Florida School Shooting: Flick Of Alarm Leads To Lifeless Bodies In Hallways Despite ‘Active Shooter’ Drills

Roz Zurko - Author

Dec. 26 2019, Updated 6:48 a.m. ET

When the shooting started at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, both students and teachers went into a mode they were prepared for after extensive training. They were told to lock the classroom door and shelter in place if the sounds of gunfire echoed in the hallways.

That is just what the students and teachers did inside that school. They hunkered down and were ready to wait for the law enforcement members to reach their classroom. That is until something else happened; the fire alarm rang.

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As USA Today reports, after all the directions passed along in the various training that covered the many different crisis situations that could happen inside a school, a simple fire alarm tossed all that preparation to the wayside. Broward County school board member Donna Korn explained that the faculty, administration, and students, have undergone various levels of “active shooter training.”

It appears that the accused shooter, Nicolas Cruz, who was a former student of that school, was very familiar with that training as well. The results of that training played out as soon as the sounds of gunshots were heard coming from the hallways of the school. USA Today suggests that Cruz “appears to have rendered that preparation moot with a flick of a fire alarm.”


Donna Korn explained the scenario in the event of a school shooting.

“We’ve got the people prepared, we have prepared the campuses, but sometimes people still find a way to let these horrific things happen.” The pulling of the fire alarm was not unique to this shooting.

The executive director of Safe Havens, which is a non-profit organization that consults schools about campus safety issues, pointed out that Parkland was not the only school where a fire alarm was pulled during a shooting. It was the fifth school shooting in which the “fire alarm was triggered.”

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It was back in 1998 when the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was the scene of a school shooting. What authorities learned from this incident has helped them develop safeguards after a fire alarm was pulled by two boys who were 13 and 11 and they shot at their classmates as they came out of the school. This incident left one teacher and four students dead and 10 0thers wounded.

These tips below for preparing for such attacks at schools are quoted from Dorn:

  • Have police officers respond to all school fire alarms.
  • Have teachers conduct a “quick peek” before they exit the classroom with students when a fire alarm goes off and during drills. Teachers are taught to look and listen before they open the classroom door and to rapidly visually scan the hallway before they exit the classroom. Students prepare to evacuate while the teacher is doing this.
  • Teach students not to get too spaced out when evacuating to keep a line of sight and verbal communications open with the teacher.
  • Do “reverse evacuation” drills so students and staff can turn students around more rapidly and smoothly.
  • Make sure that school employees have whatever keys, cards, or fobs needed to enter the school rapidly in an emergency. Dorn said some schools shut down access with cards or fobs during a lockdown. The Parkland shooting is an example of why that approach could be dangerous, Dorn said.
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Lockdowns have proven to be the best response yet, suggests Dorn. This entails locking the door, staying out of sight, and remaining quiet. While this works, she said there is still a need for the students to think on their feet. Not teaching them this could be a mistake she claims.

Kids need to assess the situation in case the attacker does something unexpected, which happened in this case with the alarm.


The pulling of that fire alarm knocked the “shelter in place” response off the board causing some of the students and teachers to file out of the classrooms, which is what you do when the fire alarm is triggered. The repercussions of that fire alarm being pulled were seen in the school hallways in the aftermath of the shooting.

The lifeless bodies of students on the floor of the school’s hallways became a shocking reminder of what the students had just gone through. The students got their first look at the carnage when it finally came time to leave with their law enforcement rescuers. The triggering of that fire alarm allowed the shooter to bypass the “shelter in place” defense of the students.

According to the New York Post, there was another piece to triggering the fire alarm that benefitted the shooter. The alarm caused chaos in an already strained environment, where the students had just heard gunshots. That chaos allowed Cruz to shed his gun and scramble to the school exit along with the other students making their escape. He got away, but he was captured and arrested shortly after the shooting.


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