Florida Shooting Suspect Halted School’s Mental Health Treatment

A federal law gave the suspect more control over his school situation once he turned 18, the superintendent says.

The person suspected of killing 17 people in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting put a stop to the mental health support he had been receiving through the school district when he turned 18.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie says the suspect refused to accept the district’s mental health services and that a federal law prohibited the school from requiring him to do so, reports the Sun Sentinel.

The superintendent’s comments, along with a review of the suspect’s student records, paint a picture of an individual who was known to be troubled by district officials but had a great deal of say in the school he went to and the treatment he received.

“You can’t make someone do something when the law says they have the right to make that determination,” Runcie says.

The District Identifies a Troubled Individual

Before high school, the suspect was designated as a special needs student by the district. Details of how that impacted the district’s handling of him have not been released, but experts say that designation usually leads to sessions with licensed therapists, ongoing assessments of behavior by the district and extra time on tests.

Additionally, the suspect was forced to transfer from a public middle school to one that offers a program for emotionally and behaviorally disabled children when he was in the eighth grade.

He remained at the school until January of 2016, when he began splitting time between the specialized school and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in his tenth grade year.

“The transition period went from January to June, and seemed to have a satisfactory outcome,” Runcie says. “My understanding is that it went well.”

The suspect began attending Stoneman Douglas full time in August of 2016, but in November district officials decided to refer him back to the specialized school following what Runcie referred to as “a lot of incidents.”

By that time the suspect had turned 18, and that’s when Runcie says district officials lost significant control of the situation.

Suspect Decides on School, Treatment

When school officials attempted to move the suspect back to the specialized school in November of 2016, he refused, and Runcie says there was nothing officials could do about it. The suspect also refused the mental health services he’d been receiving through the district, and officials were similarly limited in their response, experts say.

“It would basically be illegal for them to provide those services without consent,” Wendy Bellack, executive director of the Broward County chapter of the Family Network on Disabilities, told the Sun Sentinel.

The suspect was then no longer considered a special needs student, and the district would need another incident to occur in order to expel him.

In February 2017, the suspect was finally expelled due to unspecified behavior problems.

Suspect Exhibits Concerning Behavior in the Community

During his time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and throughout his childhood in general, the suspect had concerned others with violent, neurotic behavior.

He’d caught the attention of neighbors and even the FBI, and local police— including the Stoneman Douglas school resource officer— were aware of some problematic behavior and the fact that the suspect owned knives and a BB gun.

But other information about the suspect’s troubling behavior was not passed on to the FBI’s local office or school officials.

As a result, the FBI, Florida Governor Rick Scott and Broward school system are all conducting reviews into the handling of the situation.

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