We are a resilient people. We suffer tragedy and we bounce back, this is who we are. We endured the pain of the attack at Columbine High School and we went on, we managed to return to our lives after the unimaginable events of the Sandy Hook school attack, and all the other violent events in our workplaces and schools, but in the weeks since the horrific attack on the High School in Parkland Florida we don’t seem to be able to recover.

In fact, it would seem the wound is just getting deeper, the fear is growing and the calls from our very own children are echoing across the country and parents everywhere are attending town halls, school board meetings and public forums to vent their frustration. We are not healing. Why?

As a practitioner in the world of safety and security I know that each event has as part of its essence, lessons and legacies. We look back at the event and we try to understand why it happened, how it happened and if there are things we could learn from the episode to help us prevent the next attack.

In every violent incident, be it an active shooter at a school or in our workplace or the places we shop, watch movies or eat a meal, we look for these lessons and legacies.

Columbine taught the police new ways to respond to school shooting events, we could no longer wait for a SWAT team to come to the rescue we had to train our police officers to gather up and go quickly into the building to stop the shooter. We planned on getting 4 officers together if we could and moving towards the sounds of gun fire in the first few minutes if we were to save people. This new approach helped us feel better prepared to deal with this type of thing in the future. We learned the lesson and the new tactics are the legacy.

Sandy Hook taught us that we cannot wait for 4 officers, we learned that the first gun on scene had to move into the building and address the threat. We practiced this scenario and we prepared ourselves. As a society we reeled at the horror of babies being gunned down in their classroom and we sought answers. We changed our plans and updated them. We began to see a need for addressing mental health issues sooner and more seriously and to take threats of any kind more seriously. We found we had to look closer at the signs of potential violence for clues to its eruption to help in the prevention of such attacks. We began teaching our school personnel to look closer at the kids who might have a problem and address them before they become killing machines. We started looking at putting police officers and security people in the schools. These were the lessons learned, and the updated actions we take are the legacy of this dark event. 

In recent weeks, before Parkland we saw attacks at schools in Texas and Kentucky and we looked for answers, and we found that not all of the lessons we learned over the years or the practices we had put in place in some schools were in every school and we made a new effort to get our school boards and politicians to address the needs. There was a new urgency, we had identified the lessons and legacies of past events and we saw that if we had these things in place, including armed officers in our schools we might be safe.

As the events at Parkland High School began to unfold we saw, all of us, the utter and complete failure of everything we believed would keep us safe if we only had them in place. Parkland High School was prepared we were told, they had police officers in the schools, the local police were trained, policies were in place, cameras were in place. If we were to be safe anywhere, it was at Parkland High School. 

The failures of every system were epic. Not just failures but failures beyond words and comprehension. The doors were either unlocked or opened by someone, so the killer could get in. No one saw him on the cameras, maybe no one was looking. The prevention plan it seems was to expel him from the school and let everyone know if he showed up with a back pack not to let him in, he was a danger. Apparently, no one saw him approaching, or recognized him. He was not an unknown character to the school or the police, in fact the police had been to his house over 30 times, but no one did anything significant to address his issues. When he descended on the school that morning to vent his rage on innocent kids there was a police officer on scene to stop him, but the officer did not engage. We still don’t know why he didn’t engage, but the fact remains he didn’t, and 17 people were slaughtered. Everything we thought would keep us safe was in place and they all failed. We are overwhelmed, we are left feeling totally helpless. Like a drowning man when his life preserver floats away from him, we have nothing left to cling onto to save us. We are alone with the reality that evil can find a way and it is terrifying.

It is this cold realization that we are vulnerable no matter what we do, that has, in my opinion, prevented us from healing, from learning the lessons of Parkland and moving on. It is this cold realization that we are not safe at school, at work, on a train, at a concert, in a club or anywhere else that has shaken us like nothing before. This is the legacy of Parkland and the icy grip it has on all of us and is why we cannot heal. Up to now, we thought, if we only put these things in place we would be OK. Parkland showed us very clearly that our last hope was not actually real.

It is not my nature to give in, I must live in this world, my children must function in this world, all of us have limited options on how to proceed. We can give in and become fearful, shut ins. We can dismantle our way of life for a new, guarded version of living or we can look harder and more closely for a path forward, because there is one, there must be.

The lessons and legacies of all these types of incidents; school shootings, work place shootings or lone wolf terrorism all have a common link. Information.

Information will help us survive. Information about the potentially violent people, the things they say and do must be identified and investigated. The social media world is filled with clues, if we look for them and more importantly recognize the signs when they present themselves, but, the most important thing we must do is act when we see the signs.

These killers don’t just get up one day and decide to wreak havoc on us. They almost always let us know they are out there and that they are coming in advance. We must be willing to listen, look and act. This will take new concepts, some changes to our laws or new laws. We must act within the constitution, but we must act. 

I teach and train business people and school people all across the country to look for these signs. I am more dedicated to that endeavor than ever before, are you? Has your school had a security assessment done to point out their weaknesses and provide guidance on correcting them? Some have, many haven’t. Has your work place been evaluated? Are you trained to spot or investigate the signs? Some are, most are not. We are vulnerable, but we don’t have to be. We must decide to be better, to be prepared and to act.

This is the only option we have to keep us safe.

I have been CHASING JUSTICE throughout my career friends. My goal is to be THE VOICE for the voiceless. Do watch for my new talk show on America Out Loud, appropriately named CHASING JUSTICE… premiering April 2018. Reach out with your own stories and thoughts on justice… JPanagro@Americaoutloud.com 

Joseph Pangaro is a retired Police Lieutenant from the Township of Ocean, Monmouth County, NJ. During his 27 year career, Lieutenant Pangaro served in many capacities. After nine years as a patrol officer, he was transferred to the detective bureau where he served for 12 years. During that time, Lt. Pangaro prepared and executed hundreds of search warrants, testified in numerous high profile criminal court cases and excelled in the area of criminal investigations including; homicides, sexual assaults, drug crimes, fraud, burglary, juvenile investigations, economic crimes, vice crimes, quality of life crimes and other crimes of violence. He has acted in undercover capacities and worked with numerous local, county, state, and federal agencies. Joseph Pangaro served as a sergeant in the detective bureau, supervising a group of highly motivated and active officers in the unit as well as the “Quality of Life” unit.