Coral Springs first responders share their stories from Parkland school shooting

Police officers, firefighters, dispatchers recall their roles during massacre

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Coral Springs first responders shared their stories about the Parkland school shooting during a news conference Friday.

Here are the stories of the heroic police officers, paramedics and dispatchers whose lives were impacted by the Valentine's Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead and more than a dozen others injured.

Officer Tim Burton

Burton was leaving Eagle Ridge Elementary School, where he is assigned as a school resource officer, when he got the call of an active shooter at the school.

The 12-year veteran headed toward the school but encountered some traffic, so he grabbed his rifle and started running. He soon caught up with a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School security guard in a golf cart. 

Along the way, the security guard picked him up and gave him a description of the shooter and the shooter's location at the school.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school on Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. 

"This security guard in the golf cart was just a Godsend," Burton said.

Burton got out of the golf cart and started heading toward the freshman building, unsure of what was ahead.

"I thought I was going to encounter the shooter as soon as I made that left-hand turn into the parking lot," Burton said.

He didn't.

Hiding behind a tree trunk and an SUV, Burton provided cover for four of his fellow officers who went inside while he covered the parking lot in case the shooter tried to escape.

"I went into rescue mode when things started to settle down," Burton said.

Burton and other officers helped rescue a few victims who were shot and couldn't walk.

Shortly thereafter, he was asked to join a search team. They went into the band room and found 50 to 100 students huddled inside.

"This one's pretty tough," Burton said. "You can't get rid of this one. This will be with me forever."

Sgt. Jeff Heinrich

Heinrich, whose son is a football and baseball player at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was watering the infield when the fire alarm sounded.

"I hear what I now know to be five or six gunshots," the former school resource officer said. "At first, I honestly thought they were fireworks. I thought the kids were screwing around."

He said the students didn't seem to be acting any different than they normally would during a fire drill.

"And then, all of a sudden, the situation changed, obviously," Heinrich said.

Students started running and screaming. Heinrich then heard another round of gunshots, so he dropped the hose he was using to water the field and ran to the parking lot.

Heinrich helped a boy who had a gunshot wound to his leg. He would only identify the boy as Kyle.

He took Kyle to the baseball field clubhouse and used the first aid kit to try to help him until paramedics could get to him.

Before paramedics tended to Kyle, he told Heinrich where the shooter was and what he was wearing. It was information that Heinrich was able to relay to dispatchers.

The next call was to his wife, who works at the school. His wife happened to be in the women's locker room at the time of the shooting, while his son was out of his classroom with a bathroom pass.

"By the grace of God, when they walked down the hallway, they found each other," Heinrich said.

Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, Heinrich put on a SWAT vest and acted as backup for the other officers who were already inside the school.

Relieved that his family was safe, Heinrich went inside and spent the next few hours clearing buildings. He didn't see his wife and son until about 10 p.m. that evening.

Officer Chris Crawford

Crawford was on patrol when he got the call about the school shooting.

By the time he arrived, police were already there. His captain directed him to clear the parking lot and look for anybody who may be injured.

Soon, Crawford went to the 1200 building and met with a sergeant who came out with a boy who had been shot multiple times.

Using his police-issued combat gauze, Crawford tended to the boy.

He also helped a wounded girl whose injuries were less severe.

Crawford said another officer was putting pressure on the boy's back while he continued to apply gauze to the boy's many wounds. He asked another officer to find a paramedic, who arrived and took over.

He then ran back to the building and joined a team of officers who were looking for the shooter.

Crawford went inside the 500 building and found a group of students hiding in a storage area. He got the teachers and students from three different classrooms together and then told all the students to call their parents and let them know they're OK.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

He then stood guard at the door until the SWAT team came and got them.

"And that's what I did," Crawford said.

Crawford said he wished he could have gotten there sooner to stop it.

"I helped one kid or two kids," Crawford said. "I wish I could have helped them all."

Lt. Rohan Neita

"It was a normal day at the fire station," Neita recalled about the day of the school shooting.

The veteran firefighter of 18 years said he heard the call go out and remembers one of his shift supervisors asking the dispatcher if what they heard was correct. The dispatcher said it was.

That's when the "hair starts standing on the back of your neck," Neita said.

Neita said students were getting out of school at the time and running toward a makeshift triage area. He and other paramedics prioritized the extent of everyone's injuries and took "the more severely injured" to hospitals first. He called it a "snatch-and-go" situation.

Neita took several students to hospitals that day.

Lt. Frank Pekora

Pekora was training at the fire station when he heard the call of a school shooting.

He immediately broke from training and headed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Along the way, Pekora's fire truck was caught in traffic, so he got out and encountered Heinrich, who was tending to Kyle near the baseball field.

"That's when it kind of hit me that we're not playing around today," Pekora said.

Pekora got his truck, helped Kyle inside and tried to keep the boy calm.

"His right sock was soaked with blood," Pekora said.

When Pekora removed the bandage, Kyle "had a major tissue loss."

"He knew it," Pekora said. "He saw it."

Pekora said talking to him and keeping him calm helped Kyle "get through that part of the day."

After he got Kyle to a hospital and got back in the truck, Pekora was overcome by the events that had just unfolded.

Pekora told himself that he needed to stay alive to get back to his wife and family.

"From that point, I haven't been able to watch the news, no offense to anyone here," Pekora said.

Kathy Liriano

"It was just another normal day" when Liriano saw all the phone lines light up.

The Coral Springs communications administrator picked up one of the phones and heard the echo of gunshots coming from the phones of the other other dispatchers.

"She had told me, 'We have an active shooter at the school, and I have students who have been hit,'" Liriano said.

The teacher told Liriano that one of her students had been shot through the window of the classroom door.

"I asked her, 'Is there any way that you can go help?' And she said, 'I can't. I can't help him right now,'" Liriano recalled.

The teacher was hiding with some other students behind her desk.

Liriano said she tried to remain calm and make sure that police and paramedics had the most accurate information.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

People look on at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 18, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. 

"I took a deep breath because, in my mind, I always try to put myself in the other person's shoes," Liriano said.

Liriano said she made sure to keep her composure because she didn't want the teacher to panic.

"We always say in dispatch we're the calm voice during the storm, and we really are," Liriano said.

Liriano said she told the teacher to keep her students safe and to stay quiet.

"I can hear you breathing, and that's all I need to hear," Liriano told her.

Liriano breathed a sigh of relief once she could hear the police in the room.

"I'm like, 'OK, she's OK,'" Liriano said.

Julie Vidaud

Vidaud was training a new dispatcher when the 911 calls starting coming in.

"I took one of the calls before we even knew it was happening," Vidaud said.

She heard someone whispering and then heard loud noises. Then she heard the faint voice again.

"I heard her say, 'Classroom has been shot up,'" Vidaud said.

She told Vidaud that two of her classmates were shot and laying beside her. Vidaud asked her if she thought they were breathing.

"She didn't think they were," Vidaud recalled.

In an ordinary situation, Vidaud would walk her through how to perform CPR.

"Well, I can't risk her life to do that though, so you're kind of torn for a second," Vidaud said.

The caller eventually stopped hearing the gunshots.

"So I'm thinking OK, well, I need to see where this guy is now, you know, so these other calls coming in may give us that," Vidaud said.

Vidaud told her that she was going to answer some of the other 911 calls.

"She didn't want me to get off the phone, so I didn't, but I would put her on hold to answer a call," Vidaud said.

Vidaud's 15-year-old son, who attends a nearby charter school, lost seven friends in the shooting. She said she's still dealing with the emotional toll.

"This one, it definitely sticks with you," Vidaud said.

Copyright 2018 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.