The judge was told Thursday that a reenactment of the 2018 mass shooting at a South Florida high school will take place early next month as part of a civil lawsuit and will use live ammunition with a bullet safety.
District Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips approved an agreement reached by attorneys for the families of the victims and former Deputy Broward Scott Peterson to renovate the three-story Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on Aug. 4.
Ballistics expert for families, former FBI agent Bruce Koenig, has shown that live ammunition makes a different sound than blanks. A key issue in the lawsuit is what Peterson could have heard during the shooting on February 14, 2018, when 17 people were killed and 17 others were injured by an AR-15 type rifle.
“You want to mimic the situation as closely as possible,” Koenig said. The blanks, he added, are “almost as loud, but there’s definitely a difference.”
Peterson, a spokesman for the school on campus, was acquitted last month of criminal charges of inaction during the shooting, but a civil case against him, bringing similar charges, is ongoing.
Family lawyer David Brill said the live rounds would be fired into a ballistic bullet trap commonly used in shooting ranges and law enforcement labs to safely trap ammunition.
“It’s actually completely safe and controlled,” Brill said.
Peterson’s attorney, Michael Piper, said the agreement would only mean one facelift, not two as originally thought. The Broward County School Board Attorney also approved the plan.
“We think this is the best way to approach it,” Piper said. “We don’t want the community to go through this twice.”
The building, largely untouched by the shooting, will be demolished after the trial is over, school officials said. The reenactment will be based on school footage of the massacre, which shows, second by second, the actions and whereabouts of Peterson and the shooter during the six-minute attack, during which about 140 shots were fired.
Officials said the victims and their family members made grim tours of the building after the end of the criminal trials, with the last visit taking place on Thursday.
Peterson, 60, insists that the echo made it impossible for him to pinpoint exactly where the shots were coming from and that he would have rushed in if he had known the shooter’s whereabouts. He retired shortly after the shooting, but was then retroactively fired.
The shooter, a former student at Stoneman Douglas, was sentenced to life in prison last year after his jury failed to unanimously agree that he deserved the death penalty.