City of Fort Lauderdale employees are being trained this week by two police detectives in how to handle an active shooter.
It's a first for the city, city spokesman Chaz Adams said.
"With the rise in active shooter incidents across the country,'' said Adams, "it’s important that employees be prepared and knowledgeable about response options.''
A deranged city employee with a weapon is not just a hypothetical in Fort Lauderdale. In 1996, a fired parks and recreation employee, Clifton McCree, returned to the workplace and killed five people and wounded another before killing himself. The wounded employee died 10 years later of complications from the gunshot wounds (see below).
That horrific tragedy will be the basis for some of Fort Lauderdale's training.
According to an internal email about the training that Adams released to me, "some parts of this training will include the 1996 City of Fort Lauderdale incident.'' The email told employees that "if you feel uncomfortable with this part of the training and do not wish to attend, please talk to your direct supervisor.''
"Hopefully you will never have to use the information you learn,'' the email told employees, "but if a situation does arise you will have an idea of what you can do to increase your survivability.''
Here's a news story from 1996 about the McCree shooting, and beneath that, a story about the sixth employee's death:
AFTER TRAGEDY, A CITY STRUGGLES TO FIND ANSWERS QUESTIONS FOCUS ON WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE IN LAUDERDALE, DEBATE TURNS TO PROCEDURES
Edition: FINAL Section: LOCAL Page: 1A
Byline: By ROBIN BENEDICK Staff Writer
Staff Writers Tao Woolfe, Roy Wenzl and Evelyn Larrubia contributed to this report.
Memo: Related article ran on page 1a: After tragedy, a city struggles to find answers; Page 4A: Families, friends, even strangers bid last goodbyes
Illustration: PHOTOS 2
A police officer escorted Clifton McCree to the doctor for a drug test after Fort Lauderdale officials became concerned about his erratic behavior. But no one made sure he attended a psychological evaluation that had been ordered by his bosses.
McCree's decision to skip the appointment meant he did not receive any psychiatric counseling or evaluation before the city suspended him after learning he had failed the drug test.
He was fired a month later, in December 1994. Fourteen months later, he got revenge, gunning down five fellow city workers and himself in a maintenance trailer Friday morning.
The massacre, the worst in Broward County history, has raised questions about what the city could have done differently to prevent a tragedy by a 17-year employee who had degenerated into a brooding, threatening time bomb.
Chief among them would have been to ensure that McCree got counseling even if he was going to be fired, several workplace experts said on Monday.
"The city should have intervened to get this guy drug rehabilitation or counseling, particularly if the person had exhibited dangerous behavior," said Steve Albrecht, a San Diego training consultant who wrote a book on workplace violence.
He and Joseph Kinney, executive director of the National Safe Workplace Institute in Charlotte, N.C., speculated that city officials wanted to get rid of McCree and used the drug test as their excuse.
But city officials said they had plenty of cause to fire McCree and weren't obligated to force him into counseling.
Officials said they did what they could for him by setting up a counseling appointment with Dr. Dennis Day, a Fort Lauderdale clinical psychologist.
"What the city was trying to do at the time was to take a person that was anti-social out of the work force," said Pete Witschen, an assistant city manager.
"If you're asking should we have done more, that's a hard question because we know a lot more about him today than we did back then."
Day had suggested the drug test to find out whether drugs were causing McCree to be "paranoid, dangerous, always on the edge and unpredictable," as described by a parks supervisor in an October 1994 memo.
McCree never showed up for his counseling session, Day said.
McCree had tested positive for marijuana on his drug test. Broward Medical Examiner Joshua Perper also found evidence of marijuana use while performing an autopsy on McCree's body over the weekend.
But more blood tests will be done to determine whether McCree smoked marijuana just before the shooting.
The drug can stay in the body for as long as three weeks, Perper said. McCree told city officials that he had smoked marijuana because of marital problems and that his threats were nothing serious.
Part of the problem in getting help for McCree was that top city officials didn't learn of his anti-social behavior and violent tendencies until Oct. 12, 1994, when his co-workers complained about him.
A memo said McCree's erratic, menacing behavior had gone on for nine years, but had gotten worse in the past year.
Mayor Jim Naugle said he wants a report to commissioners on how the case was handled to determine whether policy changes are needed.
The city has fired about a dozen full-time employees and a dozen part-time workers in each of the past two years for a variety of reasons, including poor job performance, falsifying records, drug use, theft and fighting on the job.
The city has about 2,100 workers, and some of them have seen other examples of threats by workers.
"This isn't the first time someone has threatened to kill," said city employee Linda Williams, who was on temporary duty at the beach on Monday.
"It's happened in parking control. Somebody gets fired and goes ballistic, and says they're gonna come back and kill everyone," she said. "I saw one guy who had to get escorted away because he got fired and got angry."
McCree had reportedly complained about racial discrimination in his department to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Roosevelt Walters, president of the Fort Lauderdale branch of the NAACP, spent three or four hours Sunday night poring through the files for a record of McCree.
But if McCree had sent a letter of complaint, he never followed it up with a visit, and the agency throws out letters within 60 days.
Walters said he regrets he never met McCree.
"Something like this should not have happened and, if someone had come down here to tell us there was a problem, it wouldn't have happened," Walters said.
He said there have been other rumblings in the Parks and Recreation Department and in several other city departments, but nothing that couldn't be worked out.
"You have grumblings in any department that has more than one person," Walters said.
But the NAACP, the city and the American Federation of City, State and Municipal Employees have a good working relationship, Walters said.
A transfer, a new boss, some counseling, or the combination of all three would have diffused the situation, he said.
Personnel Director John Panoch speculated that McCree, 41, may not have sought counseling because he often turned to his former supervisor, Joseph Timothy Clifford, for help.
"I think he [Clifford) liked him and tried to protect him most of the time," Panoch said.
Clifford, 37, was shot four times by McCree, the most of any of the victims, the medical examiner said. Also killed were Joseph Belotto, 40; Mark Bretz, 36; Kenneth Brunjes, 46; and Donald Moon, 44.
Lelan "Joe" Brookins, who survived the shooting and is in Broward General Medical Center, took three bullets, he told the paramedic who attended him at the trailer.
"Lelan said [McCree) walked in and said: `All of you motherf---ers are gonna die' and started shooting. He said [McCree) shot Lelan twice and he laid on the floor face down," Broward County Paramedic Ed Fry said.
"Then the guy came back and shot him again in the back. To make sure. He said he heard one more shot and then he didn't hear anything else, so he called paramedics."
City officials are trying to help the victim's families by offering police escorts and security guards at the homes.
City workers also are volunteering to buy groceries and baby-sit for the families, which have 10 children among them. The city provided two buses on Monday to take city employees to and from funeral services and pitched in for flowers at the services.
The trailer where the beach maintenance crew worked will be put in storage.
City officials, including City Manager George Hanbury, spent time visiting the families during the weekend.
At an employee briefing in Snyder Park Monday morning, Hanbury, Witschen and city employee union President Cathy Dunn urged workers to seek counseling to get through this period of grief and shock.
Hanbury told employees: "If you don't feel you can handle this on your own, don't. We have counseling available."
LELAN BROOKINS, SOLE SURVIVOR OF LAS OLAS MASSACRE
Edition: Broward Metro Section: LOCAL Page: 8B
Byline: By Brian Haas Staff Writer
Lelan "Little Joe" Brookins, the sole survivor of the so-called Las Olas Massacre in 1996, died Sunday as a result of complications from a gunshot wound he sustained in the attack. He was 53.
Mr. Brookins, of Davie, underwent surgery on Sept. 18 for the 1996 gunshot wound to his abdomen, said Det. Katherine Collins, spokeswoman for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. He succumbed to complications from that wound while staying at a physical rehabilitation facility, she said.
Mr. Brookins retired as a beach maintenance worker for the city of Fort Lauderdale after the Feb. 9, 1996, attack. That day, Clifton McCree, a fired former colleague of Mr. Brookins, entered their office at Las Olas Boulevard and A1A and opened fire. McCree shot and killed Joe Belotto, 40; Mark Bretz, 36; Ken Brunjes, 46; Tim Clifford, 37; and Don Moon Jr., 44.
Mr. Brookins was shot twice, in the abdomen and the back. As Mr. Brookins played dead, McCree killed himself.
Mr. Brookins' relatives declined to comment Tuesday.
Surviving the deadly shooting proved hard on him throughout the years. Mr. Brookins lost a quarter of his liver, had a collapsed lung and a bullet nicked his kidney. In 2000, he was diagnosed with cancer. Post-traumatic stress haunted him.
In between a flurry of surgeries on the five-year anniversary of the shooting in 2001, he described himself as feeling "about 148" instead of 48.
Today, The Beach Crew Memorial Park is dedicated to the five people who died in the attack.
The names of the five slain men are inscribed on a pillar there. Mayor Jim Naugle said Mr. Brookins' name will be added to the pillar at the relatives' request.