Just over a week after one of the worst days in their professional lives, first responders from Coral Springs met with the media on Friday to recount the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.
Officers from the neighboring city to the Parkland campus were among the first to arrive on Feb. 14, a scene that hit close to home for some of the first responders who have ties to the school.
Sgt. Jeff Heinrich had to fight back tears when describing the reaction he had dealing with his job and the knowledge that both his wife, a teacher at Douglas, and son were in the school.
“By the grace of God, my wife and my son who are at opposite ends of the school, [..] they both heard the fire alarm and decided to evacuate," Heinrich said.
Heinrich said when he heard the first gunshots being fired, the sounds didn't immediately register.
"At first I honestly thought they were fireworks," he said. "I thought the kids were screwing around. I thought maybe someone let off some fireworks in the school, set off the fire alarm, that's what I was thinking."
But all of a sudden, the situation changed, Heinrich said.
"Kids started to run, kids started to scream, at that time, I heard a round of probably another five or six shots," he said.
Heinrich said he immediately started sprinting into the parking lot where all the kids were gathered. He ran into a student with a massive gunshot wound on his ankle, named Kyle, and used a compression bandage to treat the injury. By that time, the fire department was on the scene, and Kyle was taken by paramedics for further treatment.
When Heinrich was bandaging Kyle, the student was able to give him a detailed description of what was happening inside and what the shooter was wearing. Heinrich immediately relayed that information to dispatch officers.
"He was spot on," Heinrich said.
In the flurry of commotion, Heinrich was able to put on a SWAT vest and respond to the location of the incident: The freshman building. Officers were inside the building at that point, clearing it out and running the perimeter.
Through choked tears, Heinrich recalled clearing the building and surrounding areas with other officers -- in an effort to protect his family.
"They're my family. Not only my family, my personal family, but the Douglas people," he said. "Those are kids that you know, teachers and staff that I've known for years."
"My wife is the assistant athletic director who works hand-in-hand with Chris Hixon who lost his life."
Chris Crawford, a patrol officer and former Marine, also recounted the harrowing moments of the shooting when he was called onto the scene.
“It’s awful. It’s as bad as you can imagine times 10,” he said.
Crawford said he arrived at the school, grabbed his rifle, and started running toward the freshman building. After being instructed to clear the parking lot and search for injured victims, Crawford went to the front of the freshman building where he was met with a sergeant carrying out an injured 14-year-old boy. Moments later, another student approached Crawford and said she had been shot also.
Crawford detailed using combat gauze to treat the boy's wounds on his lower back, shoulder, thigh and arm, all of which were severe. He also used gauze to treat the girl's injuries.
Crawford helped the hurt students until the fire department arrived. After that, he rushed to the freshman building, where he met with other Coral Springs officers. The officers split up and Crawford went to the 500 building to survey the area.
Once there, he went to classrooms and made sure everyone was safe.
When asked whether the classrooms were relieved to see an officer in the building, Crawford said:
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“The first two classes were [relieved], the third class...I knocked on the door and told them I’m Coral Springs Police. They said they couldn’t open the door. I had to negotiate with them. I even had to slide my ID under the door."
Crawford said the teacher and students had to confirm that he was who he claimed to be.
"They started asking me questions like what my ID number was.”
Crawford said the injured boy and girl are expected to be okay.
“For me, I’m glad I could help just one kid. Or two kids. I wish I could have helped them all.”
“What bothers me is that I wish I had gotten there sooner,” Crawford said.
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Coral Springs Fire Department Lt. Rohan Neita also detailed the fire department’s response to the shooting.
“My brain really couldn’t process what was really happening. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Neita said.
Neita said it was a normal day at the fire station when the 2 p.m. call went out.
“I remember hearing one of my shift supervisors asking dispatch if it was correct what he heard, that there was an active shooter at the school,” he said. “That’s when the hair starts standing on the back of your neck.”
Neita said when the department arrived, kids were streaming out of the school, running toward a set up triage area. They started looking at students, finding who was injured the most, and transporting them to the hospital accordingly.
For Neita, the incident was difficult because of his connection to the area.
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“I grew up here. I went to high school at Taravella. It’s been tough.”