While other survivors blame lax gun laws for the shooting that claimed 17 lives in a Parkland high school, 15-year-old Anthony Borges finds fault elsewhere and wants his point of view on the record.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, badly wounded while saving the lives of classmates, has blamed the Valentine's Day mass shooting on the sheriff and the school district. He says confessed gunman Nikolas Cruz should have been kicked out long before the deadly rampage.
This is a courageous young man. Courageous during Cruz's shooting spree, courageous after it.
Borges, shot five times as he shielded about 20 students by blocking a doorway, told Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie in a letter that “both of you failed us students, teachers and parents alike on so many levels.”
“I want to ask you today to please end your policy and agreement that you will not arrest people committing crimes in our schools,” he said in the letter. “I want all of us to move forward to end the environment that allowed people like Nikolas Cruz to fall through the cracks.”
He was talking about the PROMISE program, aimed at keeping disruptive but non-violent students in school through counseling and restorative-justice methods.
The letter was read at a Friday press conference in Plantation by attorney Alex Arreaza as Borges, in his Barcelona Football Club jersey, sat next to him in a wheelchair. The boy is still too weak to talk after being released Wednesday from a Fort Lauderdale hospital seven weeks after the shooting.
The letter as read by Arreaza continued, “You knew (Cruz) was a problem years ago and you did nothing. He should have never been in school with us. I ask you today to make the commitment to protect the students and teachers and provide a safe learning environment.”
How much coverage will a gun-obsessed mainstream media give Borges' plea?
Gun control has dominated everything post-Parkland. As if there are no other issues that define this tragedy. In fact, the push from the left is to ridicule Gov. Rick Scott for putting emphasis on school safety measures instead of just on more gun control -- they call it "political expediency in an election year." The decision by the boy and his family to focus on Broward County’s move away from traditional discipline comes as a marked common-sense departure.
Five years ago Runcie, allied with Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan, adopted a plan designed to end the “school-to-prison pipeline” by reducing suspensions, expulsions and arrests. That plan was embraced a year later by the Obama administration in its 2014 guidance on school discipline.
Said Arreaza during Friday's press conference, “Nobody’s addressing the problem of that being what created Nikolas Cruz, and that’s what’s frustrating.”
Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder after freely entering the school unobstructed, after he was so coddled through his high school years he couldn't even legally be kept from buying a firearm.
Though there are protests seeking Sheriff Israel's resignation, there are no marches demanding answers from local authorities.
Authorities throughout the Broward community, as well as the FBI, amassed a thick file of disciplinary infractions on Cruz, including the threats he made, the fights he instigated, the bullets he brought to school in a backpack. He was shuffled to different schools but never expelled, according to discipline files obtained by the Miami Herald.
Deputies had also responded to frequent calls at his home. Yet, in spite of all the paper on him, the fear of him expressed by neighbors, classmates and their families, all the personal knowledge of his actions law enforcement had in their possession, Cruz was able to avoid a criminal record, allowing him to pass a background check and buy the AR-15 used in the shooting.
By filing civil lawsuits against Cruz, the estate of his mother Lynda Cruz, who died in November, and the family that cared for him after her death, the Borges family is starting a mini-movement of its own.
Under Florida law, no lawsuits can be filed against the Broward County Sheriff’s Office or Broward County Public Schools for six months after the shooting.
Called "Ironman" for his feat of bravery, Anthony Borges has brushed off the label. “While I am honored to be called this, I am not. I am a 15-year-old who was shot five times."
Said his letter, “As of right now, I would like to go back to school, but I’m afraid this sort of thing can happen again.”
Arreaza said the boy supports his classmates who have become national figures for their stance against assault weapons, but that their chief focus isn't his. Also, Borges' father Roger Borges, born in Venezuela, relates to experience from his country of birth and said he doesn't believe protest marches are the thing that will improve school safety.
True, the school district has said Cruz wasn't part of the PROMISE program. Yet, he got the same hands-off treatment as students who were part of it and so far, no one has said why.
Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, has accused the school system of tying the hands of school resource officers, saying, “They were basically paying us not to make arrests.”
At Stoneman Douglas, it was common knowledge ... they created an atmosphere where you actually have this killer brewing there,” Arreaza said, “and it’s a byproduct of the school allowing criminal behavior to go unpunished.”
As Anthony Borges continues to heal, hopefully more of the mainstream media will pay attention to the direct and honest message of a real hero of Parkland.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith