote is required to sentence a convicted defendant to death.