University of Miami Experts Comment on Parkland Shooting

By UM News

University of Miami Experts Comment on Parkland Shooting

By UM News

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting that occurred yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High School in Parkland, Florida, University of Miami faculty and leadership provide comment and expert opinion on topics that range from politics to mental health to gun policy.

“This morning our South Florida community is in shock over the horrific shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Institutions of learning should be a safe haven for all.”

Julio Frenk, President, University of Miami

On tragedy and mental health

“The tragic events at the high school will impact upon many lives including the families and friends of the victims and all of those who witnessed the devastation. This includes the police, emergency medical personnel and the countless adults and children who were exposed to the tragedy via the media. A significant number of these individuals will have long lasting mental health consequences of this trauma—post-traumatic stress disorder most prominently. For those with preexisting mental health conditions, the risk for a worsening in their depression or anxiety is substantial. All those who are experiencing severe anxiety as a consequence of exposure to these traumatic events should seek mental health treatment from an experienced professional.”

Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Clinical Director, Center on Aging Chief of Psychiatry; Jackson Memorial Hospital Chief of Psychiatry; University of Miami Hospital Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine University of Miami

On posttraumatic stress and anxiety  

“The shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL is incredibly tragic and very alarming. Since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, there have been more than 200 school shootings in the U.S., which have claimed over 400 victims and led to 138 deaths. 

We’ve learned that these shooting events dramatically affect the lives of students, teachers, their families, and the community, and can lead to substantial psychological distress. Those who lost friends or loved ones, witnessed the carnage, or were in the direct line of danger, commonly report acute stress reactions (e.g., problems sleeping, hypervigilance, fears) up to a month after such events, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder also can develop and persist over time. Efforts to provide support and help youth, their families, and the community feel safe are important for a return to normalcy. Limiting media exposure to the events (e.g., avoid watching gory videos and photos which are prevalent on the internet and via social media) also may mitigate stress reactions. Excellent materials for parents, students, teachers, and mental health professionals are available through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. If problems persist, and interfere with functioning, it is important to seek professional help.”

Annette M. La Greca, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Cooper Fellow and Provost Scholar, Director of Clinical Training, University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences

On gun violence in our community

"Tragically, firearm injury affects Florida families every day. It is far too common. It is on our streets and in our homes. Many in South Florida haven’t recovered from mass shootings at the Pulse Nightclub or the Ft. Lauderdale Airport. Gun violence is America’s most preventable disease. Yet our response is anemic. Protecting our children would mean we research the problem in a robust way and minimize the danger, as we did with Zika, Ebola, almost any disease that robs children of time, life, learning, laughter and feeling safe. Until we do that, we will respond after the trauma. We know how to do the response. We’ve practiced it too many times."

Judy Schaechter, M.D., Professor & Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Chief of Service, Holtz Children's Hospital, Jackson Health Systems, The George E. Batchelor Endowed Chair in Child Health, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine 

On gun policy and the inaction of politicians on changing gun laws

“I expect our elected Republican representatives to extend their ‘thoughts and prayers’ and then do exactly nothing. I expect some Democrats to call for minimal reforms, such as universal background checks, but accomplish nothing because they can't get their proposals on the legislative agenda.”

Gregory Koger, professor of political science, University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences

On the public school system and behavioral guidelines

“When he was a student, there are mechanisms that Miami-Dade and Broward County [Public Schools] have. There is a code of student conduct that has very clear guidelines for certain behaviors, followed by very specific consequences. Both districts use a multi-tiered system of support for behavior that is supposed to provide on-going support with increasing intensity.

They also have an intervention plan and a behavior intervention committee, a part of that is therapeutic services. This is an option for the principal before expulsion. I have no idea what his [the suspect’s] case was. He could have been referred to the behavior intervention class; he could have fallen through the cracks. Expulsion is a very big deal and the School Board has to approve it.

Once he is expelled, if he is not supposed to be on school property then he would be treated like any other person who is not supposed to be on school property, and they will deal with him as they treat a trespasser. One of the challenges is that even with all this in place, he is in a community with access to assault rifles.”

Wendy Morrison Cavendish, associate professor, School of Education and Human Development

On constitutional law and the Second Amendment

“No constitutional right is absolute, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms. For example, in D.C. v. Heller, the decision that interpreted the Second Amendment to create a right to firearms for self-defense in the home, the Supreme Court emphasized the constitutionality of laws restricting where firearms may be brought and who may possess them: “[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as school and government buildings….” Indeed, many of the most popular gun reform measures are probably perfectly constitutional. What stands in the way of sensible gun reform is not the Second Amendment, but the politicians who refuse to enact the will of the people.”

Caroline Mala Corbin, professor of law, University of Miami School of Law

On whether the suspect will face the death penalty 

“While our community in South Florida, and the nation as a whole, struggles with the whys of this horrible tragedy and senseless loss of life, some will no doubt focus on the man in custody accused of this terrible crime. It is far too early to determine how this case will go forward, but there will be immense pressure on the state to seek the death penalty.” 

Craig J. Trocino, director, Miami Law Innocence Clinic, University of Miami School of Law

On violent behavior 

"Compared to girls, boys in the United States are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. Boys have limited ways to deal with their emotions such as pain, hurt, loneliness, or depression. Those emotions can easily turn to anger and hate. Combine this with unlimited access to firearms and you have deadly outcomes on a grand scale. Every mass shooting in the United States – the only country where this happens routinely – is a national cry for help. Thoughts and prayers are simply not enough. We must address the social exclusion and alienation of individuals and entire communities so that the killings stop."

Tanya L. Zakrison, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, FRCSC, associate professor of surgery, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Media who wish to speak with any UM experts can contact Megan Ondrizek, University Communications, at 305-284-3667 or