Foreword: I met Elijah D. Manley, candidate for District 94, Florida House of Representatives, at around the time of the Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. That catastrophe left 14 students and three faculty members dead, and 17 others wounded.
Elijah knew the "Parkland" shooter, having observed him up close and personal in a Broward County public school classroom when both were classmates.
At age 13, Elijah saw signs of trouble brewing, when others in positions of authority apparently had not.
(Above: Elijah surrounded by Chris Stone's cousin, mother and sister wearing CCC Chris/Courage/Change shirts. Chris was murdered in the May 18, 2018 mass shooting at Santa Fe High School. Also pictured is Natalie, a teacher. Photo taken at the "From Columbine to Noblesville" WVPI summit, Fort Lauderdale, July 2018.)
Elijah's was the first generation born into the modern active school shooter/bomber era established at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
The Parkland shooter researched Columbine to help plan his own Columbine, while Elijah visited Columbine, to learn how to prevent another Columbine...and now, sadly, another Parkland.
(Above: Retired Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis and Elijah, at the Columbine High School Memorial, Littleton, Colorado, November 2019. Elijah was in Colorado to attend a WVPI summit.)
(Above: Elijah at the Columbine Memorial. Retired Principal DeAngelis was shot at by one of the Columbine shooters on that awful day when 12 students and one teacher were murdered in his school and several others wounded.)
Elijah has worked for several years at the local, state, and national level to make schools safer for children to learn and faculty and staff to work. He participated in several WVPI events in Florida, Texas and Colorado. He also serves as the Vice Chair of the Broward Schools' Human Relations Commission.
Before Parkland, Elijah openly criticized the Broward County School Board's policies. After Parkland, he decided to run for a seat on that school board.
Elijah, then 19, was the youngest person to run for school board in Florida's history, and I and many of my colleagues supported him.
Video of a June 2018 "Times Up" rally, not far from Stoneman Douglas High School, on behalf of Elijah D. Manley, then candidate for Broward School Board. Yours truly is seen endorsing Elijah while facing several children including one or two who ran for their lives on February 14, 2018.
Elijah's generation was the first who routinely had such things as "active shooter drills" and "lock downs," and who shopped for "bulletproof backpacks."
As a Florida public school student, Elijah remembers sitting in a cafeteria or gym, and taking note of possible ways out in case someone started shooting.
There were "stop the bleed classes" in the event Elijah would find himself needing to tend to a classmate's wound in an English or Science class before first responders arrived.
Elijah wants to not only see change, but ensure it happens. He hoped to do so as a member of the school board in the district where the worst school shooting in Florida's history occurred.
Although Elijah amassed an incredible 43,000 votes during his historic run, it was unfortunately not enough. It did not help that nearly 80% of Parkland's registered voters failed to vote during that important school board election, just a few months after the massacre.
In 2020, Elijah set his sights on Tallahassee. He's running for the District 94 seat, Florida House of Representatives. Elijah and I spoke about his thoughts and objectives concerning safety of Florida's students, teachers, faculty and staff.
Kathleen M. Bonczyk, Esq.
Q: Elijah, what is your perspective on school safety in Florida?
A: We have a very long way to go. We have not learned enough from Parkland. We're behind preventing a shooting instead of being ahead of it.
Threat assessments are not enough. It's reactive, not proactive. We are not focusing on prevention as much as we should and could be.
Q: You attended school with the Parkland shooter. Did you see any signs of trouble?
A. Yes. He actually walked around in a black trench coat, like the two Columbine killers did, in the south Florida heat and humidity. I always wondered why he did that. It seemed odd to me at the time. He also showed us small dead animals at school, Jeffrey Dahmer style which was very scary. He was a very, very angry student.
(Internet post attributed to the shooter)
I feel it's really important to put systems in place so if another future school shooter is making threats or there's signs of trouble like I saw, students are told by administration what to do and where to go to report it.
The students themselves should be part of the solution to stopping school shootings. The kids are really key.
Q: How can schools tap into this resource?
A: Students need to be encouraged to speak up and when they do administration needs to listen to them.
Cruz wrote some violent things on the internet before the shooting. If someone's doing that today, kids will likely see it because they're technically savvy. They're on the internet.
We're not tapping into the kids as helping because we're not focused on prevention to stop more of our kids and teachers from being terrorized, wounded, even killed.
(Above: Santa Fe High School teacher Flo Rice and Elijah at a WVPI event July 2019 in Texas. Flo was shot multiple times at the Santa Fe High School mass shooting, May 18, 2018. Eight students and two teachers were murdered and several others wounded, including Flo.)
Q: Are there other strategies you feel could help prevent another Columbine or another Parkland?
A. One of the first things I want to see happen is having enough counsellors in schools. This way, if someone is having a problem, they can speak with a counselor before possibly acting on their rage and anger.
The problem is they might not be able to, because we do not have enough counsellors in Florida's schools. In some cases, counselors are shared between schools.
Suppose there's another Nikolas Cruz walking around a Florida school in crisis mode and wants to speak with someone about his feelings.
He might have to wait for an appointment for several days, even weeks. That's not good enough. It might even be too late by the time that appointment with a counselor rolls around.
(Above: Two former classmates in the Broward County public school system: The Parkland shooter and Elijah D. Manley, candidate for the Florida House of Representatives.)
Q: I've heard you refer to school shooters as "domestic terrorists." I also feel this way. Why do you believe they are terrorists?
A: I feel the reason why we are still having a problem is they are not recognized as terrorists and treated as such. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was a public high school run by the county government, and financed through public funds.
Still, not enough are calling what happened there terrorism. I think this is a huge part of the problem.
If Muslims attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas and many of the other public schools that have been shot up instead of middle class white kids have, I think we would treat it as terrorism -- not kids with personal problems who had a hard time growing up.
Q: What are your thoughts on arming teachers?
A: It's a bad idea for three reasons:
First, when SWAT enters the building and they confront a bunch of teachers with guns, they're not going to know if they are the shooters or not. All this happens in a matter of seconds and those first responders will either shoot the teacher or move rapidly to take the teacher into custody.
Second, things happen quickly inside schools which I think a lot of people who are for arming teachers may not completely comprehend. Also, school shooters usually plan for a while.
The problem of getting guns inside has been eliminated for a student who wants to shoot up the school. They might wait for a moment that the teacher places the gun in the desk drawer to get it or may overpower that teacher when, say, his or her back is turned and they're writing something on the board.
Third, what if it's the teacher, not the student, who is the person who is having problems and decide to start shooting? Then what?
Above: Candidate Manley discussing the issues that are important to him like school safety.
Q: What are your thoughts on K9 dogs and metal detectors in schools as part of a safety plan?
A: I think K9s can play a role in prevention for sniffing out firearms and even bombs. There is also technology available that can assist in detecting bombs, which does not get enough attention in school safety plans. The focus should not only be on guns, as past shooters also threw pipe bombs around such as the Columbine killers.
My concern about metal detectors is that they present a false sense of security. They can't be the only things in the school safety plan.
But even if there are metal detectors, all the shooter has to do is find another way in, or wait until the guards backs are turned, or even jump the turn style and start shooting from there. These shooters are young, fast and thinking ahead of time, considering all the angles.
In some schools, metal detectors do little to nothing because campuses are open. All Cruz had to do was go though an open gate and walk up to the Freshman Building.
Q: What is your position on actions that can be taken at home to help stop a shooting?
Parents play a big role in everything.
I don't understand how a teenager could be planning a school shooting on a computer for months, building pipe bombs in garages, and assembling bullets and weapons without parents intervening. Parents need to know what their kids are up to.
I believe we could do a lot more in teaching parents about the warning signs and what to do before another tragedy happens. If the guns and bombs don't leave the home we don't have teachers and students getting injured or killed by another student.
Things like metal detectors are reactive not preventative. The goal should be to identify the next Parkland shooter as a problem way before he takes that Uber to a high school with a high powered weapon and mass murder on his mind.
Address it before the next Columbine happens. That's going to be my focus when I get elected.
The deadline for voting is August 18, 2020. There are several options available, including voting by mail.
To learn more about Elijah D. Manley go to his website: https://elijahmanley.com/