Though they were miles from the gunfire that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four months ago, they have been changed by it nonetheless.
“People are still devastated by these events,” said Donyea James, who just finished her junior year at American Heritage Boca/Delray High School. “It’s always on your mind: ‘What if it happens at my school? What if it would happen if I’m outside, or if I was the bathroom?'”
After the shootings, Keyiela Wilborn said she began checking on friends’ and classmates’ moods. The Palm Beach Lakes High school senior was looking for signs of possibly dangerous disquiet and encouraging them to talk if things are getting them down.
“It’s hard after these events to look at people the exact same way as you did before,” said Wendon Roberts of Spanish River High School. “But instead of thinking, ‘Oh, he’s being weird, I just better stay away from him,’ you have to think of it as, ‘Maybe this person really needs help.’ And that can stop a lot of these problems.”
Six teenagers, referred by the Urban League of Palm Beach County, talked with Rick Christie, editor of the Palm Beach Post Editorial Page, about the impact of gun violence in their communities and on their psyches. The Wednesday evening discussion was broadcast on Facebook Live.
The mass shooting at the Broward County high school spurred activism in the Palm Beach County students: they marched, held vigils, started organizations. “You want to do something not just to raise awareness, but to make a change,” James said.
Sterling Shipp and a friend had started a political science social group in the fall at Palm Beach Gardens High School. After Parkland, gun violence was the subject of every meeting. Attendance swelled. Even teachers came.
“It allowed us to have open dialogue,” Shipp said. “A lot of students came out, because they’re passionate about this.”
Gun violence hit close to home in other ways.
Wilborn said that, growing up in West Palm Beach and having relatives in Miami, “we hear about shootings all the time.” She knew a boy, “a wonderful kid, football player,” shot to death about a year and a half ago.
Roberts said that a classmate in 6th grade named Eduardo was killed along with his mother and brother in a domestic-violence shooting.
Christian Morales, just graduated from Suncoast High School, said a close friend and classmate named Brandon was shot and wounded in a drive-by while going for a walk with his brother.
We’ve been beating the drum on the issue for weeks now: The message that there is no graver threat to the future of South Florida than the accelerating pace of sea-level rise. By 2060, the sea is predicted to rise another 2 feet, with no sign of slowing down.
The editorial boards of The Palm Beach Post, South Florida Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald — with reporting help from WLRN Public Media — have joined hands in an unprecedented collaboration this election year to raise awareness about the threat facing South Florida from sea-level rise. Our goal is to inform, engage, provoke and build momentum to address the slow-motion tidal wave coming our way.
To that end, we (Post Editorial writer Howard Goodman and me) went on WPTV-Channel 5‘s “To the Point” to discuss the threat of sea level rise with host Michael Williams.
As we’ve said previously, most South Floridians get it. The Yale Climate Opinion Maps show 75 percent of us believe global warming is happening, even if we don’t all agree on the cause. We understand that when water gets hotter, it expands. And warmer waters are melting the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt — and make no mistake, it’s melting at an increasing clip — scientists say ocean waters could rise 20 feet.
The problem is, too few of us are convinced sea-level rise will personally harm us in our lifetimes. We’ve got to change that mind-set because it already is. Lila Young, who has lived on the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach for 30 years, said she’s seen the king tides progressively getting higher and flooding her neighborhood more often.
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Palm Beach County is fortunate to have a slightly higher elevation, which means the risks aren’t quite so acute here as for our neighbors to the south. Still, the high-priced real estate on the barrier islands is equally vulnerable, along with the low-lying mainland along much of West Palm Beach’s Flagler Drive. As the sea level rises, the agricultural area south of Lake Okeechobee will drain more and more slowly after a major rainfall. And when significant hurricanes and floods hit farther south, we may see a sudden flood of people from Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Are we ready? Are we taking the threat of sea-level rise seriously enough?
The tragic death last month of a Miami-Dade County fifth-grader after he somehow came in contact with the powerful drug, fentanyl, has many public school district officials concerned about the health and safety of students.
Count Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw among them.
While careful not to outright condone stocking the life-saving, anti-overdose drug Narcan (a brand name for Naloxone) on Palm Beach County school campuses to counteract potential opioid overdose situations, Shaw says it is worth discussion when considering the school district’s responsibility to protect kids on those campuses.
I’d have to agree. The overdose deaths stemming from the county’s opioid epidemic, chronicled exhaustively over the past year by The Palm Beach Post, has yet to show any signs of abating. It’s no stretch to assume that this crisis would, at some point, spill over into our school campuses.
So, it would make sense then for school nurses — the front line of defense on health emergencies — to be prepared.
For Shaw, the question had first come to mind because the opioid overdoses reminded him of an incident he had dealt with many years ago as a local school principal.
“A girl had come to school with a couple of vials of blood for a sort of show-and-tell,” he recounted. “It turned out that her mom or sister was training to be a phlebotomist, and had drawn some of the girl’s blood. The girl asked to take the vials to school to show her friends, and the mom or sister said sure.
“That got me to thinking of all things that kids could be exposed to on a school campus,” he continued, “and how much the use of opioids is spreading; not just in our community, but everywhere it seems.”
And that got Shaw wondering whether school nurses were properly trained to handle a potential overdose situation; and then whether Narcan should be at their disposal.
The 46-year veteran of Palm Beach County schools is obviously right to be concerned.
Because this plague is getting worse. Opioids, mainly fentanyl and heroin, have killed 2,664 people in Florida in the first six months of this year — an average of 14 people per day. At this rate, fatal overdoses will outpace last year’s count by 36 percent.
In Palm Beach County alone, overdoses spiked to 311 in the first five months of this year, 20 percent more than the first five months of 2016. And Palm Beach County’s 590 opioid overdose deaths in 2016 were an all-time high for the county and nearly twice as many as in 2015, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis of records from the medical examiner.
And then there’s the tragic death of 10-year-old Alton Banks. Authorities believe that Alton, who lived in Miami’s drug-ridden Overtown neighborhood, died on June 23 after coming into contact with fentanyl — but they are still trying to pin down how.
Alton died after a visit to the pool in Overtown. He began vomiting after coming home and was found unconscious that evening. Preliminary toxicology tests show he had fentanyl in his system.
“We don’t know where he got it. We don’t believe he got it at his home,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said last week. “It could be as simple as touching it. It could have been a towel at the pool.”
She added: “We just don’t know.”
The case has underscored how frighteningly prevalent fentanyl has become — and how potent it is. Exposure to just tiny amounts can be devastating.
Indeed, fentanyl is so powerful that some police departments have warned officers about even touching the drug. Last year, three police dogs in Broward County got sick after sniffing the drug during a federal raid, according to officials.
But where does the school district’s responsibility begin? “You’ve got the bus stop… the bus,” Shaw mused. “Then, of course, you have the campus.”
The answer, at first, may first appear simple, especially since everyone wants to protect schoolkids.
There are some, however, who worry that having Narcan on hand can also become a crutch and stop some people from taking personal responsibility. Those arguments echo those of past opponents of setting up needle exchanges and distributing condoms to stop the spread of AIDS, who argued that such moves were just encouraging drug use and sex.
Point taken. But it falls flat for Matthew Davis, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and head of general pediatrics at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“Health care workers in hospitals and first responders in communities have had naloxone on hand for decades, but there is no evidence that having naloxone as an antidote has encouraged Americans to try street drugs and abuse prescription opioids,” Davis wrote in an email to NBC News last week. “Similarly, we would not expect teens to abuse opioids because naloxone is available in their schools.”
Naloxone, he wrote, must be “part of comprehensive drug use prevention programs in schools and communities, to try to reduce drug use among teens.”
“Making naloxone available in junior high and high schools is smart public health policy, given what is known about teens’ misuse of prescription opioid medicines and teens’ use of heroin in the U.S. today,” he added.
Having naloxone on hand “is just like putting a defibrillator on the gym wall for a heart attack, or having injections of epinephrine available for someone who can’t breathe because of a severe allergic reaction,” he wrote. “They are tools made available to save lives.”
Margaret Cellucci of the National Association of Schools Nurses (NASN) echoed those sentiments.
“The school nurse is often the first health professional who responds to an emergency in the school setting,” NASN said in its position statement.
“When administered quickly and effectively, naloxone has the potential to immediately restore breathing to a victim experiencing an opioid overdose,” it said.
To be sure, with 187 school district campuses, the financial cost of taking on this responsibility could be a factor as well. The demand fueled by opioid overdoses has also pushed up the price of Narcan for cities and counties around the country.
Earlier this month, Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding discussed the possibility of limiting the number of times Martin County Fire Rescue crews would use Narcan to revive a person who has overdosed on multiple occasions. Talking about the Fire Rescue budget, he said he’d gotten the idea from Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office representatives during their recent visit to Martin County to discuss the region’s opioid epidemic.
According to Fielding, Alan Johnson, assistant state attorney for Palm Beach County, told him “what we’ve had to come up with is, after so many, we do not administer Narcan again.”
But State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Edmondson said Fielding’s comments were not accurate and the agency has had no discussions about restricting the usage of Narcan.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who has been out front on the opioid epidemic, pushed back even harder.
“It’s the most horrific, disgusting proposal I have ever heard in my life,” she told the Post’s Julius Whigham. “It’s not our job to play God.”
Be that as it may, the issue of stocking Narcan is not likely to go away. Not for municipalities. Not for counties. And, as fall creeps ever closer, not for school districts.
In today’s Letters to the Editor, two local readers weigh in. But first a little background:
Gonzalez, the manager of the Pizza Al Fresco restaurant on Palm Beach’s trendy Worth Avenue, is facing the risk of deportation under President Donald Trump’s new immigration policy.
Gonzalez, who before this had routine annual check-ins, got a three-month reprieve Thursday night. He was scheduled to check in at 10 a.m. today with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in Broward County. During a routine check-in earlier this year, Gonzalez was told he would have to return to the Broward County ICE office in three months for another check-in, at which point he could face deportation.
Because of where the married father of three little girls works, Gonzalez’s case has garnered a great deal of attention from some high-powered folks.
In fact, an online petition had more than 6,100 signatures on Thursday — including some of Palm Beach’s most elite socialites.
But Gonzalez’s case is a little complicated. According to the Post’s Jennifer Sorentrue, “he came to the U.S. to live with his brother when he was 15 years old using what he thought was a valid visa. After high school, he returned to Mexico to visit family members. When he came back to the U.S., he was told at the airport that his visa was not valid. He was deported and ordered not to return for a 5-year-period. Gonzalez didn’t wait. He crossed the border illegally”
And so here we are.
And here are the two letters appearing in today’s editions of the Post:
Undocumented man should have sought legal ways to become a citizen
Oh, how sad, an undocumented, nice person is in danger of deportation. Your front page story, “Palm Beach restaurant manager could face deportation next week,” (July 8), might raise sympathy if you had asked, “Why hasn’t this person become a U.S. citizen after all these years?” There are legal avenues which might have been followed, including marriage to a legal U.S. citizen, as a start. What did Gonzalez do in 21 years other than riding his bike to avoid being caught?
TED TASK, WEST PALM BEACH
Deporting worker, tearing apart his family is wrong thing to do
I am responding to the recent stories about the possible deportation of Javier Gonzalez.
I often hear my fellow conservative friends tout the quote: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re young you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative when you’re old, you have no brain.” This story about possibly deporting Gonzalez, a productive man married to an American citizen with three young American children is outrageous and, simply, wrong. I challenge people to reflect on the possibility that the heart and the head can work together for the sake of common sense. I don’t think this is what people intended when they voted for a president who said he would get rid us of criminals who are here illegally. Tearing apart established American families is, in a word, “heartless.”
So where do you come down on this sensitive topic?…
It seems hard to believe, but 10 years after the state cut down millions of healthy trees in a hapless effort to halt citrus canker disease, lots of Floridians still haven’t been reimbursed for the loss of their beloved fruit-bearing trees.
And Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t made it any easier. This month, he vetoed $37.4 million intended to compensate residents of Broward and Lee counties after years of litigation about the removal of trees around the state. The money was to be part of the 2017-18 budget recently approved by the Legislature.
On Tuesday, homeowners and their lawyers asked the Florida Supreme Court to overturn Scott’s decision, calling it unconstitutional. The veto “undermines the state’s constitutional obligation to pay full compensation for the taking of private property,” the lawsuit argues.
Folks in Broward and Lee counties aren’t the only ones waiting for overdue payments. Palm Beach County homeowners are to get $28.4 million and Orange County residents are due $35.7 million. Those sums — awarded by juries in lawsuits against the state — haven’t yet been allocated by the Legislature.
And so an unpopular — and unsuccessful — “war on canker” keeps on making people unhappy.
From 1995 to 2006, homeowners winced and protested as state and federal workers put chainsaws to their healthy trees. They removed 16.5 million from backyards and citrus groves — almost 75,000 from Palm Beach County backyards alone — to stop the fruit-blemishing disease. The campaign, said to be the largest such eradication effort ever seen, cost a ridiculous $875 million. Litigation and claims have pushed that number past $1.6 billion.
The program was based on a flawed “1,900-foot rule” that called for removing every tree within a 1,900-foot radius of an infected tree. The theory was that 95 percent of transmissions from a diseased tree to a healthy tree occur within 1,900 feet.
Of course, that left 5 percent of bacterium at large. Unbelievably, the rule that became a law in 2002 didn’t account for the role hurricanes or even tropical storms would play in the disease that those same scientists said was spread by wind-borne rain. The wicked 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons spread the canker so far and wide that it was impossible to eradicate.
What do we do after another mass shooting by an alleged mentally ill individual takes the lives of so many.
Even more disturbing is how the Friday afternoon bloodbath at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport further exposes how our airport terminals are big, tempting — some say, soft — targets for armed individuals who want to terrorize or just kill other people.
In March, three coordinated suicide bombings in Brussels, Belgium – two at Brussels Airport and one at a metro station – killed 32 civilians and injured more than 300. The airport explosions were in a departure hall.
In October, three gunmen with automatic weapons and suicide bombs staged an attack at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, killing 45 people and injuring 230. Two of the attackers opened fire near a security checkpoint’s x-ray scanner, and detonated bombs when police returned fire. The third attacker set off a bomb in the parking lot across the street from the terminal.
And now, Fort Lauderdale. According to the latest reports, 26-year-old Esteban Santiago got off a Delta Airlines flight from Anchorage, Alaska, pulled his gun from his checked bag in the baggage area, loaded it in the bathroom and shot at least 13 people — killing five and sending eight people to nearby Broward Health Medical Center.
Santiago, who was discharged from the Army National Guard in August for “unsatisfactory performance,” served in Iraq for about a year starting in 2010. He was a combat engineer.
CNN reported that Santiago showed up at the Anchorage FBI office recently, and was checked into a mental facility after he said he heard voices telling him to join ISIS. And members of his family are now telling media outlets that Santiago “lost his mind in Iraq.”
Whatever his reason may be, our minds automatically go what we can do to prevent this from happening again on U.S. soil. A few ideas:
Stop allowing passengers to carry guns and ammunition in their checked bags on airline flights.
Beef up armed security at U.S. airports and ease restrictions on stop and frisk.
Keep mentally ill people from owning and acquiring firearms in the first place.
But what freedoms would we be willing to give up as a result?
For example, American travelers are notorious for not wanting anything to slow down — read that, ruin — their vacations. We bristle, for example, every time we have to take off our shoes or belt at the airport security checkpoint.
What would you suggest? Tell us: How do we stop these mass shootings?